by Bob Lupton
This Thanksgiving Americans have much to be thankful for. Ninety percent of us are working. Our standard of living remains the highest of any nation on earth. Our government is stable and our economy is growing. We enjoy more freedoms than any people in human history. Yes, we have much to be thankful for.
Which is not to say that we have no problems. The nine-percent-plus unemployed Americans are certainly struggling. Foreclosures continue to dislodge people from their homes. Lifestyle levels are slipping. Congressional gridlock is frustrating and political wrangling is ugly. To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to voice our dissatisfactions. And that we are free to do.
But it is not Pollyanna to offer up heartfelt thanks to God for the abundant blessings we enjoy. Even the most destitute of our land – those sleeping under bridges and in shelters – are nourished by the surpluses of food and the milk of human kindness that flow freely, particularly at this time of the year.
There is one group of struggling people in our city who are especially grateful this Thanksgiving season, people of meager means who have discovered a unique way to multiply their limited food budgets. Unlike other families who will stand in line for the Thanksgiving meal prepared by volunteers with Hosea Feed the Hungry, these families will feast around a family dinner table in the warmth of their own apartments. These are the families who are members of the Georgia Avenue Food Cooperative.
Several years ago the Georgia Avenue Community Ministry tested out a creative method to enable their food pantry recipients to collectively secure their own food at great savings. The church, as an authorized social service agency, could purchase surplus food for their pantry from the Atlanta Community Food Bank at 12¢ a pound. Individuals, of course, could not. What if a group of food pantry recipients pulled their money, processed it through the church, and thereby gained access to food bank bargains? Thirteen families volunteered for the experiment, invested $2 each and the Georgia Avenue Food Cooperative was launched.
Care had to be taken, of course, to respect the food bank regulations that limited food purchases to only authorized non-profit organizations. Co-op members, though prohibited from purchasing food directly from the food bank, could however pay dues to a church-sponsored program. By combining co-op member contributions with the church’s food pantry budget, the church could then be the legitimate food receiving agency for the co-op. The idea worked. The original thirteen families quickly swelled to 50 with growing waiting lists. Soon the church fellowship hall was overwhelmed with excited co-op members, ordering, sorting, boxing and distributing food. A steering committee was formed. A secretary from the group was elected to keep records, then a treasurer to collect dues. Before long a reasonably functioning organization of dues-paying members was humming. Community life emerged. Members prayed for one another, shared meals, fellowshipped, carried food to shut-ins.
Today there are five co-ops that comprise the Georgia Ave Food Cooperative, each with 50 households. Their bi-weekly dues, now $3, yield for them an average of $100 worth of groceries. No longer must they stand in dignity-depleting lines waiting for handouts. They have their own, self-managed association, under-girded by the church, that multiplies both their grocery dollars and their self-esteem. Little wonder that their homes are filled with thanksgiving this season.
How satisfying it is to be in a position to share our abundant blessings with those who have less, and do it in a way that enhances human dignity! How grateful I am for caring friends who understand the importance of accountable compassion! Thank you for investing with us to see this movement grow.