Things Needed for the Body
by Steve Heinbaugh, Men’s Mission Life Coach
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
In 2014 Bill Christian, then Director of Social Services at Bethesda Men’s Mission, was in a quandary. There were plenty of non-perishable groceries in the warehouse, but no bags made up and he needed 100 bags to distribute in Duncannon by that evening. His fellowship had for years provided the rural poor with this monthly assistance, and he couldn’t bear to let the regulars down.
The thought occurred to him that men from the Mission could make the bags, so he asked a cohort of program men to spend the morning at the warehouse making up bags of groceries to distribute that evening. Not only did they make the 100 he needed for that night—they made 100 extra bags to boot, and all before lunchtime. No one understands hunger better than a hungry man.
That began a ministry of service now integral to the Spiritual Recovery Program at the Men’s Mission. Over the last five years, men from the Mission have packed over 12,000 bags of food for distribution at points throughout central Pennsylvania, with about half of that total going to the rural poor in Perry County.
Program men at the Mission spend two Friday mornings each month at the warehouse bagging groceries for distribution. Once each month, on the first Thursday, they accompany Bill to Duncannon to give away some of the bags they’ve made.
Most of the men at the Mission are urban men. Most of them know how to fend for themselves—where to get food, shelter, clothing, a job, medical attention, or transportation. There is a plethora of services provided in urban settings for those facing hard times.
But rural poverty is a beast of a different type. The services readily available to ease the sting of poverty in urban environments are rare in the towns and villages of the countryside. There are no buses, cabs, or clinics—even doctors’ and dentists’ offices are scarce. There are no shelters, soup-lines, programs, or assistance offices. There are precious few employment opportunities. Even that small-town hominess where “everyone knows everyone” adds a toxic shame to those in the grip of poverty: everyone knows.
No matter where you live, poverty is difficult to navigate. A whole complex set of skills foreign to a middleclass life is necessary to survive its throes. But in a rural setting, the challenges are even more vexing. Where do you cash a check without a bank account? How do you get to Harrisburg for an appointment? How do you sign up for medical assistance and where can you go for a PCP once you get it? Where do you look for a job and how do you get to work if you find one?
The urban-rural interface of poverty is something to see. It is fascinating to watch God work his good will in the brief interactions between the disparate groups of inner city men and country folks. Men who are all too familiar with the corroding effects of shame become blissfully un-self-conscious as they are focused on the needs of others. Men used to fending for themselves unexpectedly learn, and actually experience, the “more blessed”-ness of giving rather than getting.
And the rural poor benefit, too. One of the grocery bag packers said, “When I pack bags, I think of the faces of the people we give the bags out to. It makes me smile as I work because I remember the smiles on their faces as we give them food. I try to fit as much in each bag as I can. Makes me feel good.” That intentionality affects what goes into the bags as well—the men have learned that protein is a premium food, so products like beans are prized over other canned goods because of nutritional value.
If you were to drive through the “square” in Duncannon on the first Thursday evening of the month, the racial and ethnic diversity might turn your head. For at least a few moments on those evenings, the same rainbow of skin tones that color heaven’s throngs is on full display—a remarkable thing because of the nearly homogenous culture of rural America. But greetings, laughter, and friendly banter are the counter-notes to the steady whoosh of work traffic.
The men are impressed because the people not only know each other but watch out for each other. Some provide rides, some take a couple of extra bags for friends who couldn’t make it that night or for someone who was feeling poorly. Even Bethesda has received gifts and thank-yous from some of the folks served. Sometimes, it seems, the poor are among the most giving of people (see Mark 12:41-44).
May God forbid that it should ever happen, but if you find yourself in need of a free bag of groceries, pray that a hungry man has packed it.
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