Every group on campus here at SNC has to meet certain requirements in order to remain an operating organization and continue receiving funds. For one of these requirements, the service component, Cru chose to volunteer at Paul's Pantry, a local food pantry which has distributed over 71.4 million pounds of food to the needy of Brown County since 1984.
We had about thirteen students, some from our Bible studies and others from our outreach with ESL students, who came to help sort the donated items Paul's Pantry receives. Directed by a vocal woman who came up to my elbow, we took bulk donations of cereal, rice, oatmeal and beans and bagged them for families to purchase. Several other groups of volunteers joined us in the bagging and stocking room--some from local high schools and others just individuals who spend their Saturdays helping out at the Pantry.
I knew about Paul's Pantry from my days working in the kitchen at the campus cafeteria. I always hated throwing away perfectly good food, but luckily we were able to send it to Paul's, where it would go to people who actually needed it. What I didn't know was what happened after the food got to Paul's. Because it is such a large pantry and serves so many people, lots of volunteers are needed to keep the shelves stocked, sort through loads of donations, and help those who are shopping there to find everything they need. There was a system in place and everything was well-organized, probably with some thanks to the tiny lady who wasn't afraid to tickle our knees if she needed to get around us.
While we worked, we learned from the ESL students that things like Paul's Pantry don't really exist in Japan. According to the Japanese, it is the government's job to help the needy, and if they aren't going to help, why should the common people? Plus there are certain environmental beautification programs meant to keep the homeless out of cities like Tokyo. The girls with us don't exactly believe that, but that's the common perception in Japan.
Some people in America share such a perception, lending voice to just one side of the multifaceted debate of who is responsible for those in need? My own beliefs, which are always changing the more I learn about the different aspects of poverty, are generally that we are all responsible. I do believe the government plays a part; the purpose of (American) government is to provide for and protect its citizens and allowing millions of people to be homeless does little to protect them. On the other side of things, I am a supporter of the separation of church and state and I recognize the church's responsibility to care for those in need, knowing that the government alone cannot fix things.
Most importantly, though, I believe that helping the homeless or impoverished or anyone in need of anything has to start with an individual. Instead of debating whose fault homelessness is and who should be responsible for helping, we should all focus on doing good where we can.