Summer is a time of celebration, of gathering, and of rest. Or it should be. When members in a community don’t have enough to provide food for their families, it can strip dignity and the fun out of summer. For families with children, summer can be especially hard; kids are home, they’re bored, they have friends over. And as anyone who has spent time with children knows, they eat a lot! They’re growing and exploring across the languid summer days.
We know from our relationships in the neighborhood and initiatives like Pride for Parents that caregivers want to provide for their family and friends. They want to provide abundantly. It’s part of why having our food co-op builds more than just food security, it builds dignity and community. Every person who walks into the co-op gets a heaping box of food worth hundreds of dollars. Recently, the co-op featured a wide variety of meats. The party-planning started right then! One of the ladies, Miss Ethel turned to me and said, “bring your boys, bring your husband. Come to my house this week we’re going to make a party of it.”
God must have designed us this way; to see a spread of delicious ingredients and immediately want to invite others to enjoy it with you. As I laugh with, chat with, and learn from the people at the co-op, I’m trying to figure out how to take people up on their offers. I’m relishing the way that this model jumpstarts community bonds in so many ways. Unlike some of the food pantries I experienced growing up, no one asks anyone to prove their poverty in order to qualify. No one monitors how long a person has stayed in the co-op on any given day (in fact, we’re happy for people to stay as long as they want). No person in authority stands over a prospective new member and gives clearance to come in. Instead, it’s like family. Everyone who comes works together. “Bring your gifts to bear,” the co-op calls, “participate in this with us.”
One out of eight Americans experiences food insecurity -- it’s so easy to imagine that it’s because we don’t have enough food. In the same way, it’s easy to think we have broken relationships between groups of people because of scarcity -- not enough time, not enough resources, etc. But when I survey the food co-op, the abundance is obvious. High-quality food floods the co-op members’ homes, so much that they’re eager to share. And sure enough, the US has plenty of food, but it often ends up in the trash before it makes it to a neighbors’ hands.
It makes me think we have more than enough relational capital to weave strong communities, too. As I think about my own childhood, I can’t help but wonder what it would have done for my family system if we had a food co-op nearby. We would have walked into a community of people having different conversations, a different mindset. We would have received a warm network of elders. The co-op has recently grown to forty-five families, and most of the new ones are younger and include kids. When I think of the impact the co-op community will have on these members, I feel a huge sense of hope and awe. Truly, we have enough, if we can just funnel it to the right place.
This realization will be my spiritual food for the summer. Will you share it with me?