Works of Mercy as a Couple: Shopping for a Food Bank
Recently, I read a Facebook post someone shared about the relief effort for Hurricane Harvey. The original poster was saying that those affected by the disaster did not need your surplus LuLaRoe leggings from the buy-three-get-one-free sale you found; they did not need your used, stained, dirty old clothes; they did not need your nearly expired and borderline inedible canned goods.
The poster then went on to list what they actually did need and gave several suggestions for the best ways to help.
This post made me think about the true nature of charitable giving, in our everyday lives and not just in times of widespread disaster.
It Seemed to be The Easiest Thing…
Growing up, the main time my family gave food to any local food banks was when we found nearly expired items in our pantry – or items that none of us could be coerced into eating. But when I started dating my now-husband, I discovered that he sometimes used part of the money he set aside as a tithe to purchase actual new food items specifically for the food bank.
I thought it was a lovely idea and jumped into helping him.
So we went to our local small-town grocery store… and got a ton of strange looks at the large amount of macaroni and cheese, soup cans, and top ramen we were purchasing. We were just a couple of shy high schoolers, so we actually found the whole thing kind of embarrassing.
Years later in our married life, we decided to try doing it again as a Lenten service project one year. But this time, we did it smarter: We went to a Costco where they expect you to buy huge quantities of everything.
And yet, I discovered later that we still were not necessarily doing it “right.”
Is There a Right Way to Charity?
In a sense, the answer to this is no, because God sees the intentions of our hearts. So, He will be pleased at any service we’re doing for others out of love for Him.
This means we can think of charitable giving as done “right” simply if we’re giving out of charitable love. So deciding to make a service project of purchasing food for a food bank together, for the sake of loving our neighbor, is good. Definitely something that can benefit a couple trying to grow in holiness.
And yet, I have to think that God would like it even better if we use our intellects as much as possible when it comes to charitable giving.
For example, the other important truth I gleaned from that Facebook post about the hurricane relief effort, beyond the “Don’t give us junk” aspect, is that there are specific items that are more useful, and specific items that are far less useful.
So our mac and cheese, our top ramen? Possibly not the best choice. A lot of food banks already have a lot of pantry basics like this.
I’ve heard it suggested actually that the best way to help a food bank is to just give them money. Well, that makes it easy. It almost seems to get us off the hook. It’s a lot easier to just throw money at a charitable organization than to physically do something to help them. Easier, and well… it’s not so much of a service project anymore.
Making Sure Our Physical Service is Helpful
If you want to do something to physically help the poor as an actual service project, the solution is pretty simple: Just check with the food bank. It sounds obvious, and yet my husband and I didn’t think of it. Like probably a lot of people, we assumed pantry basics were a go-to/always needed bet.
But actually, some food banks that are equipped for it would love donations of fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, especially around the holidays, they can really use donations of turkeys or hams.
The other thing you might consider doing, especially if you are kind of low on funds yourself, is to get in contact with the food bank and see if they need volunteers to purchase fresh food from the funds others have donated—because if they ask for monetary donations, someone has got to go physically buy the food.
It’s True that Giving is Always Good…
I don’t doubt that God looks on the intentions of our hearts and judges our actions as meritorious when we give for love of Him. And if you’re doing it together as a couple, all the better to prepare you for a holy future together in which you make caring for the poor a priority in your possible marriage someday.
But don’t forget to be savvy. Don’t stop at the obvious and assume you’re taking the most helpful route. Think it through. With just a little research, you can probably discover how to do more actual good with nearly the same amount of effort on your part.
Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic wife, mother, screenwriter, and blogger, as well as author of the Catholic YA romance novel SYDNEY AND CALVIN HAVE A BABY. She blogs about TV and Movies from Catholic perspective at Thorne in the Flesh: A Faithful Catholic's Guide to Netflix, Hulu, and More.