Nov. 28, 2012
Holiday season is upon us. Salvation Army ringers with their donation kettles stand outside our stores and entice generous holiday shoppers to think about those who are less fortunate. Charitable actions occur around this country every day in myriad different ways. But, at least for residents of New York City this holiday season, charity will no longer look like food donations.
In March of this year, Mayor Bloomberg banned food donations to the city's shelters that serve New York City's large homeless population. This ban has gotten attention again, after New York City resources have been stretched thin by the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy.
The reason for this ban was not prompted by instances of food poisoning or culinary foul play, but rather because Mayor Bloomberg says that the City can't properly assess salt, fiber and fat content in the donated food, so they don't know if the homeless are getting optimal levels of nutrition.
No exceptions to the strict ban are given, not even for donation centers with a healthy track record such as Ohab Zedek, an Upper West Side Orthodox congregation which has donated freshly cooked, nutrient rich foods left over from synagogue events for over ten years, a practice common among houses of worship in the city.
Leaving aside the question of whether we really need the government to require labeling to assess the content of our foods, we face the following question: should government regulation not only discourage, but in fact prohibit individual (or collective) charity?
What is especially offensive is the subtext here: that only the government is able to adequately know and then provide for the needs within a community. But who is closer to the needs of the homeless in a city? Is it possible that someone sitting behind a desk issuing food regulations can better know their needs than an individual who wants to help--and indeed walks past the homeless on the street every day?
This policy by Mayor Bloomberg is another brush stroke in the picture being painted of a world in which people are not even permitted to take responsibility for their food choices, either in how they give, or in what they take (see, ban on super size sodas). And as with many government policies, it may be the poor that will be hurt by the very policies that are intended to help.
When charitable actions are banned, how much interaction between the homeless and the other residents of New York City will occur? If people are not allowed to give, they have less incentive to pay attention to those in need. And the homeless will no longer have the chance to feel known and cared about by specific individuals or groups. As government over-regulates, it squelches the desire to give. It, additionally, removes the opportunity to love one's less fortunate neighbor. Even if the government steps in and takes up the slack so an absence of food may be filled, that doesn't solve the whole problem because government cannot love. When you replace human charity and altruism with rules, society becomes even more fragmented and government dependent.
Of course this isn't the end of the world. There are other forms of charity that haven't yet been banned. But it is another step taken by the government protectors that hinder something as basic as human relationship and fellowship.Turkeyon an unlabeled plate, with green beans with a sodium content has not been measured, but has been handed out with love... well, it sounds pretty good to me.