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Poverty: A Community Problem

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BY DAVID HOLSTON |

“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.”

Matthew 25:35 (CEB)

I have been thinking a lot lately about hunger; to be honest; it is rarely far from my mind. In early April, I spoke at the “Southeastern University Consortium’s 2019 Symposium on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition” in Boone at Appalachian State. Mostly academics and students discussing and presenting research on the subject of hunger. For the record, I believe that hunger is a symptom of poverty; much like a fever is a part of the flu.

Here are a few things I learned; see if any of these subjects surprise you.

1.    Hunger is an issue on college campuses. Imagine students at respected universities across the south who are food insecure…meaning, they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. By the way, there are seven colleges and universities in Winston-Salem: two state universities, the oldest female college in the nation, an internationally known university, two bible colleges, a community college and also three barber/beauty schools. Conservatively there are 27,125 college students here. Based on the statistical average, there are about 6,000 food insecure students (although that is just a rough estimate).  

2.    I learned about a federal program that helps with job training. The presentation I heard impressed me. It can be provided in any county in NC but the county has to accept the offer from the Federal Government. Only three in NC have accepted the offer. You have probably never heard of the program since the closest county to us doing it is Mecklenburg. As I listened, I could see the faces of people I know that could benefit from this program.

3.    There are local government officials that refuse to believe that hungry people live in their communities. In Winston-Salem, the mayor is actively seeking solutions but in some places, leaders want to ignore the problem.

I learned much more but these I wanted to share. 

In my remarks to the symposium I said that along with the macro understanding, we need to take a micro approach. We have already started doing this at Sunnyside Ministry; I hope in the future we can do more.

I asked myself, does the church have a role in this and if not, why? In the last 19 months at Sunnyside Ministry, we have provided 583,500 pounds of food to hungry people. But I feel like we are only treating part of the problem. I am asked all the time about the “lazy people you serve” at Sunnyside Ministry, “If they would get a job…”  Here are some facts: the average GPA at one school for students experiencing food insecurity is 3.4. Lazy students don’t have 3.4 GPAs. Further, these students are hungry and have a 3.4, this is a remarkable feat.  At Sunnyside Ministry, 68.77% of our clients work or have income. That average monthly income is $826.70 per month. Poverty is an individual’s problem, but it is also a community problem.  It will take a community to fix this problem. Yes, there is hunger. We also need employment programs.

I invite you to read James 2: 15-17. Are we living up to this charge from the Ground of the Unity? “Our Lord Jesus entered into this world’s misery to bear it and to overcome it. We seek to follow Him in serving His brothers and sisters. Like the love of Jesus, this service knows no bounds.” 

I ended my remarks at the symposium by saying that “if we are going to alleviate poverty, it is the responsibility of ALL people, of ALL churches, of ALL businesses, of ALL levels of government. It is not a problem for nonprofits to solve alone, it takes us ALL.”  Again, I ask what the role of the church is.

In a community where one out of every six people is food insecure, wouldn’t it be great if each of us formed a group of five people and set out to raise one person out of poverty? That would make 62,720 groups of five working to end poverty. 

I know what you are thinking, “this sounds crazy!” Think about this, there are about 176,000 Christians in Winston-Salem who are not food insecure*. That alone is 35,200 groups.  Sounds like being a missionary. And if we take up this work, then business and government leaders, many of them Christian as well, will begin to take up this work.

I believe these words from Mother Teresa could be our charge,  “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one” and added, if we continued to do this until all are fed, because even one hungry family, even one hungry person living anywhere is one too many.

I can hear you saying “he is crazy.” You might be correct, but isn’t it as equally crazy to think that tonight within 35 miles of any place in Winston-Salem there are 60,000 people who are food insecure.  Many are children going to bed hungry tonight.

This may not end all poverty, Deuteronomy 15:11 and Mark 14:7 remind us we will always have the poor with us. The Bible also reminds us that they are responsible.

We are a church known for our food, Lovefeast Buns, Sugar Cake, Cookies and Chicken Pie. Imagine if we became known as the church leading the charge to end hunger! Imagine then how we could spread the Gospel, not by words alone, but by the example of active faith in service to all people. We have already started this in many places.  

Then on the final day, we can stand together before Jesus and have him say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

*yeah, the math is questionable, 55% of people in Winston-Salem are Christian, take the population and remove 16% to get about 176,000. 55% is from Sperling’s Best Places web site.


About the Author

Photo courtesy of David Holston

David Holston is the Executive Director of Sunnyside Ministry. Sunnyside Ministry is a non-profit organization that provides food, clothing, and emergency financial assistance to families in crisis. All funding for our assistance programs comes from donations and grants. In 2014, Sunnyside Ministry provided $1,883,040 worth of services to families in crisis situations. Grocery orders were provided to 17,634 people and clothing to 15,483 individuals.

Contact David Holston at [email protected]


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