During the season of giving, downtown Macon was interesting. The human spirit has an amazing capacity for compassion and giving, but too often the manifestation of that spirit into action without thought creates liability and danger for the recipients. We forget that what we think the people around us need based on our personal experiences and perceptions may not be what they really need.
For example, we think people who are homeless and poor are hungry and need food. While this may be true at times, it is not always the case. Before we prepare or buy a meal and head off to feed people, we should first figure out if they are really hungry at that particular time.
On Thanksgiving Day in downtown Macon there were three meals served at the same time within about a square mile. These meals are planned and advertised and occur each year at the same time and place. However, in addition to those meals other individuals and church groups began appearing in downtown as early as 8:30 a.m. handing out whole cakes, pies, turkeys and boxed meals. This scenario repeated itself several times throughout the day. The effect of all of this food creates a huge dilemma for our homeless and other low income downtown residents. If they said no, the givers were offended. If they said, yes, what were they going to do with all of the food? One can only eat so much. And without proper storage, food spoils creating an opportunity for food poisoning.
In addition, the other meal providers who prepare and serve Thanksgiving meals each year over prepared food because they didn’t know all of these other people were coming to serve meals. The result was wasted resources.
This problem doesn’t only happen on Thanksgiving. It happens all throughout the year. On a number of weekends during the year, there are as many as three additional meals going on simultaneously in Central City Park at lunch time. This makes it very difficult for Christ Church, which serves a meal every Saturday, to plan. I wonder why we don’t think people are hungry in other parts of the city.
While providing a meal for the homeless on the holidays or weekends seems like a good idea. Where do we think they eat on the other days of the year when we are eating at home with our family? You might be surprised to know that in downtown Macon we have a number of great agencies dedicated to providing meals for the homeless and poor on a regular schedule. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served every day of the week in the downtown area. The regular schedule allows people to know when food is available, so they don’t have to worry when or if they will get a meal. The scheduled meals allow people to plan their days and accomplish daily living tasks without being held hostage to sitting in a park or on a sidewalk hoping someone will show up with food. Or worse yet, sitting there and not having anyone show up.
When these other groups show up on a sporadic basis with food they make it difficult for the regular providers to plan their meals. Once again, we end up wasting resources.
Another danger with additional meals that are sporadic and not coordinated is that the regular providers may decide their service is not needed and change their schedule. Where are people going to eat when a church ministry’s focus changes or it is inconvenient for them to be there?
What is the solution? We should do our research on the resources already available and see what we can do to assist the providers of these resources who are committed for the long term. We should take time to assess what the people in our community need, not what we think they need, or what they say they want, but what they really need. What they may need the most is for us to slow down and love them. It doesn’t always have to be about hand outs.
Denise Saturna is a resident of Macon.