When government can't break gridlock, it's time for church to break bread.
I woke up this morning as I usually do. As soon as I can halfway open an eye I grab my iPhone and check the headlines: Tampa beat Texas, the Saints thumped the Dolphins and America is tied up in knots. I read about the latest twists of political posturing in DC and thought about the people I know who work for the federal government.
And then I thought about those at the state level and in our local communities who are also being impacted. I thought of the full-time federal workers who are making the least, so little that they call it a stipend, not a salary. They are VISTA volunteers, or Volunteers in Service To America. Founded in 1965, VISTA has been on the frontlines in the fight against poverty in America for more than 40 years. Volunteers dedicate a year of service to a nonprofit organization that works on implementing literacy and tutoring programs, coordinating volunteers, creating businesses and organizing training programs.
VISTA members make a conscious decision to live a simple yet committed life while working to address poverty in our communities. Once the flagship domestic volunteer program, it has shrunk in size but remains significant having merged with AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National Service. More than 5,000 VISTAs wake up every day throughout the country and serve to make their communities stronger, safer and more hopeful.
At first, I thought I must have it wrong -- they couldn't be affected by the government shutdown. So I tried contacting the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps. Ooops. Federal Programs. Not going to happen.
And then I reached out to people I know that work with the programs. The good news is that most AmeriCorps members, who are funded through existing grants, are still getting paid. Unfortunately, most VISTA members will not. So many of these volunteers, who are often idealistic and committed young adults who are making dollars a day, will go without until Congress decides to fund the government again. Yet they are still going to their sites and serving.
The Leigh High Valley's newspaper, The Morning Call, tells the story of recent college graduate Ashley Sciora, who explained what it means for her that her stipend is cut during the shutdown.
So what to do? Just because the government can't bridge gridlock doesn't mean that we can't break bread together.
Time for a Soup-in!
Who: I am calling on all faith communities to reach out to these VISTA volunteers, AmeriCorps members and other federal employees who are (or were!) affected and invite them for dinner, conversation and support -- even if this shutdown ends before next Wednesday and government services are restored!
What (is a Soup-in?): A simple meal when a group of people who don't know each other but ought to, come together to break bread, eat soup and build community, particularly during a time of uncertainty, distress or isolation.
When: Next Wednesday, October 9th at 6:30 PM
Where: A church near you
To make this work, two things have to happen and they both fall on you:
We have to decide what to make for dinner. Chances are, the church kitchen isn't being used and the community room is available. If not, we can make soup and bring it to another room in the church. Or a few from the church could make a meal in one of their homes and have people over for dinner.
If you are willing to host a dinner click here and write down the name of the church/location and contact person. We will help you find them.
Second, we have to find and invite our dinner guests. The easy way to go about doing this is to go to the website nationalservice.gov and get the list of all the local VISTA and AmeriCorps sites. But if you try that right now, you will quickly learn what I did. The government shuts down its websites when it shuts down the government. I guess websites are "Non-Essential."
If you are a VISTA or AmeriCorps member, click here and tell us what community you're serving in and give us a way to contact you. We will find a place for you to eat.
VISTA's, AmeriCorps members and other federal employees: if no one has invited you to a Soup-In, reach out to a church and ask if they are sponsoring one on Oct. 9. Chances are they won't know what you are talking about and you can forward them this article and you will be pleasantly surprised by the response.
If you don't know who to turn to, I would find a United Methodist Church click here to find one near you. I have always found the Methodists to be of good cheer and not to stand on ceremony. With a founder like John Wesley and a slogan like "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" it is easy to guess what kind of people they are.
If things worked the way they were supposed to, faith communities would know more about the people serving in our towns. We would know their names, where they worked and how to get ahold of them. But now, as a result of the government shutdown, now we might.