President Obama visited a D.C. charitable organization called Martha’s Table to highlight the volunteer work of many furloughed government employees during the recent government shutdown. And yet, the president’s remarks suggest that he missed the real point of his own event.
“They’re here contributing and giving back to the community, and I think that shows the kind of spirit that we have among all kinds of federal workers all across the country — people who dedicate their lives to public service,” Obama said on October 15. The president acted as if the volunteer work done at Martha’s Table somehow reflects the spirit of government action, rather than focus on the amazing work that Martha’s Table does each day to improve the lives of many individuals in need.
Martha’s Table attempts to “transform lives by engaging the community in developing sustainable solutions to poverty.” By providing food, clothing, education, and other support to people throughout the D.C. Metro area, the organization is changing the way that aid is delivered to those in need.
Run almost entirely by volunteers, the organization provides daily lunch and dinner to hundreds of low-income or jobless people. In addition to their permanent location, Martha’s Table operates a mobile soup kitchen in the evening, distributing meals to three different areas of the nation’s capital. Groceries are available monthly, and youth engaged in their educational programs are also provided daily meals.
The volunteers at Martha’s Outfitters explained to Doublethink that the success of Martha’s Table is reliant upon a community-wide effort. Volunteers are needed each day to prepare at least 1200 sandwiches, 65 gallons of soup, and 65 gallons of beverages for distribution. The food and ingredients are donated by local farms, farmers markets, grocery chains and stores, cafeterias, and private groups and individuals.
Martha’s Table not only provides immediate food and nutrition assistance to those in need, they operate with a larger goal of breaking the cycle of poverty by providing the resources necessary to succeed in school, the workforce, and within the community. The organization runs Martha’s Outfitters, a thrift shop which provides many low-price options for professional, work-place, or school appropriate clothing. T-Shirts and blouses could be found for as low as one dollar, and the highest price tag is no larger than $20 store-wide. Volunteers offer childcare, youth education programs, and unique young-adult programming designed to build the foundations of a successful life.
Contrast that holistic approach with President Obama’s government-centered tactics for fighting poverty. In 2009, President Obama signed into law a $787 billion stimulus package which, in part, increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as the Food Stamp Program). Entitled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), this legislation increased SNAP benefits across the board on an average of 20 percent.
At the signing ceremony, President Obama claimed that the legislation was “the beginning of what we need to do to provide relief from families worried they won’t be able to pay next month’s bills.” Further, he argued the stimulus was just the “first steps to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long-term growth and prosperity.”
About one in seven people in the U.S. received SNAP benefits in July of 2013, and participation increased by almost 1 million people in the one year period from July 2012 to July 2013. Since Obama was elected President in 2008, the number of individuals receiving assistance over the past five years has increased 64 percent.
The SNAP funding increase was intended to be temporary, but when stimulus funding expired on November 1st, a debate kicked off about the program and its real impacts. Republican lawmakers in the House have already passed legislation which makes reforms to the SNAP program in attempt to reduce reliance and lower spending on the program, but Democrats in both the House and the Senate proposed bills to “extend the period during which supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits are temporarily increased.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., argued for government action, claiming that the Republicans’ attempt to decrease funding and dependency on the SNAP program was a “wrong-headed approach,” one that would “take food from the mouths of children and undermine the well-being of millions of families.” In her case for more government action, she was forgetting that the importance and success of community-based programs.
Compassion in a communal, public, and collective sense for the common good works to make lives immensely better than what any bloated government agency could hope to do. Martha’s Table and their associated programs serve as a vehicle for other agencies, community groups, churches, workplaces, and individuals to stay active and involved in the well-being of their community. Through such private means, Martha’s Table serves over 600,000 meals annually, provides educational activities to over 300 children and youth, and assists hundreds more D.C. residents through their other programs.
It is well-rounded programs and educational services, such as at Martha’s Table, which prepare people for a more promising future and are best suited for transforming entire communities. Volunteering, President Obama noted, “shows the kind of spirit that we have among all kinds of federal workers all across the country.” It is unfortunate that he did not make the case for more of this spirit across the nation, but instead used it to argue for the importance of government action, rather than public service through private means.
Kathlyn Ehl is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Image of homeless man courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire