The Bureaucratization of Blessing

Should you stop helping people because you’re not certified?

Charitable actions occur around our country every day in myriad different ways. But, at least for residents of Daytona Beach, charity will no longer look like feeding the homeless.

Last week, Chico and Debbie Jimenez were cited by the police for feeding homeless and needy people in a city park—something they’ve been doing for over a year with no problems or public disruption. They were cited as a part of the city’s increased attempts to discourage individual charity where city agencies provide the same assistance, in an effort to centralize their homeless services.

The Jimenez said that they are doing what they do just to help, and that some of these homeless people have become their friends and depend on them, that they’re not just “some people.”

This incident is only one of many the past several years, of the government trying to assume control over charity by cracking down on feeding homeless people in public areas or through private donations.

In 2012, New York City banned food donations to the city’s shelters that serve large homeless population.The reason for this ban was not prompted by instances of food poisoning or culinary foul play, but rather because Mayor Bloomberg said 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 New York city ban were 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.

Just like this Orthodox Church, the Jimenez were striving to be a blessing to their neighbors and serve “their friends.” Leaving aside the question of whether or not Chico and Debbie should be cited for going against a city ordinance, or 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 charity?

What is especially offensive is the subtext here: that only the government is able to adequately discern 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 recent action by the Florida police is another brush stroke in the picture being painted of a world in which people are forced to assume government has the answer. And yet, as with many government policies, it will be the poor that will be hurt by the very policies that are intended to help. This is what happens when an institution steps outside its realm of competence.

When charitable actions are banned, how much interaction between the homeless and the other residents 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 stifles the desire to give. Additionally, it 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 human problem. When you replace charity and altruism with rules, society becomes even more fragmented, dependent on programs instead of relationships.

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 we’re letting our leaders make, in a series of steps that’s already too long, to rip the seams of that thing we long for so deeply: community.


Julia Kiewit is a political writer and consultant, currently living in Colorado. When she has time to think about things other than polling numbers and fundraisers, she enjoys running; writing about community, human freedom, and public policy; and drinking raw milk.


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