‘It’s not what we serve …’

Rev. Dr. Shannon Spencer speaks to volunteer servers at 12 Baskets Cafe.

A year ago, I was arrested in Washington for disrupting the Senate as its members prepared to debate repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I was  sentenced to 48 hours of community service.

I went straight to 12 Baskets Cafe, where I’ve volunteered a couple of days a week since — long after my sentence was completed.

Almost every Tuesday and Thursday, you’ll fine me standing near the door, scraping plates into a large compost bin. My position allows me to greet everyone who comes in and to make sure people have had enough to eat before they leave.

I see all kinds of people, not just poor and/or homeless, but working people, retirees who want to stretch their budgets with some good, nutritious food.

The cafe is in Kairos West Community Center off Haywood Road at State Street in West Asheville, and it was classed as a community center when the permits were issued for the cafe to open.

The Rev. Dr. Shannon Spencer, who opened the cafe through the nonprofit Asheville Poverty Initiative, puts it simply: “It’s not what we serve, it’s who we serve.”

Apparently, that changes everything. When you help people who have nothing, you become a “shelter,” and the city tries to shut you down.

The excuse is that there’s a school nearby and people have found some used needles in the area. So, the cries of, “Save the children!” begin, as though no people who suffer from addiction should be allowed to travel in circles that come within a few hundred yards of a school or church.

The trouble began when a group of itinerant people came through, enjoyed lunch and then set up camp in the side yard of the cafe.

The television news came in and interviewed tourists across the street at Sunny Point Cafe, and the tourists didn’t like looking at poor people while they were on vacation.

So, the local newspaper jumped on board to do a story and no one spoke to anyone from the cafe, even though there’s someone there who can speak every single weekday from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The story just said no one was available for comment.

When I worked as a reporter, the story would be held until someone could speak for the cafe. We didn’t print one-sided stories without several attempts to speak to someone. I have encountered public officials who refused to return calls, and in those cases, the stories that ran detailed attempts to reach someone — “So-and-So did not return seven calls to his office, three to his home and six to his mobile phone over the course of three days.” This one would have read, “We tried to call 12 Baskets at 6 p.m. one night.”

So, viewers and readers are left with the impression that homeless people are doing drugs in the yard, that neighbors are at wits’ end with the chaos and cafe staff are allowing it, when the reality is that our neighbors support us. Some bring us food from their gardens, others come in and enjoy a meal.

The problem here is that we live in a society that drives people into poverty with low wages and few worker protections and then vilifies them.

Many of the people who eat at the cafe are working; some have disabilities that keep them from working. A number of them are in recovery from addiction, and some are still using.

Every one of them is human. Every one of them deserves the dignity of a good meal and human contact.

If we’re a community center when working people eat with us, but an illegally operating shelter when our patrons are poor, the problem isn’t with us, it’s with the community.

If you want to know more about the cafe, come have lunch with us. The food comes from some of the best restaurants in town, from EarthFare, Mission Hospital and others. We seem to specialize in curry dishes from Indian restaurants’ buffets, but we have fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, muffins, pasta dishes … it’s different every day, and it’s all delicious.

What’s more, the company is wonderful. Just because people don’t have homes doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and human contact.

The name 12 Baskets, by the way, comes from the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes from 12 baskets of fish and bread.

Yeah, if you have to ask what Jesus would do, the answer is in our name. He took 12 baskets of food and fed 6,000 because they were hungry. He didn’t ask whether they could pay, he just fed them.

 

 

This is NOT Blue Apron

Canned vegetables are lower in nutrients and higher in sodium than fresh, but the current occupant of the White House thinks it’s OK, as long as it’s poor people who are forced to eat them.

 

The current occupant of the White House has a new plan to feed poor people: Send them boxes of cheap, high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient foods.

Again and again, I’ve seen the idea compared to Blue Apron, a gourmet food vendor that sends out boxes of food together with recipes for fabulous meals.

The comparison is wrong. The only thing this idea has in common with Blue Apron is that it’s delivered in a cardboard box.

If you get food from Blue Apron, you get a choice of foods, and the foods are fresh, not canned. You aren’t shipped canned peas and carrots, boxed milk and cheap cereal.

You don’t get steak tartar, you get Hamburger Helper, and probably just a cheap knock-off of that.

The right complained about the “nanny state” when Michelle Obama started advocating fresh, wholesome food for children. But now they want to choose what food poor people should eat, and what they’re choosing is bad food.

