Grace & Groceries 1: What principles should guide in helping the needy?

Cabbage for feeding program THIS WEEK, I’m welcoming Lynne Meredith Schreiber, a writer and an innovator in trying to connect businesses with their communities in meaningful ways. I’ve asked her to describe an unusual food program involving a Michigan grocery store chain and a network of volunteers. It’s a model that may interest you wherever you live.
    We’d really like to hear your thoughts this week. We know that many of you are involved in community groups yourselves. Here’s Lynne’s first story this week … (And here are links to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

By Lynne Meredith Schreiber

Carrots fresh for food bank You probably know someone in need. Read about this program and tell me what you think of its key principles.
    This spring, as Michigan’s unemployment rate reached 12.9%, meat workers at Hiller’s Markets individually wrapped 286 one-pound packages of ground chuck. Grocery employees packaged the same number bottles of ketchup, while in the produce department nearly 300 heads of cabbage and one-pound bags of carrots were gathered together as part of 25 different food items for an order from Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
    Those foods found their way into boxes and bags for pickup by church volunteers from the Hiller’s store in Plymouth, Michigan, a mile away from the Northville Township church. The victuals then traveled to refrigerators inside Ward so that the next morning, more than 50 church volunteers could greet “customers.” For two straight hours, volunteers filled previously-paid-for orders of high-quality foods. (The consumer cost is $30 per assembled box—even though the foods in each box would have retailed for $50 or more.)
    These earnest volunteers were there to help the nearly 300 customers and their families weather the roiling economic storm overtaking Michigan. They checked receipts, handed out grocery items and pushed carts to curb-parked cars.
    In good conscience, they tried not to register faces nor pass judgment on the recipients of the Grace Groceries program, then in its second month. The whole undertaking was designed to assist those who need it most without exposing vulnerability or creating shame.
    In fact, there are no income requirements—no questions asked—in the Grace Groceries program. In some cases, church and community members of means purchased boxes to give in a dignified and subtle way to friends or neighbors who needed it but were too proud to ask.
    That’s one of the most important principles of Grace Groceries: Helping people to avoid shame or embarrassment when coming to buy these deeply discounted foods.

    What do you think about that principle?
    Have you ever found yourself in such a needy situation? Do you know someone who is?
    Have you worked in programs to help the poor—and wrestled with this issue of embarrassment?
    We really want to hear what you have to say this week.

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