Making A Difference (#1)

Panhandlers on the street worry me.  I never know what to do.  I don’t know what my responsibility is.  Even if I did, I don’t know what my choices are for making a meaningful difference.

I could take him home, cook him a meal, talk to him, listen to him.  Or, if I didn’t want to get that close but still wanted to help, I could simply give him money for a decent meal.  Or if I didn’t want to deal with him at all but felt sympathetic to his plight, I could send a check to the neighborhood emergency food shelf – maybe enough to feed someone for a week or month.    That’s making a difference.

Or, from a  different perspective, we could remember where  food comes from.  If people could grow their own food, they’d also be learning about cooking and nutrition, becoming healthier and more productive.  So I could make a difference very locally by supporting my local youth farm and market project.  Maybe I could show kids how to cook something I know how to cook, and they could get other kids involved, and older folks, and new arrivals, and shut-ins, helping neighbors connect and engage productively with local issues.  That’s making a difference.

Or, having spent some time packing bags at the food shelf myself, I got to ask a lot of questions.  “How can we get more healthy and nutritious food into the hands of people who are genuinely hurting for food?  What has to be done differently?”  Turns out it’s a complex, multi-layered system, with lots of weak or broken parts.  Supporting my local alliance for advocating and implementing changes to the good food distribution system – overcoming food deserts, market access barriers, transportation and spoilage issues, counterproductive farm policies, and creating new partnerships and markets — that’s making a difference.

These are all legitimate ways of making a decent difference, right?  Right.  Each illustrates a very different approach, and it’s own opportunity for engagement and learning and being useful.  Each has its own set of intentions of what good could come of it, and its own opportunities to discover and consider results.

Big picture, providing philanthropic funds at each of the above points of entry stands to “make a difference,” but at different scale and with different potential consequences.  To address hunger (and we’re not even talking homelessness or unemployment yet) at a meaningful level, funding at only one point is insufficient; each point has to be linked to others with sustained effort such that the community hunger and health needles move.

Stay tuned for more on “Making a Difference.”  In the meantime, let’s not forget the guy on the corner.