Katrina Journal
Slidell, LA — September 2005

Hungry, Anyone?

How do you prove you’re hungry? What constitutes need?

As I joked with people coming through the feeding line outside of Grace Memorial Baptist Church, I would tell some of them they were not allowed to cross a certain line in the pavement unless they were hungry. One seven-year-old jumped across the line with a “You’re on!” expression on his face.

I greeted some with a declaration of, “We have two rules here. You have to be hungry to stay in this line, but you are not allowed to leave if you are still hungry.” I warned others that the food wouldn’t do them much good, for they would just get hungry again. If they were willing to take that risk, we would let them come back for another meal.

I got a lot of laughter, smiles, and open doors to talk further with the people we were serving. What I never got was any valid answer to prove that anyone was hungry. How do you prove that you are hungry, anyway? How do we even define hunger?

I missed a couple of meals during the week, but I could not claim to have needed them. I had snacks available to me twenty-four hours a day. I had money to purchase food and the ability to return home at will. I lost about four pounds during the week, but I am in no wise trying to locate them! I’d be just as happy to misplace another ten.

By contrast, I spoke with one family who had not eaten in two days. A work crew from out of town had not had a hot meal in a week. Several families coming through the line reported having had no breakfast since the storm we call Katrina. One extended family of twenty had no food in the house they were sharing. Another family group of fifteen had nothing to eat and no water, either. Another had access to food, but could not locate a source for charcoal to prepare it.

Were we feeding hungry people, or keeping people from getting hungry? What is the difference, anyway? If you had been in the feeding line, how would you have answered a request to prove your hunger?

Two-thirds of the world will go to sleep tonight without getting enough to eat. That is just a normal part of life for them. They don’t know any different. One of the hungriest and poorest nations in the world, Bangladesh, sent a million dollars in aid for the victims of the Katrina disaster.

We fed people who were poor, and people who were accustomed to bounty. We fed people whose resources were in a state of limbo. We fed a man who wanted to work pro bono to help others rebuild, but whose tools were lost in the flood waters of the storm. We fed families who huddled in sleeping quarters without so much as a mattress to offer comfortable rest, let alone food.

How does one measure hunger? We just fed those who wished to eat. We offered food and opened the stores of the bounty at hand. Were there some who “took advantage” of generosity? Sure, but who tells their grandchildren not to have a second helping? Hospitality and generosity are not about serving just enough—they are about making sure the need is met with surplus.

One response came the closest to granting proof of hunger. Some returned to say, “Thank-you,” and bring with them something to share with another in need. These knew what hunger was truly all about. They had awakened to an awareness of the needs of others. Perhaps the rest of us can learn from the tragedy of others to become more aware of others and less concerned with ourselves.

“Blessed are those who experience hunger,” for they will appreciate the blessings of being satisfied.

—©Copyright 2005 Christopher B. Harbin

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