How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

The "deserving" vs. "undeserving" poor"

The aphorism says "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" is familiar to many. While I agree with the underlying premise of the aphorism, it has always troubled me a little as it seems to diminish the importance of addressing immediate needs. When someone is drowning, priority number one should be providing them with a lifeline.

Failing to address immediate needs can have tragic consequences. For example, without an emergency shelter, the homeless would have no place to go for shelter in the sweltering heat and in frigid cold. Trenton's dangerous abandoned buildings are known on the streets as "condos." They are the housing of last resort for many of the homeless and the addicted. They are hell holes that are ripe for a tragic fire.

Likewise, without soup kitchens, many of those who experience the pain, indignity and devastating consequences of hunger would have no place to go for a meal.

Since opioid addiction has emerged as a ubiquitous problem, the media is replete with stories of addicts who have overdosed and been brought back from the brink of death by a Narcan injection. Clearly Narcan is not a solution to addiction, but it does reverse the effects of an overdose and prolong life. Sometimes the best we can do is to provide additional time for those who are grappling with their demons.

The Rescue Mission of Trenton, which operates the city's shelter, and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, which operates the city's soup kitchen, offer a wide range of supportive services e.g., high school equivalency instruction, computer training, job training, case management in addition to their emergency services.

All of these services are offered unconditionally and advance the idea of "teaching a man to fish." The Mission can cite dozens of examples of individuals who are now productive members of the community because of their commitment to giving individuals multiple chances to turn their lives around.

Nowadays our policymakers are finding more and more ways of excluding people from emergency services by dichotomizing those who are hurting into two groups - those who are "deserving" and those who are "undeserving." Increasingly, the "undeserving" are being defined as those who can't meet the work requirement for participation in safety net programs. The gravamen of this simplistic construct is the belief that those who are physically able to get out of bed should at least work part-time to receive Medicaid, food stamps and other programs.

On the surface this sounds like a reasonable requirement. The problem with it is that it doesn't acknowledge that in the real world many people are unable to work because of mental or other health issues, addiction or because they are caretakers for family members. Further, there are millions of Americans who remain trapped in poverty, who work full or part-time. The New York Times Magazine recently looked at the incredibly hard life of a Trenton home health aide who and her children were homeless despite working incredibly hard as an aide for $10-$14 per hour. The article's author, Matthew Desmond wrote, "Americans often assume that the poor do not work. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, nearly two-thirds of respondents did not think most poor people held a steady job; in reality, that year a majority of non-disabled working-age adults were part of the labor force."

Instead of focusing on the few "takers" on welfare, we should be focusing on those who log as many hours as they can, but still can't make ends meet.

Instead of helping these folks, the Trump administration provides tax cuts to the CEOs of the 100 largest US companies who have more than $4.9 billion in their retirement accounts and an average amount of $49.3 million stashed away for their retirement. Instead of attacking our European allies, President Trump should be looking across the ocean to Europe for insight on how to address the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in America.

The President might be surprised at what he sees. In "Thrive: Secrets the World's Happiest People," Peter Gundelach, a sociologist from the University of Copenhagen writes, "Although Danes might grumble about high taxes, they approve of the results: a society with an extremely low disparity between rich and poor. As a popular slogan puts it, Denmark is a country "where few have too much and even fewer have too little.'" This comes about because Denmark devotes about half of its annual budget to smoothing out society's inequities (3 to 4 times what we spend). If you earn more than $70,000 a year, you will part with around 60% of the wages through taxes.

Interestingly, with "cradle to grave" benefits, Europe's welfare states have a higher percentage of their populations working during their primary working years than we do in the United States. This dispels the notion that the inclination to work depends o

We need to address both the immediate and long-term needs of our people without making arbitrary distinctions with regard to those who are "deserving" and those who are "undeserving" of our help.