Food Insecurity and Serving Others This Lent

As Lent begins this week, we too begin—to reflect, to abstain, and to act in the person of Christ, all in preparation for waking up on that glorious Sunday morning when we can exclaim, “He has risen!” So there’s no better time to start the practice of performing one of the Corporal Works of Mercy than right now, especially in light of current events.

Inflation has negatively impacted us all, but a recent article about the elderly being specifically impacted broke my heart. The article features an interview with Chef Robert Irvine, founder of the Robert Irvine Foundation, “which helps give back to military and first responder families.” In the article, Irvine discusses the fact that many senior citizens cannot afford meat and dairy and that many of them are now relying on food banks.

The article quotes a senior citizen from the Boston area who said, “I just officially gave up eggs,” as eggs in her area have escalated to more than $5 a dozen, and she simply cannot afford them.

This tragic reality hits home for anyone with aging parents, grandparents, or elderly friends on a fixed income. The rising cost of food, gas, and more has many dipping into savings and worrying about how to put food on the table.

The problem is all too real. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,

The food at home index rose 11.3 percent over the last 12 months. The index for cereals and bakery products rose 15.6 percent over the 12 months ending in January. The remaining major grocery store food groups posted increases ranging from 7.2 percent (fruits and vegetables) to 14.0 percent (dairy and related products).

These escalating prices and the well-being of the vulnerable—especially the elderly—in our midst should give us the resolve to help in any way that we can.

Feeding the hungry is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. And in the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus tell others that when they feed the hungry they are doing it for Him too. Indeed, what we do for others is what we do for Christ.

I am constantly reminded of this when I see ads for FISH pantries in Knoxville, Tennessee—a nondenominational nonprofit food bank that calls itself a “hospitality pantry” because of the way it treats its patrons.

FISH pantries was founded over 30 years ago when a man named Jim Wright, who volunteered at other food banks, became disturbed by the fact that some families were “blacklisted” because they asked for help “too often.” When he looked into the lives of these families, what he found was a desperate need. These people were not taking advantage of the services; they truly needed food. So he vowed to make a change. He opened his own food pantry, and in the process he has made a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of Knoxville residents.

Today, anyone for any reason can go to FISH pantries and choose the food that they want. There are no restrictions, no income verification, and no limits on how many times people can visit each month. The organization welcomes all who need food. In fact, the need is so great that FISH now has hospitality pantries in four locations and serves over 21,000 people a month.

The FISH website goes on to say,

Sharing food is an opportunity to create true community—where all are welcome, everyone is treated with respect, and the voices of the marginalized are amplified, recognized, and valued. To achieve this goal, FISH provides food to people in a way that respects their human dignity. No one has to register or prove financial need. Instead, guests simply show up at one of our four Knoxville neighborhood FISH pantries and select the items they’d like to take home.

It is truly a gift for thousands of needy and hungry families to not only be nourished but to be treated with dignity and respect as they shop for the groceries they need.

What a beautiful way to live one of the Corporal Works of Mercy!

As we begin Lent, let us promise our Lord who gave us His everything that we will give to others and uphold their dignity as we do so. Let us not simply give up something that we like for Lent. Let us look outside of our lives and into the lives of the suffering around us.

Whether we donate money or items to food pantries or volunteer our time, one of the greatest things we can do this Lent—and throughout the year—is to feed the hungry.

Times are incredibly difficult, and while no one relishes asking for help, we can thank God that there are places like the FISH pantries that lovingly help people in their times of need while also respecting their dignity as human beings. Let us be inspired by their example and join in helping the needy and the elderly. Let us serve others by giving them tangible help and by shining the light of Christ as we do so. After all, we are our brothers’ keepers.

If you are facing food insecurity, the US government website has a page with detailed information for how you can find services in your. You can also find local food banks at the Feeding America site.

This article originally appeared in the Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2023/02/22/lent-food-banks-and-a-corporal-work-of-mercy.

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About the author

Susan Ciancio

Susan Ciancio is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine and executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program.