Sowing seeds in winter and year-round: How to hold onto that holiday spirit

hands with hearts in snowThe theologian Karl Barth once wrote that the good Christian goes into the world with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

The newspaper tells us that 47 million low-income Americans – 1 in 7 of us in Allegheny County – receive food stamps to help keep food on the table. And it tells us that on Nov. 1, every recipient, including the children, had those benefits cut by an average of about 5%. It tells us that right now Congress is debating even deeper cuts to this most critical part of our food safety net.

As the bible reminds us, hunger and poverty have been with us for centuries. At Just Harvest we describe our efforts to combat these ills with the slogan “Sowing the Seeds of Economic Justice.” To put it less poetically: we work to make the government care more about hunger and poverty in our community.

Just Harvest advocates and lobbies at every level of government from Grant Street to Capitol Hill to strengthen the public safety net of programs like food stamps, school meals, welfare and targeted tax benefits for low-income workers. We help low-income people directly overcome the roadblocks to these programs:

  • We help people apply for food stamps, navigating the complex paperwork at the welfare department.
  • We operate the area’s largest service to prepare low-income working peoples’ income tax returns at no charge.
  • This year we launched Fresh Access, a program that enables people to use their food stamps to shop for fresh produce from more than 40 local farmers and vendors at 6 of the city’s farmers markets.
  • We educate the community through every means at our disposal about why hunger persists in a nation of enormous wealth.
  • We help low-income people build power so their own voices are heard by public officials – through voter registration and issue education, through advocacy training, and through creating opportunities for them to advocate on their own behalf with public officials.

We see barriers and solve them.

Just Harvest is a strictly non-partisan and non-religious organization. We are nonetheless, inspired by the best ideas of many political creeds and faith traditions.

We are inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, who said that “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right.

We are inspired by the words of the 41st Psalm, which tells believers: “Blessed is the one who considers the poor.” In my own faith tradition, the rabbinic commentators on this teach that it specifically does not say “blessed is the one that gives to the poor.” Simply giving is not enough. We are blessed only to the extent that we consider the poor person – treat her or him as a friend and neighbor and respect their full dignity. In our modern day, this teaches us to stop crafting false divisions of the deserving and undeserving poor, to stop judging what our neighbors have in the shopping cart when they pay with a Welfare Department ACCESS card.

We are inspired by Franklin Roosevelt, when he said, “Government has a final responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. If private cooperative effort fails to provide work for willing hands and relief for the unfortunate, those suffering hardship through no fault of their own have a right to call upon the government for aid. And a government worthy of the name must make a fitting response.”

We are inspired by Article 25 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
And we are inspired by this old proverb:
Excerpt from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights The rich would have to eat money if the poor did not provide food

The task for us all, as people who don’t want hunger in our midst, is not merely to alleviate the suffering of families who are without enough food; it is for us to change the rules that allow hunger to exist.

  • We need to demand of our elected officials a strong and compassionate safety net, economic policies that produce a full employment economy, and living wages for all who can work.
  • We need to stop subsidizing the production of non-nutritious “foods” manufactured in ways that poison the environment, and instead build a vibrant, healthful, and sustainable food system.
  • We need a fair tax system that closes loopholes and stops rewarding “job creators” whose profits are derived from paying poverty wages or damaging our health or environment.
  • We need to make sure our democracy provides an equal voice for all citizens.

I hope the generosity of spirit and outpouring of concern for our struggling neighbors this holiday season doesn’t evaporate when the decorative lights come off the house and the tree comes down. Our concern must persist throughout the year. It must truly consider the one who is poor. It must recognize the fundamental humanity of those in need. And it must take action to sow the seeds of real and lasting economic justice for all.

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