A Plea to All Christians and Churches

My wife’s interfaith shelter received two donations of food last week, one from a church and one from a non-religious organization.

One donation was a bag of food per person. Each bag had a roast beef sandwich, a ham sandwich, 2 small cans of orange juice, a bag of cookies, a granola cereal bar, condiments, and a ziploc bag of napkins, plastic gloves, plastic untensils and salt and pepper.

Another donation was a box full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A couple of them with made from the butt ends.

Care to guess which one came from the church and which one came from the non-religious organization?

My wife said that the people at the shelter saw the PBJs being dropped off for their dinner. One person came up to her and said, “Christians just don’t understand. Just because we’re homeless, they think they could give us anything, and we should be grateful for it.”
The shelter has a pantry full of food, a fridge and freezer full of food. With all that food, it just didn’t seem right to give the people JUST PBJ sandwiches for their dinner.

I’m not saying ALL Christians do this, and I’m not saying your church or all churches are doing this, but there are too many of us who just miss the point.
If you are thinking, ‘well they’re in a shelter, and they should be thankful for whatever kind of food they get’ then, all I can say to you is, ‘that’s messed up that you think that way.’

Too many people have a box of stuff that they were going to throw away, but decided it could be better used for the homeless. While the people in need should be grateful that you thought of them, a shelter is not a place where you go to drop off your ‘trash.’

My wife had turn away donations from “Christians” who brought in old socks with holes, clothes with holes, pants that are falling apart, blankets that are ripped, toys with missing limbs, dolls with missing eyes, and so forth. Mind you, they’re not all from “Christians.” But many of the homeless people had bad experiences with Christians. Some of them say they feel like a charity case, and obligation that the Christians try to meet half-heartedly.

You know, when we go to heaven, God’s not going to ask us about our beliefs and our stance on issues. God’s not going to ask us whether we voted for or against Prop 8. God’s not going to ask us whether we were pro-life or pro-choice. But God’s going to ask us what we did in His name. How we loved. God’s going to ask, ‘what did you do?’

And I would hate for anyone to hear:
When I was hungry, instead of putting your heart into giving me a decent meal, you made me PBJ sandwiches.
When I was naked, you gave me socks with holes and pants that you were going to throw away.

All I’m saying is let’s truly care and love these people, with our actions, with our words and with our giving. We shouldn’t look at helping the poor as an obligation, but as a ministry that’s full of love, grace and mercy. And the kind of love that will warm someone’s heart on any given cold day.

They are people too. People in need. People that Jesus would spend more time with than the people in the church making PBJ sandwiches.

5 thoughts on “A Plea to All Christians and Churches

  1. Joseph,
    Our church operates a county-wide food pantry serving over 300 families a month. We do this with the support of about 10 other churches and several community organizations. I almost cringe when we receive food from a food drive. We will receive food that is our of date, sometimes by several years. We will receive food that NO ONE WOULD WANT. There are too many people, Christians and otherwise, who are happy to give their “junk” to those in need rather than putting themselves in the shoes of the person on the receiving end. Sort of like parsonage furniture.

    Thanks for bringing this to light. Maybe someday we’ll get it right.


  2. I used the illustration in last year’s Thanksgiving sermon that there was a lady that called Butterball, asking if a turkey that she had frozen for like 5 years would still be good. They told her that unless it was freezer-burnt, it should be ok, but they were still skeptical.

    So she replied, “Well that’s ok. I’ll just give it to the church.”

    Sad. But so true.

  3. Dear Mr. Yoo,

    I recently read your article in the UM Reporter, “When donating to needy, give healthy, hearty food.” Your admonition to care for the poor with “love, grace, and mercy” was a beautiful one. I agree that we should present the best of our resources to those in need. I was disturbed, however, that you automatically linked the quality of gifts (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, clothes with holes) to some lack of caring. Perhaps you didn’t tell the rest of your story; perhaps where you live, wealthy people only give their leavings, and if that is the case, that is a shame.

    From the other side of the country, and probably from another generation, however, I can envision there are some places and people who would look differently on the items that you cited as examples of uncaring. My parents, for instance, and many of the people I grew up with, were small town residents who came of age in the Great Depression. My mother recalled occasionally fainting with hunger and living on cornbread and beans most of her youth. My dad remembered coming home from school hungry every day and being told (in a mixture of German and English), “Eat brot!” (eat bread). Jelly was a treat. Neither parent considered their families to be the poorest of the poor by any means. And so, years later, my parents—who liked the ends of bread loaves, by the way—might think that pb&j sandwiches made a very good meal for someone hungry. Because they lived closer to the country’s southern border, they also saw that a sandwich for an immigrant on foot might mean the difference between making it to the next stop, or stopping forever out in the brush. People like my parents also thought it was a sin to waste anything: “someone can use it,” unless the something was broken beyond repair. “Mending” was not a dirty word and was practiced regularly in our house, and I still practice it. I continue to live close to the border, and when I visit a ropa usada (used clothing warehouse), I see that virtually any piece of clothing can be used by someone for something.

    So, I would like to add to your thoughtful and useful article the idea that the quality of a gift might have to do with someone’s understanding of what is good and useful. It may also have to do with the resources of the giver. There are still people and places where the parable of the widow’s mite is a reality.

    I don’t advocate giving unredeemable trash to the homeless or poor, by any means. We should give with an abundance of heart and to the best of our means. I merely think that one cannot automatically judge the intent of the giver by the gift. And, I hope the peanut butter sandwiches and the ripped blankets didn’t end up in a landfill. Sadly, there are still places in the world where things like that would be taken readily.

  4. Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing and opening my eyes to different perspectives.
    But also, Orange County happens to be a rather wealthy place to live, and a lot of people drive up in luxury cars to drop off their donations.

    But I really do appreciate you bringing up the widow’s parable. After all, I don’t know their heart, and I shouldn’t be too quick to judge their generosity based on what they give.

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