November 29, 2011; Source: New Jersey Newsroom | Perhaps the anti-government ideologues, those people who think that charity is sufficient for responding to human need (or that governmental assistance breeds dependency, indolence, and welfare kings and queens) might want to look deeper into an announcement by the New Jersey Sate Food Purchase Program. New Jersey’s Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno announced the distribution of $1,363,600 to six New Jersey food banks, apparently the second round of emergency food aid in this fiscal year so far—and it’s only just a little past Thanksgiving, not even the start of winter. Guadagno joined New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary O’Dowd for a demonstration of volunteerism at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey—a state cabinet officials’ performance as part of the “Season of Service” program of Governor Chris Christie.
While at the FoodBank, which serves some 1,500 local nonprofit food pantries, Guadagno pointed out that “the state can’t do it alone. To tackle the hunger issue, we need members of the community to continue to come forward and donate food items, money and time to help our neighbors in need.”
Maybe the Lt. Governor should have reversed that statement and demonstrated an understanding that charitable giving cannot do it alone. The nonprofit sector that stitches together the tattered safety net serving the poor needs government to provide essential support that charity cannot meet. Perhaps the Lt. Governor and her boss recognize that charitable giving is a supplement to, not a substitute for, government aid. As the Lt. Governor and colleagues announced their state government funding, they might have also acknowledged that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture also received 27 million pounds of food from the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program for distribution through nonprofit food pantries to New Jersey’s hungry.
HHS Commissioner O’Dowd added, “Even in tough economic times, no one should have to choose between buying food for their family or paying the rent.” She’s right. But the choice between food and rent need not depend on the discretionary charitable giving of middle class working people (and, as everyone knows, food pantries are hardly the first choice for charitable giving by affluent donors). When the ideologues complain about the debilitating effects of government assistance—and Governor Christie has sometimes been among those taking potshots against government—they might remember this Potemkin village of caring by the state government’s leadership Some ideologues might want to shrink government to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub, but that will only guarantee that the poor will neither be able to buy food nor pay the rent.—Rick Cohen