June 25, 2014

Donating Well

Imani Williams

Imani Williams

Project Intern

Baltimore Food and Faith, CLF

Good Food Gathering, June 2014

Good Food Gathering, June 2014

While 22.9% of Baltimore City’s population is food insecure, excess crops can be found rotting on farms throughout Baltimore County. The need is clearly demonstrated, and so is the waste, but there are plenty of people and groups trying to help. Some of these people met at the Franciscan Center on June 12 to discuss how to supply nutritious foods to those in need.

This Good Food Gathering was the third in a series of four conducted by the Baltimore Food and Faith Project. The first two meetings focused on eating and teaching well, and the third meeting addressed the idea of donating well. At this latest town hall meeting, radio talk show host Marc Steiner facilitated a discussion among organization leaders and community members regarding the concept of donating well, the work being done by various organizations, and individual perspectives on changes that the future might hold. One of the topics discussed was gleaning, an activity in which excess food is harvested from farms and distributed to those in need.

Donating relies on a consideration for others who are in need. Often, our perception of those who are on the receiving end of our donations sets the tone for how we engage in the process of giving. For instance, both My Brother’s Keeper and the Franciscan Center base interactions with their guests and clients on the principle of maintaining respect and dignity for all human beings. Similarly, the Park Heights Community Health Alliance looks to inspire self-determination within the population it serves.

Maintaining respect for and seeking to strengthen individuals receiving food and/or services allows organizations to better prepare themselves to address the needs of the groups they are attempting to reach. It is this spirit of respect that leads My Brother’s Keeper to insist on referring to the community members they serve as their guests. Likewise, a spirit of dignity leads the Franciscan Center to consistently provide their clients with options regarding the foods that they choose to accept and the services and programs in which they choose to engage.

Like many of the organizations represented at the Donating Well panel and others working throughout the region, Gather Baltimore, a gleaning organization, relies heavily on volunteers to help carry out its work. In addition to providing manpower during the gleaning process, volunteers can help bridge the divide between giving and receiving. For instance, some of the same people receiving produce from Gather Baltimore can also engage in the process of collecting excess food from farms.

Understanding the overlap between givers and receivers contributes to the process of donating well because it requires individuals to put themselves in the shoes of the people they are attempting to help. This broadened perspective can help individuals make decisions that will influence the kind of lasting changes that our current food system needs.

According to Christian Metzger, the face of poverty isn’t what it used to be. As the Franciscan Center continues to provide nutritious meals, fresh produce and food education to more and more Baltimore residents, they have identified the working poor as their fastest growing group of clients. The idea that the image of those in need is varied and changing highlights the need for givers to maintain a sense of open-mindedness and flexibility in their understanding of those who they are giving to.

Additionally, as individuals engage in giving well and donating well, they can expect to experience changes within themselves. At My Brother’s Keeper, Danise Jones-Dorsey often sees evidence of the transformative power that exists in the process of giving well. As volunteers help provide nutritious lunches for community members, they become more and more committed to tackling the broader issue of food insecurity. As engaging in donating well creates these changes within individuals, organizations will become more informed and will be better equipped to teach communities how to operate within a flawed food system.

For many of the leaders participating in the panel, part of donating well is looking towards the future and to the ways in which their organizations affect the populations they serve. In particular, Willie Flowers emphasized the importance of breaking down the silos between different groups and organizations that are working separately to address common community needs. Both Christian Metzger and Danise Jones-Dorsey echoed the importance of collaboration, especially when considering organizations’ limited resources.

In a similar manner, Arthur Morgan of Gather Baltimore highlighted how donating time through the process of volunteering can indirectly generate collaboration. While volunteering can help Gather Baltimore to grow and develop its own sustainability, volunteering can also facilitate connections between individuals who come together with common goals. Hence, volunteer experiences might open the door for individuals to combine thoughts and resources as they collaborate on future projects.

Donating well plays an important role within faith-based and service organizations that are attempting to tackle Baltimore’s extensive food issues. When it comes to the act of giving, the desire to contribute to your community in some way is not enough. Engaging in donating well requires greater involvement and investment, and it therefore represents the greater opportunity for putting into effect meaningful change for populations in need.

On Tuesday, July 9, the final Good Food Gathering will take place at Netivot Shalom (7602 Labyrinth Rd ~ Pikesville, MD 21208). The discussion will cover the topic of acting well and will include representatives from congregations involved in a variety of arenas from composting to political advocacy.

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