for release January 31, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Better Than Dog Food
Jeff, a young seminary intern got our congregation buzzing the day he brought an opened can of dog food to church for his children's sermon. He proceeded to tell the children that since he was commuting back and forth from his seminary to the church on weekends, he hadn't had time for breakfast that morning. He was hoping they wouldn't mind if he ate his breakfast during the children's sermon.
Jeff asked the children if any of them had ever eaten dog food. One girl volunteered that her father had (and from his seat he laughingly confirmed it, but that it was a doggy biscuit). Jeff got out a plastic fork, stuffed a napkin in his shirt, and read the label on the can and said, "It says it has all these vitamins and minerals so it must be good and nutritious." Then he proceeded to stab a piece of the food and pop it into his mouth.
I confess my stomach was a little queasy at this point, but Jeff proceeded to pop another morsel into his mouth and pronounce it "delicious." He didn't seem to flinch or grimace as he swallowed.
Then he came clean. "This is really a candy bar," he confessed, to the disappointment/envy of the children and the relief (I think) of the adults in the room. He reminded them that they should never "judge a book by its cover" and always remember to try to look on the inside of a person before judging them by their appearance. A good and apt lesson for us all.
Jeff also confessed that the illustration wasn't original with him, and that he had first seen it used when a minister from Scotland was spending some months in the congregation where he grew up.
When Jeff started in with his dog food illustration, I thought he was going to remind us that there are people in poverty who have to eat dog food. At least I have heard stories of elderly people eating dog food.
While I don't know personally anyone who is putting cans of dog food on the table during what promises to be quite a long and hard winter at least in some parts of North America, we are blind, insensitive and hard headed if we refuse to believe that hunger exists here.
While many charities pass out food baskets and free turkeys during the holidays, and food pantries and soup kitchens provide nutritious hot meals or free groceries, what's needed in the long run is programs to help people to get and hold jobs so they don't have to keep coming back to the soup kitchen. Some need programs that help them fill in the gaps in their education, so they can hold better jobs.
Jubilee Jobs, a faith-based non-profit employment agency is one such program in Washington D.C. In operation since 1981, it helps prepare people for the job market by stressing the importance of showing up on time (if you come late to a training session, you are not allowed in and have to file an application to come another week), what to wear, how to fill out a job application or resume, how to develop an attitude that allows you to keep a job even when you are reprimanded or have a difficult boss. Learning such lessons about swallowing one's pride and toughing it out, sucking up your pain, dealing emotionally with resentment and feelings about unfairness-these are all parts of being "employable." The program has helped thousands of people find jobs in that area.
A job is much better than a can of soup as an answer to poverty, but of course even this solution may not be easy or the right solution. A person holding a minimum wage job does not make enough for a small family to survive. If you are a single parent, do you work two or three jobs and have your child in daycare all that time? Often there are mental health or other disability issues impacting a family. While we work at long term, systemic solutions, certainly some temporary assistance or aid is a loving response to people in need. The kids may not eat dog food for breakfast - but something worse nutritionally like a candy bar.
Too often, especially when it comes to those in poverty, we do "judge a book" by the cover: we see clothing, hairstyle or housing and think, why can't they get their life together? Or we see them only as statistics. We fail to see the real people with their multiple layers of issues: living with a persistent feeling that no matter what they try, they lose a job, the rent goes up, the car breaks down, they lose their driving license. These failures began in school, perhaps prompted by learning disabilities, family problems, illness or poverty. It takes gumption to rise above negative circumstances.
Gumption can't be handed out or taught. But educational programs on how to get and keep a job do go a long way.
For more about Jubilee Jobs see http://www.charitablechoices.org/charities/JubileeJobs/>
or write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 855 words; end material = 105 words
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