When I first started volunteering at a food pantry, I remember homeless people would ask if I had another flavor of soup, or if any pumpernickel bread came in this week. I thought 'wow, the audacity of these people getting free stuff and asking for choices'. Seeing people with smartphones and food stamps and judging them, offering to buy someone fruit but they wanted chips or soda and looking down on them for that.
Fast forward almost ten years now, I've learned that one of the best gifts you can give someone is dignity and respect. When you love and honor someone you give them choices. I don't tell my wife what to enjoy to what to be successful at, I learn about what her dreams and passions are and try to support her in them, even if they aren't mine. Meeting neighbors on the streets of BK or in residential camps here in OC, I see so many people TELLING others what they should do, or who they should become, how they should talk and dress and act.
We see it so evidently in the neighborhoods that we call under-privileged but they really are under-resourced. We take away families choices on where to live, what jobs are available, what schools and parks their kids have access to, what types of businesses and cultural (and religious?) institutions are available. We remove choices from children and deny them their dignity. Then we tell them "why don't you make the right choices in life and earn your dignity?"
We can work to restore dignity by actually serving with the under-resourced communities. That is why we love partnering with Brooklyn Teen Challenge in Clinton Hill, a residential program for youth and adults recovering from addiction. Teen Challenge operates a food pantry and soup kitchen directly at their facilities and incorporates serving their neighbors as part of their addiction recovery program. By serving alongside brothers and sisters that we might not normally associate with, we are breaking the bondage of stigma and shame, and most of all, forces us to get off our high horses. Come join us and see how it really is more blessed to give than to receive; you'll get to know your neighbors, and yourself, a little bit better.