…doers of the Word by: Jeremy Everett
I have enjoyed opportunities to be a witness to incarnational agents who seek food security for the hungry over the past two years of working with the Texas Hunger Initiative. These agents for justice manifest Christ’s presence among us and can be found in all sectors of society. They are people in organizing communities like Carol Rigby-Hiebert and Mary Herbert in San Angelo. They are pastors like Dan Trevino in San Antonio. They are policy advocates like JC Dwyer with the Texas Food Bank Network. They work in government like Bill Ludwig and Leslie Lankster at USDA.
MAX FINBERG – Recently, I had an opportunity to interview an incarnational agent, Max Finberg. Max has spent his adult life advocating for the hungry in Washington, D.C., in the non-profit sector until recently being appointed in May 2009, by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to direct USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Housed in the Office of the Secretary, the Center’s mission is to build partnerships between USDA and faith-based and neighborhood organizations to better serve individuals, families and communities. Max is a gifted collaborator, inspiring communicator, and a patient listener. Here is an excerpt from our recent interview:
Jeremy: What is the scope of hunger in the U.S. in 2011?
Max: Almost 1 in 6 Americans struggle to put food on the table. That means 50 million brothers and sisters, 17 million of them children, do not have enough access to food to survive and thrive.
Jeremy: Why do we have so much hunger in such a wealthy nation?
Max: We have not decided that hunger is something we want to end. We have the ability. There is plenty of food, we have a strong social safety net, and there are many people of faith and goodwill that provide access to emergency food. However, we have not made the decision to plug the gaps for people to have access to food all the time. It will require the public and the private sectors working together to become food secure.
Jeremy: Why as a person of faith is ending hunger a priority to you?
Max: Because Matthew 25: 31-46 says, “I was hungry and you gave me some food, I was thirsty you gave me something to drink…and the righteous will answer, ‘When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’…Then the king will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Faith is my motivating factor in trying to end hunger since Scripture is full of references to helping the poor and hungry. We cannot get around it.
Jeremy: Why do you feel called to public service?
Max: I grew up with a strong sense of call to working in public service that was modeled for me by my father and my community in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I have been honored to join the Obama administration to answer the call to feed hungry people, and I have been inspired by Secretary Vilsack’s similar sense of call.
Jeremy: How do you see Texans answering the call to ensure food security in our state?
Max: Well, first of all, I commend the Texas Hunger Initiative, Texas Baptists, Texas Impact, the Texas Food Bank Network, and all of your partners including Health and Human Services, Department of State Health Services, and the Texas Department of Agriculture for already demonstrating results. It is fabulous to see a collaborative effort yield Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program resources to an additional 700,000 people in your state over one year! That is a boost for everyone! It put an estimated billion dollars in food insecure families’ hands to purchase healthy food in grocery stores and farmers markets across the state that helped create jobs during our recession. It is great to see leadership form Commissioner Staples and Commissioner Suehs, to see the public and private sector working well together, and to see churches expanding the food pantry ministries to including SNAP outreach and Summer Meals programs for children.
Jeremy: Thank you for your time. I have one final question. What would you like to see Texas do better?
Max: Although, we have increased participation in public and private programs over the past year, the programs and resources available to hungry families are still underutilized in Texas. That means increased hardship for families that are already having a difficult time. Many Texans trust their pastors and so pastors need to step up. Pastors can use their influence to encourage their congregations to do more for hungry families in their communities.
My hope for Texas is that we will heed the call of Matthew 25 like Max has done. I hope that we will realize the wisdom of the Jesus’ words in the Gospel passage that the least of these are members of His family…and thus our own. Together we can make Texas food secure.
Jeremy Everett is the Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative in the Baylor University School of Social Work.
Max Finberg previously was the Director of the Alliance to End Hunger, a non-profit organization that engages diverse institutions in building the public will to end hunger, both in the United States and worldwide.
Prior to joining the Alliance, Mr. Finberg served Ambassador and former Representative Tony Hall (D-OH) for 12 years in a variety of capacities. He was Special Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy. Mr. Finberg was also Senior Legislative Assistant covering domestic hunger and poverty issues for Representative Hall.
Mr. Finberg graduated with honors from Howard University’s School of Divinity with a Master’s degree in Social Ethics. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his wife, Kate, and two children, Eliana and Matthias.
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