Over the past month or two, I have had the opportunity to view an entire season of the U.S. based reality show called “Extreme Couponing”. Now, I’m not even sure that I am comfortable admitting to the entire world that I have been watching this show, but for the sake of my art here and also the betterment of humankind, I want to talk about it. I’m okay with it. Really. I have likened it to watching a car wreck or a train crash that I just cannot help but watch. I’ll be the first to admit that I am absolutely fascinated by getting a good deal. I love the art of the deal and these folks simply have it down to, very literally, a science. They utilize all kinds of different spreadsheets, web properties filled with all sorts of information, and good old fashioned cataloging of their coupons. It really is impressive. Here is where my problem with this whole way of getting deals: No one needs all that stuff in their own house. There is absolutely no way in this world that you need 96 bottles of laundry soap or 850 packs of razors. I get it, they come in handy if there is some catastrophe or if the world comes to an end. Believe me when I say that I tend toward the worst case scenario, end of the world, stockpile-huge-preparations-to-survive kind of mentality. But, I also know that if it comes down to that kind of scenario, I have other things to worry about other than cleaning laundry in a machine that probably doesn’t work anyway.
I read an article the other day from the Orlando Sentinel about food insecurity among our elderly population. For the past few years, I have been a student of some of the activity surrounding the homelessness epidemic facing the nation and particularly the Orlando Metro area. Seemingly, every week there is a new program or organization that is seeking to combat all of the issues that many folks are facing. But, as with many epidemics, there is always more. So, when I read this article I was really broken hearted. I immediately began thinking of ways that folks can help. I began to think about all the people I had seen using their extreme couponing efforts to basically stockpile stuff in their garage, spare room, every available closet, and under their beds. I also began to think about all the survival and homesteading tactics and ideas that I have read about over the years.
As I pondered all of this, I began to think about the generation of folks that the article was talking about. I thought about all of the things that they have seen happen in the world and how things have changed. These are the folks that planted Victory Gardens and survived some of the worst economic conditions our nation has ever faced. I find it ironic that here they are, some nearing the end of their tour of duty here on Earth, and they are basically starving to death. Now, the problem is probably not that grave, but think about your great grandparents huddling around a warm cup of water for dinner because they have no food in their cupboard.
In response to a piece on 60 minutes, our church launched a feeding program where we help families with kids on free and reduced lunch programs during the summer months. What if we launched a similar outreach for the elderly folks. What would it look like to launch community gardens in assisted living facilities or even just on that unoccupied stretch of land near your house. What if we utilized some of the technologies from aquaculture and built gardens like Do Good Farm.
Here is the deal, United States of America: When we are extreme couponing to pile up stuff under our beds, we are not like Jesus. He didn’t even have a bed, so there. (insert Jesus juke here, thanks @jonacuff) I know this is a little crazy, but what if we extreme coupon-ed to get stuff to give stuff. What if instead of piling it up for ourselves, we fed grandmas and little kids. What if we coordinated efforts with our local grocer to get the most bang for our buck and coupon. I know this all sounds a little wacky, but seriously if you watch an entire season of that show, see people walking out of stores with thousands of dollars in food for basically free you would tend toward the wacky side, too. As an aside, if you’re reading this, live in the Orlando area, and are into this wacky world of couponing, I sincerely would like to chat. It is absolutely nuts, but I imagine warehouses filled with stuff that was “purchased” with coupons.
The bottom line really is that no one should go to bed having not eaten during that day. In this country, we throw away more food than many nations would use. We go out for lunch and eat only a portion of what we order, then throw the rest out. We cook dinner at home, eat some, keep some for leftovers, then forget we made it and have to throw it away. You can’t tell me that you have never done any of that, because I have. I’m guilty just as much as the next guy.
I don’t know why exactly, but this whole idea of hunger bothers me. Maybe because when I was a kid, we went to a food shelf for help sometimes, and I understand where they are coming from. Maybe because I’ve experienced times of need, I don’t know. But I do know that we as a nation have failed if we are letting our grandparents starve. Hear me out on this, I understand there are organizations that are in this hunger fight and are there to help folks. However, they don’t just have shelves that magically fill themselves with nutritious food. Vendors don’t just hand out free truckloads of food to food banks. Someone has to fork over some cash for the product! Maybe that is where we come in, too. My grandfather was on the board of a local food bank where they live, so I got some insight into how it all works. People are really quick to participate in a canned food drive, but really what can do the most benefit is just sending the cash. If you take $10 and buy food with it to donate, you’ll get a few things. If you gave that same $10 to Second Harvest Food Bank, they can purchase about three times as much food. I am not a financial or math wizard, but I do know that getting three times more food for the same amount of money is a good thing.
I have a confession to make: I want to save the world. But I can’t. Neither can you. But, we can make a difference. We can be a part of the solution. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus to a watching world. Sure, the Government can help all these people. Maybe. Eventually. But you can, too. You can help your neighbor who is hungry. And that kid on the street corner. And that Vietnam Vet you pass by at that same intersection every day. It all starts with one step. When I get done here, I’m going to load up some response packs that we have prepared and give them to the Vets that I passed today on my way to lunch.
It all begins with one step. I don’t know what that is for you, but there is one. I’ll bet you know what it is. I’d love to hear about it.