Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving, Food Banks, and the Vanishing Middle Class

Today is November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day in the US, and for the last few days a couple of thoughts have been kicking around inside my head. Disjointed, perhaps, but maybe you can see the common theme that knits them together.

The turkey is cooking in the roaster this morning and it smells wonderful. After I’m done with this post I’ll head outside to scrape the bit of snow that fell overnight from the driveway We’re expecting 17 people to come and share Thanksgiving dinner with us. Wine will flow with the conversation and laughter, and plates will overflow. I am so thankful for my family, especially Kathy, my forever wife and friend. I’m thankful for my job, stressful though it is at times. I’m thankful for my home nestled in the country. But--

For several years, I’ve volunteered at a local food bank. When I started, we ministered to roughly 70 to 80 families each week. That number has steadily increased to the point were we now average over 150 families each week. This past Thanksgiving week, we provided food and turkey gift vouchers to 289 families. We nearly ran out of food. 

Over the years, some people only come in once or twice, dressed in business casual or scrubs, needing a little help as they experience an unexpected rough patch in their lives. Others I’ve seen every month for years. I have a chance to talk to the people as we walk the boxes of food out to their cars. The vast majority are grateful for the help we provide. I am thankful for John, Judy, Don, Gabby, and all the volunteers at the food bank who tirelessly dedicate their lives to minister to the needy in the area.

I wish we didn’t need food banks and I wonder why the demand constantly increases. What is happening in this country? Why is there a need for more red kettles and volunteers ringing their bells throughout the year? Why is there such an increasing, on-going need? I read a thought-provoking interview with Vaclav Smil recently. In the interview, he states that ‘In every society, manufacturing builds the lower middle class. If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots . . . the whole middle-class sinks.’ Vaclav argues that the ‘demise of US manufacturing dooms (Italics mine) the country not just intellectually but creatively.’ To me, that is a chilling accusation of our country and the never-ending push by US corporations to find the cheapest labor cost without regard to the impact to our middle class. As long as that push continues, I fear the need for food banks and red kettles will continue to increase. The gap between the haves and have-nots will widen. Dear God, I pray I’m wrong.   

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