Charity is not a Substitute for Justice

It was the same summer that Trust and Obedience Landed Me in Hell – and the same camp.

I’d worked out in the sun that summer with my little sister to make enough money to pay for all that was to be had at Camp Kanesatake.

The day of the lesson about charity, my fellow campers and my sister and I trudged up the ridiculously steep hill and lined up outside the dining hall after a long day of… whatever it was we did there. Probably going to chapel and learning to sing “Hallelu Hallelujah” in another language.

Normally, they would say a blessing and let us in. Today was different: the leaders handed out little slips of paper with numbers on them as we went in.

When we reached the food line, the servers asked for our slips. I flashed my slip with “1,” scrawled on it, and they gave me plenty of everything. Others weren’t so lucky. Those with twos got only beans and rice. Those with threes got only rice. My sister, who had worked just as hard as I had to pay to come to camp, received a two or a three.

My eleven-year-old brain was not happy about the situation, but the powers that be had decided that I was to get more food while others didn’t. I trusted and obeyed, and I ate my dinner, but I felt guilty about it.

Suddenly, from halfway across the dining hall, a girl with a “1” asked, “Are we allowed to share?” They said yes. There was a whirlwind of activity as ones rushed the counter to get more food to distribute to their friends with twos and threes.

Before the end of dinner, the camp leadership said everybody could come up and get whatever they needed. They had taught their object lesson.

The point, of course, was that some people are born in first-world countries like the US, some in second-world countries like Russia, and some in third-world countries, like places in Africa, and those of us who had it best had a responsibility to give up some of our food so the people who weren’t well-off would have enough.

And I felt guilty. Horribly guilty. Why hadn’t I thought of sharing my food?

I’ve carried that story around in my heart for the past twenty years. I’ve hated it since the moment it happened.

Then today while I was doing dishes, two things clicked.

  1. There was enough food for everybody the whole time.
  2. Everybody deserved a whole meal.

Everyone had paid to come to camp. This included all the meals. But the people running the camp had decided to arbitrarily and randomly select some of us to receive a decent meal, and some of us not to, and they expected those of us who did to patch the injustice by sharing with those who didn’t.

These grown-ups expected us 9-12-year-olds to fix the injustice they created with our private charity.

And their counterparts in America are still doing it.

We’re expected to donate money and goods to food pantries to help people who work minimum-wage jobs so the owners and stockholders can get rich.

People working minimum wage jobs have paid for a full meal at the camp of America, and they’re getting beans and rice. And there’s enough for everybody, but the people in the front of the dining hall are hoarding it.

We’re expected to front taxes for social services for people who are already working 40 hours a week – that is, people who deserve to have a place to live and enough to eat, but can’t because the people at the top need more money. As President Obama has said, “Nobody who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

We have to give money to help starving children in Africa while we share a country with people who have generational wealth because those children don’t have enough to eat.

We can – and should – share with those who were born with twos and threes.

But it’s long past time to overrun the dining hall and demand that the people in charge give everyone the food they’ve worked for.

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.

  • Jennifer Kent

    Yes! Love this. Thank you!