Nearly all major religious traditions call on believers to understand and support people who lack the necessities of life.
In Luke, “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise.” In Judaism, tzedakah — Hebrew for justice — is one of the three acts that gain Jews forgiveness for their sins. In Islam, sadaqa — Arabic for charity — is an obligation of every Muslim, with a directive that if a person cannot give because he has no money he must work to support himself and then give charity.
With several powerful news stories this autumn, the Union-Bulletin has done a service by bringing attention to the challenges facing low-income people, homeless families and other individuals in our community. Their economic distress is mirrored at the federal and state level, as nearly every day we read stories of hunger and homelessness across our country.
As we move into a season when we are able celebrate in our own homes and houses of worship with enough food to satisfy our needs, we are called on to be cognizant of our own good fortune as well as the challenges that millions of our fellow Americans, as well as many of our local residents, face.
Unfortunately, homelessness and economic insecurity are a part of life in Walla Walla. According to census data, in 2009, more than a quarter of all Walla Walla residents had an income below the poverty level, compared with 16 percent of all Washington residents. In January, during an an annual one-day count of homeless children, women and men in Walla Walla, 242 households were homeless, totaling 400 people, with the main reasons being family crisis or break-up; alcohol or other substance abuse; job loss; or mental illness.
Poverty in our community — we may not enjoy admitting it or talking about it, but we can do something about it. We can discuss our concerns with elected officials and policymakers, make charitable contributions, volunteer at organizations that provide support, meals and shelter, and, for those who have a faith tradition, pray for them.
Before we can take these steps, though, we need to be informed.
This week offers an important opportunity for us all to learn more about homelessness and hunger in our community. The Interfaith Coalition on Poverty will host an educational display downtown during the late afternoons, culminating with a public event Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Land Title Plaza. Local congregations are planning special events, sermons and tithing opportunities related to hunger, homelessness and poverty, and other events will take place in Walla Walla and on college campuses as well.
In closing, I’d like to quote our local representative to the Washington state Legislature, Maureen Walsh, a champion of the downtrodden, who recently noted, “Serving in the Legislature, I often wonder if we cause people to assume that government will take care of the poor, and if that attitude deters us from personally reaching out to those in need. The ICP and Walla Walla’s faith community set a great example for restoring a sense of ownership in caring for our friends and neighbors here locally.”
We live and enjoy where we are, and we can make a difference in helping it be a place that is safe and secure for all our fellow residents. The Interfaith Coalition on Poverty invites you to get involved in Hunger and Homelessness Week to accomplish this.
Noah Leavitt is a member of the Congregation Beth Israel in Walla Walla.