Saturday, October 10, 2020

safety nets and emergency response

 In the Fall of 2018, Hurricane Florence struck, followed by Hurricane Michael. These were the most massive and destructive storms I've witnessed firsthand. In the storms' wake, the Bakery was involved in sending relief to poorer parts of the state, through both food and cash donations (see https://www.facebook.com/Ninthstbakery/photos/a.10150149431520183/10160838987310183/?type=3&theater). For me, it was eye-opening how a community could rally and support its poorest, most needy citizens. Where FEMA, the State, and county response should have been able to have the resources to handle crises like these, it was instead a ragtag group of ordinary folks who chipped in. I will always remember the working class guy (I never caught his name) who, when we put out a call for food donations, went to Food Lion and bought what looked like $150 of essentials (pastas and canned goods and such), bringing in bag after bag, just an individual guy. When I applauded his generosity and thanked him, he was modest, and just shrugged it off. Apart from the heroic acts that make headlines, community responses are the sum total of thousands of small actions like these.

What I took away from the experience was both the goodness of everyday people, and also the ineptitude and mismanagement of our government institutions. It does not take much money to feed people every day. It doesn't take much organization to provide support to those who are suffering, or have lost their homes. But without flexible budgets, organizational leadership, and saddled with a minefield of bureaucracy, a pass-the-buck mentality where shrugs are more common than "Yes"es, and where liability is ever present threat, it is no wonder that the government is not trusted. We could be doing this for pennies. Of the CARES act, a minority of the money went directly to everyday people.

Because a community response is not a robust structure, not as robust as a governmental one, there should be governmental help. Communities eventually become exhausted and can no longer self-organize and help. When communities drop off, along with their donated funds, we need government to step up and fill the gap. Right now, we are serving twenty lunches per day for homeless and otherwise food insecure folks. Why do we and Urban Ministries need to fill this gap, when the city needs to be mitigating and eliminating homelessness.