While advocates work to get fresh food to people in poverty, many of whom don’t have ready access to a supermarket, this administration is ready to squash these efforts in favor of boxes of unhealthy crap.

Research has shown again and again that processed food is less healthy than fresh food, that a diet high in processed foods (white flour, white sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils …) leaves us more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic cancer.

But when we consider poor people as inferior, when we think we’re more worthy of anything than another human being, we are the ones who are morally bankrupt.

Jesus didn’t feed the thousands canned tuna on stale white bread, he fed them fresh fish and bread. When he went to the wedding in Cana and the host ran out of wine, Jesus turned water into fine wine, not high fructose corn syrup-laden soda. Read the passage in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

Our public policy (our failure to raise minimum wage to a living wage, for example), puts people in poverty. Minimum wage right now is about one-third of what it takes to live comfortably. Housing subsidies don’t even come close to serving the people who need help to stretch their meager wages. Child care subsidies have years-long waiting lists. Food stamps are a fraction of what it really costs to supply children (and adults) with the nutrition they need. Ask anyone who receives them. They give people about $5 a day. Try and feed yourself on that.

As food advocates work to get fresh fruits and vegetables onto the plates of children, this clown announces poor people only deserve canned food, and that the government should choose what they’re allowed to have — and that it should be junk food, as though poor people are just junk.

Meanwhile, those of us with privilege, those of us who still hold onto some semblance of a middle-class income, donate our cast-off clothing, our broken toys and chipped dinnerware, and we think the poor should be grateful for that.

We blame poor people for their own poverty, while we knock them down and apply our boot heels to their necks. We deny them healthy food, an equal education, safe housing, health care and a living wage and then call them lazy and accuse them of trying to get something for nothing.

The real culprits are the very wealthy who are buying up members of Congress and grabbing all the nation’s wealth for themselves. They don’t till the soil or harvest the crops, they don’t manufacture anything, they don’t make or serve food or clean up after themselves, they just take. And to justify their hoarding of our nation’s wealth, they spread propaganda about how the poor are robbing us blind. They use scandals to distract us while they pick our pockets.

This whole idea is deeply, deeply immoral. It is theft from the local farmer who grows and sells crops at tailgate markets that accept SNAP cards. It is theft from people who are struggling and it is the slow poisoning of poor people, who, after all, are still people. We all deserve to eat healthy foods and we deserve the dignity of choosing what foods we will eat.

This is not Blue Apron. Stop comparing the two right now.

 

 

 

 

We can’t go much lower

Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with this, I guarantee it.

 

The level of hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Republicans say Al Franken needs to resign because he may have kissed women (adults) without permission and he was in an extremely inappropriate gag photo.

But they believe Jesus supports Roy Moore, who was banned from a shopping mall for stalking teenage girls when he was in his 30s and who has had nearly a dozen women come forward to report inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were under age 18. Moore also was removed from his court bench twice for failing to follow court orders to remove Christian symbols from his courtroom.

That’s not the Jesus I know.

The Jesus I follow (not worship — he never wanted to be worshiped, he wanted to be followed) demands we care for the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty. He demands that we love our enemies. That’s the one I have trouble with when my enemies want to strip 68 million Americans — including 9 million children — of their access to health care, to keep millions of people in poverty while further enriching the 1 percent at the top of our deeply immoral economic system.

For decades, the policy of the Republican party has been to take from the poor and middle class and give to the very wealthiest. They don’t care if people die, just as long as every pregnancy results in the live birth of a person they can neglect and kill later.

The so-called tax “reform” bill is proof of that.

The failure to reauthorize funding for CHIP and community care clinics and the sustained attacks on the Affordable Care Act prove that.

It is more important to Republicans for these deeply unjust and immoral policies to be carried out than the saving of my life or yours.

I walked through all three Senate office buildings in Washington yesterday, delivering letters begging for the re-authorization of CHIP and community care clinics and the shoring up of the Affordable Care Act. The letter had a photo of my late son and a reminder that when you strip access to care away from people, they die.

Republicans care more about moving wealth up than they do about any human life, and then they call themselves “pro-life,” and Christian, when they are neither.

As a party (and I won’t judge the intent of individuals here) Republicans are anti-life. They are pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-gun and pro-corporations. They choose support for these things over support of human life every single time.

Every. Single. Time.

