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Hungry Children at Home and Abroad

by Kh. Suzanne V. Murphy, Vice-President of the North American Board, Antiochian Women, The Word, October 2015

"Feed Hungry Children" – His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph has given this task to the Antiochian Women as the NAB Project for 2015–2016. Generosity towards the poor and vulnerable is one of the fundamental marks of a Christian heart. His Eminence has made the care of hungry children the fundamental focus for our fundraising in the year ahead.

This is a task that the Antiochian Women gladly accept. The care of children – especially poor and hungry children – motivates us to immediate action! The immensity of this task seems overwhelming. Our task, however, is not to eradicate hunger; our task is to feed hungry children. As St. Paul reminds us, when faced with such an enormous task, we must "not grow weary of doing good" (2 essalonians 3:13). We remember, too, that when the Apostles went out into the whole world, they did not work alone, because "the Lord worked with them, and confirmed their message by accompanying it with miracles" (Mark 16:20).

We also should keep in mind that the depth and sincerity of our Christian faith will be measured by our Lord on the Last Day by how we have responded to those who are in need. In the following passage, the first measure of our godliness is evidenced by how we respond to those who are hungry:

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food .... Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:34–40).

Even if we were to feed only one hungry child, then we would have ministered to Christ Himself. Yet I believe our efforts this year, through the grace of God and by our hard work, will enable us to feed many hungry children. We must immediately begin fundraising efforts, however, within our parishes and in our neighborhoods and communities. Every dollar we raise can give a child food for another day; every prayer we offer as we undertake this task will be heard by our God, who cares for them.

Feeding the poor was a central concern in the Church even from the earliest days, and is still one today. From the Book of Acts (6:1.), we know that the office of deacon was specically created by the Apostles for overseeing the distribution of food among the orphans and widows of the Church. The Apostles believed that caring for the poor went hand-in-hand with preaching the Good News of salvation. St. Paul writes, "James and Cephas and John, esteemed as pillars [of the Church], gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the Circumcision – they only asked that we should be mindful of the poor, the very thing of which I was eager to do" (Galatians 2:9–10).

So we see that the Church's desire is to save everyone, and not just to save their eternal soul, but their suffering bodies also. True Christians even willingly assist those who persecute them. St. Paul, quoting from the book of Proverbs (25:21), tells us, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink.... Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good" (Romans 12:20–21). We do this because we have experienced the love of God, and in return we give out of love: "If I give away all of my goods to feed the poor ... but I don't do it with love, then I have given it in vain" (1 Corinthians 13:3). is passage reveals the dierence between secular, humanitarian relief efforts and our Christian benevolence: the love of God accompanies our gifts to the poor. This is not an insignicant difference.

A pagan philosopher wrote about this loving desire on the part of Christians to give to the poor in second-century Athens:

Christians love one another.

They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would abuse them. If a man has something, he gives freely to the man who has nothing, without boasting. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don't consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit of God.

And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of them is in jail, or persecuted for professing the name of their Redeemer, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible they redeem him and set him free.

And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.

This is really a new kind of person.... There is something divine in them (www.tertullian.org/fathers/aristides_02_trans.htm).

This pagan philosopher later became a Christian because he was so impressed by the radical love (agapé) that he witnessed among the members of the Church. The normal human instinct for brotherly love (philia) was the standard in the ancient world for altruism. These Christian believers, however, embodied the Holy Spirit and demonstrated an unprecedented seless love to everyone. This is the spirit which motivates our outreach efforts.

The Antiochian Women have heard Metropolitan Joseph's call to feed hungry children, and we ask that everyone in our Archdiocese give to this project with an open heart, overflowing with the love of God. We must give not only out of our surplus; we must give generously from an unselfish heart.

For those reading this article who may may need "facts and figures" to encourage them in their donations, here are some statistics regarding hunger among children:

  • This year, worldwide, nearly 9 million children younger than five years old will die needlessly, more than half from hunger-related causes.
  • Few of these deaths are due to outright starvation, but to common illnesses (such as diarrhea, malaria, and measles) that attack vulnerable children whose bodies have been weakened by hunger (www.freedomfromhunger.org/world-hunger-facts).

Most of us know that good nutrition in the first three years of life is crucially important in a child's development. This is a time when cognitive function is forming, thus laying the foundation for future learning and growth. Yet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 15.8 million children under the age of 18 in the United States live in households where they don't get the food necessary for a healthy life. Children who are undernourished or "food insecure" suffer the following effects:

  • They are more likely to require hospitalization.
  • They are at higher risk for chronic health conditions, such as anemia, and asthma.
  • They may have more frequent oral health problems.
  • They may have a poorer physical quality of life, which may prevent them in turn from engaging fully in daily activities, such as school and interaction with peers.
  • They are at higher risk for behavioral issues and social diffculties.
  • They are at greater risk of truancy and school tardiness.
  • When they are in school, they may be involved in behavior problems like fighting, hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, mood swings, and bullying (FeedingAmerica.org).
  • If they are poorly nourished, they may suffer up to 160 days of illness each year.

According to worldhunger.org, 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world. The cost of malnourished children to the economic development of our own country is estimated at twenty to thirty billion dollars annually (Progress for Children: A Report Card on Nutrition, UNICEF, 2006).

In this icon of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the command of our Lord is seen clearly in His gesture: "You feed them!" (Matthew 14:16). We know from the rest of the story that our Lord multiplied the effort of the Apostles so that "about five thousand men, besides women and children, were fed" that day. It was by His command to them, and through the grace brought down upon the disciples' meager offerings that this astounding miracle was manifested.

Through Sayidna Joseph, the words of our Lord are once again delivered to us: "You feed them." We will make every effort to bring at least "five loaves and two fish" – the results of our fundraising eorts this coming year – to our Lord and ask Him to multiply them so that many children may be fed and cared for in our local communities and around the world. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ will grant us the grace to succeed, because "He (is) moved with compassion" (Matthew 14:14) for the multitude – especially for the children.

If you have any questions about the NAB 2015–16 Project, please do not hesitate to contact me, at SuzanneM@rochester.rr.com, or 3 Maxwell Ave, Geneva, N.Y. 14456.

I look forward to working with you this coming year. ank you in advance for your sacrificial efforts on behalf of the hungry children of the world.