When schools closed last March due to COVID-19, many of the children in our community faced food insecurity due to household lack of income. Some of these families struggled to feed their children, even before the economic downturn this spring.

I was impressed by local efforts to step in to meet some of the food needs in our community. The local school district continued to distribute school meals using some of the bus routes. Kids Kupboard stepped in to distribute lunches, relying on volunteers, since they don’t have a full staff when school is in session. Many food pantries have increased income guidelines to help ensure that hungry families can receive food assistance. Friends and neighbors posted on social media that they had food to share, and communities of faith came together to identify and help struggling families.

As a child, I experienced only the momentary discomfort of hunger resulting from delayed meals. I never worried that there wouldn’t be enough to eat, or gave up my portions to ensure a sibling could eat. As an adult, I have always had the resources to buy food, even if my preferred brands or items are unavailable at times. But for the most part, I am free from the suffering that accompanies hunger and the worry that gnaws at an empty stomach.

In Galatians 5, Paul discusses how we obtain and use liberty. Specifically, we enjoy freedom from the effects of sin as we repent and come unto Christ (see Galatians 5:1). But Paul also knew it is easy to become entangled in pride and self-righteousness. We are not called to judge our neighbors, but to serve them in love.

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:13-14). Paul is saying that we need to use our blessings—freedom of choice, freedom from hunger, freedom of abundance—not to lift ourselves up, but to help those in need.

We can forgive when we are offended. We can give a stranger or a friend the benefit of the doubt. We can share food, clothing, time, money, and effort with those in need so that they too can feel the love of God.

Jesus Christ taught us to serve each other in love. In Matthew 25, he lists several ways we can choose to show our love for him by loving our neighbors. Charity and service are the distinguishing characteristics of those on his right hand, who will inherit his kingdom and all that his Father has.

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when [did we do all these things for you]?”

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Last month, The Brookings Institute published the findings of the Hamilton Report, detailing the effects of COVID-19 on food insecurity. In the previous 20 years, food insecurity levels were fairly stable, but by the time of the survey in late April 2020, those numbers had more than doubled.

We know that more people have been accessing local food pantries and that our neighbors are struggling to meet the basic needs of food, housing, and transportation. There are lots of ways that you can help. Organize a food drive to collect donations for a local food pantry. Collect unopened, shelf-stable food, focusing on peanut butter and jelly, canned produce and proteins, boxed meals, cereal, mac and cheese, and other kid favorites.

You can also find volunteer opportunities with Kids Kupboard at JustServe.org. Or donate or money to Food Bank of Alaska, where they can distribute three meals for every $1 donation. Food Bank of Alaska distributes food to pantries around the state (including those in the Mat-Su) and can leverage access to food resources, making your donations go farther. For more info, see https://www.foodbankofalaska.org/ways-to-give/.

I have found that service brings a sense of peace and purpose in my life. As we seek for opportunities to serve others, we will be inspired to find and lift those who suffer. The Lord will help us match our talents, interests, and abilities to the needs in our communities. We can feed our neighbors, and God will feed our souls.

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