DALLAS—Hungry people need Christ’s followers to act like Jesus, not like his original disciples, a Christian social worker told participants at the Dallas Hunger Summit.
“We have work to do,” said Larry James, president and chief executive officer of CitySquare, a not-for-profit community development organization in Dallas. “There is toxic stress that fills so many households. There are children in this city who suffer from malnutrition. There are food deserts in this wealthy city.”
James delivered the keynote address at the sixth annual Dallas Hunger Summit, held at Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas. The Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions and the Texas Hunger Initiative, a project of Baylor University, convened the summit.
Feeding the multitude
Jesus’ feeding of the multitude as recorded in Matthew 14 offers insights into how God’s people should respond to human need, James asserted.
The disciples of Jesus said: “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
The disciples dismissed the people and their needs with the attitude they should take care of themselves, James observed.
“Hungry people find themselves too much and too often on their own,” he said.
When Jesus told his disciples to give the people something to eat, the disciples responded by saying they had only fives loaves of bread and two fish.
“They operated from a scarcity mindset, saying, ‘Look how little we have,’” James said.
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In contrast, Jesus directly intervened, insisted that needs could be met and provided an innovative solution, he noted.
While it’s easy to become “lost in the mystery of the miracle,” it’s equally easy to become lost in the overwhelming awareness that “things aren’t right for so many people,” James said.
Rather than lose hope and settle for the status quo, God’s people should raise the bar of expectation, he insisted.
“Have we settled for too little? Why don’t we ask more of one another?” he asked.
That includes expecting more from those who receive assistance, empowering them to become part of the solution, he asserted.
“Poor folks must not be discounted any longer,” James said. “The people you feed are a short step away from becoming the people who lead. Embrace the challenge. Don’t step away from it.”
‘We have not arrived’
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas and chair of Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions, emphasized the importance of addressing childhood hunger.
“I never thought in 2017 I will would be talking about hungry children,” she said. “We cannot have a good future unless we invest in our children and our youth.”
While she applauded the progress the coalition has made in six years, she emphasized the continuing needs in a state where 24 percent of the children live in food-insecure homes.
“We have made some strides, but we have not arrived,” she said.
Panelists at the summit stressed the vital role the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program plays in providing access to nutritious food.
Vidya Ayyr, director of social impact at Parkland Hospital, drew connections between poor nutrition and a variety of ailments—obesity, diabetes, cancer and mental illness.
“SNAP is the safety net,” she said, providing poor individuals and families access to food to improve their overall health.
“SNAP is by far the largest federal nutrition program,” said Marc Jacobson, regional director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. “It lifts over 10 million people out of poverty.”
SNAP—formerly known as food stamps—also helps stimulate local economic growth, he added. Jacobson cited a study showing every $1 in SNAP benefits produces a $1.79 boost to the local economy.
Food pantries and food banks alone cannot meet the needs of hungry people without the federal nutrition program, speakers emphasized.
“The food we provide is not sufficient without SNAP,” said Simon Powell, chief operating officer of the North Texas Food Bank.
If SNAP benefits are cut, the burden on already stressed food pantries and helping agencies will increase tremendously, said Tracy Eubanks, chief executive officer of Metrocrest Services, a non-profit social services provider.