And then they invoke Jesus.

Well, when Jesus said to care for the sick, he didn’t mean to turn people who can’t pay away. He didn’t mean to attack systems that help people who aren’t wealthy so that tens of thousands die from medical neglect every year.

When Jesus said to clothe the naked, he did not mean that we should keep minimum wage at about one-third of what it actually costs to live and then criticize people for not being able to buy coats and shoes for their children.

When Jesus said to feed the hungry, he did not mean we should cut food stamps, Meals on Wheels and free and reduced-price meal programs in schools.

When Jesus told us to visit people in prison, he did not mean we should turn over control of prisons to profiteers, who would starve prisoners to squeeze a little more money out of it.

When Jesus said to give drink to the thirsty, he did not mean offer only water laced with lead to poor children in Flint, Michigan.

When Jesus said to spread the Good News of redemption, he did not mean to discriminate against people who don’t have white skin or discriminate against people who don’t share your religious views.

When Jesus said not to hate, he meant you should go ahead and make that wedding cake for the gay couple who want to celebrate the joining of their lives.

When Jesus told us to love one another as he has loved us, that is precisely what he meant. He did not mean we should elect sexual predators to powerful positions because they are as mean-spirited and hate-filled as Republicans are today.

He didn’t support unfettered access to guns.

He didn’t support corporations as people.

He didn’t support racism.

He didn’t support misogyny.

He didn’t support war.

He didn’t support fascism.

He did not support the economic terrorism of keeping people who can’t make bail or who can’t pay court costs for minor infractions of the law in jail for months or years.

Jesus wants nothing to do with today’s Republican party, I guarantee you.

Jesus is weeping for the poor in this nation. And he will judge the people who have harmed them.

Get ready to sit with the goats on Judgment Day if you support the likes of Roy Moore or if you believe Jesus would. If you call yourself Christian and you don’t know what that means, read Matthew 25, starting at verse 31.

If you really want to work toward a more just society, join the Poor People’s Campaign (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org).

 

More insanity from the anti-life league in Raleigh

A North Carolina EBT, of "food stamp" card.

A North Carolina EBT, or “food stamp,” card.

The powers that be in Raleigh have, in the last few years, decided that health care, unemployment compensation, voting rights and education are not necessary for life.

Now they have added food to the list.

As though the passage of a budget that pretty much starves the mental health system out of existence weren’t bad enough, a bill before the General Assembly now would take away food stamps from more than 105,000 adults in the state.

Under federal law, states can suspend work-related time limits on federal food aid in areas with persistently high levels of unemployment. In July, the state applied for this waiver for 77 of its 100 counties because of a severe lack of jobs available in those counties.

The bill before the senate now would ban the state from pursuing this option permanently, no mater how poorly local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist in those counties.

This is one more anti-life measure in the criminalization of poverty by the very people whose policies make it nearly impossible for people to climb out of poverty.

My friend, Sen. Terry Van Dyun (D., Buncombe County), told me recently that her colleague, Sen. Ralph Hise (R., Mitchell County), called people in need of health care lazy.

“He told me they should get off their butts and get a job that offers health care or make enough money to qualify for insurance through the marketplace,” she said.

People who work at minimum-wage jobs can’t afford to pay their bills and buy food. It’s as simple as that. It takes more than double minimum wage to sustain even the most frugal lifestyle — no eating out, no cable TV, no movies or night clubbing, just the most basic apartment, an old car (if you can afford one at all) and the most basic phone service.

North Carolina is a mostly rural state with a few higher-density population areas. It is the seventh hungriest state in the nation. In rural counties, people can’t find high-paying jobs. They might work at a Dollar Store or a Burger King, but they won’t make a living wage in these places and they won’t get a 40-hour work week.

In a city like Asheville, service industry jobs are plentiful, but they don’t pay well, and housing costs are high. That means many people don’t earn enough to make ends meet.

I would ask you to call your state senator if you live in North Carolina, but they have shown no evidence that they care about us or what we think. They feel safe in their gerrymandered districts and they are arrogant enough to believe they can do as they please in all matters.

It looks as though the only way to stop these consistently anti-life policies is to put up candidates in 2016 and fight to unseat all of those who don’t care about us or our well-being.

If you aren’t registered to vote, if you don’t vote because you don’t think it will make a difference, you are part of the problem here. If you care about human life, get off your ass and vote in the primaries and in the general election.

 

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