As Christians, we sometimes (perhaps often) read Matt. 25:35, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food …” and add our own qualifiers. “I will give you food if you deserve it, and I decide you aren’t lazy.”
Prior to reading this astonishing little book, I hadn’t really given the hungry much thought beyond sometimes donating to famine relief around the world. I hadn’t thought about hunger in my own backyard, and my responsibility as a believer to help feed people.
I also hadn’t realized that maybe, just maybe, I was blaming the hungry in America for their hunger and poverty. Many of us do just that. “Our nation tends toward blaming the hungry and poor for their plight rather than walking alongside them to find solutions,” writes Everett, the director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. “Blaming the poor for their poverty only adds insult to injury and is largely an inaccurate diagnosis.”
Later in the book, he is even more pointed: “We dehumanize and blame the poor. … Thus it becomes morally defensible for some children to have an abundance of food while others have a bag of chicken bones in the fridge. We can just blame the parent for being lazy or an illegal.” Ouch!
Despite some sharp and—to me—prophetic observations, Everett’s overall tone is gentle, friendly, and even funny. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is wildly refreshing in a book of this kind. I Was Hungry offers not only an appraisal of the current crisis but also a stirringly nonpartisan strategy for addressing it. Everett calls Christians to work purposely across political and denominational divides to build trust and consensus with one another. In other words, Christian Reformed believers must work shoulder to shoulder with Baptists, Catholics, and other religious groups. The die-hard liberal must work together with the dyed-in-the-wool conservative, seeing in the other a createdness and a common purpose. Collaboration across the lines that divide us is a major theme in these pages.
Everett rightfully spends much time talking about feeding hungry children in our communities (13 million live in food-insecure households). And he points out that “people in minority households are twice as likely to experience food insecurity and poverty than white Americans.”
What surprised me was that millions of senior citizens also experience hunger. Everett tells the story of his own grandparents, the patriarch and matriarch of a small Louisiana town who were going hungry despite their basic privilege. Both in decline from dementia, they were often forgetting to shop or eat, until their family doctor realized they were missing meals. Immediately, their strong social network of family, church, and community sprang into action and made sure they were getting Meals on Wheels daily. But what happens to those seniors without such strong support? One takeaway from the book: every church should consider partnering with a senior meals program, such as Meals on Wheels.
Another surprise: He praises the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program for its ability to feed hungry people and stimulate the economy. “Every $1 that comes into the community through the program bolsters the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $1.79.”
Throughout the book, Everett stays away from polarizing language and partisan talk. His many stories of learning to work together with unlikely sources, including former foes, make a strong case for collaboration in the name of serving “the least of these.”
The call to feed the hungry is a call we cannot ignore. Readers will learn how sustainable solutions take shape—"by creating shared power rather than shaming power.” Regardless of one’s political leanings, this is a book for every follower of Jesus. Like Matthew, Jeremy Everett encourages us to see the hungry as humans, and even more, as Jesus. (Brazos Press)