Advent 2023

Dear friend of Loaves and Fishes:

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That was the question that was asked as Jesus and his first followers were trying to recruit more of what would become the group of 12 disciples (John 1:46). Jesus had just asked Philip to follow him — and then Philip encountered Nathanael, who was dismissive of Jesus with this question. Nathanael felt that Jesus — if he was, indeed, the Messiah — didn’t come from the right place or the expected group of people.

How often do we dismiss or judge people when first encountering them? Especially in our city of Washington, D.C., one’s political power determines their importance, or we are quick to evaluate people based on their place of origin, level or place of education, or occupation.

Even with the familiar manger scene, we tend to overlook the fact that Jesus entered the world as a humble baby, to a common family, and in poor conditions. He grew up in Nazareth, which was considered a backwater place, so small it couldn’t even be called a village — none of it fit for the king the people of his day expected or wanted.

The conditions of Jesus’ life made him overlooked by many people — as nobody special, a simple man, born outside Jerusalem and raised in the middle of nowhere.

In our modern day, it wasn’t until the pandemic that many of us noticed and appreciated many people who carry out ordinary but essential functions in our lives — workers in grocery stores and restaurants, people who deliver goods to our homes, and healthcare professionals, among others. We also learned to recognize people who were vulnerable — elderly people, people whose jobs required face-to-face contact with others, and people with unseen health conditions that made them more susceptible to deadly diseases.

There are other people who are vulnerable every day, month and year, not to health-related dangers, but to economic forces. They struggle to get enough to eat, pay for rent, or even find a safe place to sleep. The Capital Area Food Bank reported this fall in its annual Hunger Report that more than 1 in 3 people (35%) are food-insecure in Washington, D.C. The city’s annual census of people who are unhoused, conducted in January, found almost 5,000 people living on the streets, up 11.6% from 2022.

Factors underlying these findings include the expiration of pandemic increases in government food assistance, substantially higher food prices, major rent increases, and the resumption of evictions that had been paused during the pandemic.

These economic factors can translate into dire need in the lives of people who come to Loaves and Fishes.

This summer a man came for a meal with his 7-year-old son. Unfortunately, the demand for meals had been unusually high that day, and we were completely out of food when they arrived. The man was almost in tears as he explained that he wanted a meal as a birthday treat for his son. A volunteer gave him a small amount of cash out of her own pocket so he could get a McDonald’s meal for his son. Seeing the man’s delight when he encountered this volunteer again several months later was deeply moving. Someone had cared about his family, and it meant a lot.

The baby Jesus was like them — poor, humble, dependent on other families, and seeking security during oppressive political times. The adult Jesus in his ministry reminded us not to forget people who were poor. In fact, he told us many times that God has a special concern for people who live in poverty and with hunger.

We should also remember that it’s not a matter of the haves and the have-nots or the wealthy who live in the nicer part of town and the poor who live on the wrong side of the tracks. Jesus also told us that there is no separation — that when we provide food or water to another person — to someone in need who is a member of his family (Matthew 25:40 NRSV) — it is as if we are doing so for Jesus himself..

So if people in need in our community are as close to us as family, shouldn’t we share out of our abundance? Chances are you either invited relatives or friends over to your house for Thanksgiving and prepared a large meal for them or you were on the receiving end of this abundance, generosity and hospitality. Please help to ensure that nutritious meals are also provided for members of your extended family who come to Loaves and Fishes.

This holiday season, we invite you to be part of recognizing people who are often overlooked and dismissed — and to extend your care and hospitality by giving to Loaves and Fishes so that fellow members of our human family can eat.

Wishing you a joy-filled Christmas,

Claudia Pabo & Ed Grandi
Co-Chairs, Loaves and Fishes Management Board

P.S. This is also the time for year-end giving. If you are looking to receive tax benefits by giving to charities, we hope you will remember Loaves and Fishes. All gifts to the program are tax-deductible. Both you and people in need will benefit from your donation. Please send your gift before December 31.