THE LET THEM EAT BREAD REPORT: THOUGHTS ON GIVING AND HOARDING

Last month, in the middle of November, I reached my goal of giving away 52 loaves of bread this year, and I decided to stop giving bread away on a weekly basis. I’ll be making bread to give as Christmas presents, and my year-end total should be somewhere in the high 50s.

This has been an illuminating project. Talk of generosity is cheap, and I have been guilty of extolling the virtues of giving without actually doing much. Giving homemade bread away, every week, was actually quite a bit of work. Readers might wonder, how much work can one little loaf of homemade bread be? A fair question, but there are a couple of factors to consider. First, it meant that every week I had to make an extra batch of bread so that my husband, Clif, and I would have enough bread, too. Sometimes the weather was too hot, or I was too busy. Nevertheless, I made the extra bread. I had made a commitment to the project, and neither hot weather nor lack of time was going to deter me. The second problem I had was also a time problem. Because we only have one car, getting fresh bread to the week’s recipient often was not easy. And while homemade bread is perfectly good the day after it is baked, it is best the day it is made, when the bread is soft and fresh. I learned I had to plan ahead to make sure that the recipient would actually be home when the bread was baked AND I had use of the car. A couple of times there were misses, and I had to give the bread away to someone else.

Last night, I went to a party that included a group of women—writers and editors—that I have known for nearly 20 years. One of my friends—Lynne—has turned to a different form of communication and is now an ordained minister. (Lucky the church that has Lynne! She is compassionate, tolerant, articulate, and optimistic yet realistic.)

I told her about my bread project, and she reflected on two human responses to the scarcity we are facing because of climate change and overpopulation. One response is to clutch as tightly as possible to resources, to not share, to not value the community. The other response is to open the hand, to give as much as possible while still maintaining a healthy, individual surplus. Lynne, of course, advocates the second response, using the parable of the loaves and the fish as an example not only of a miracle but also as a story of sharing and feeding people.

Lynne then went on to tell a story of giving. A parishioner in her church, an elderly man who has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment, recently approached her. He wanted to donate $500 to the church’s special needs fund, money that is given to those who find themselves in a tight spot and need a little extra to help pay for rent, food, or fuel. He wanted her to chose 5 people, who would each receive $100. He wanted to remain anonymous, and he wanted Lynne to do the choosing. In fact, he didn’t want to know who received the money.

Lynne came up with 8 people and was debating whom she should choose. When the man found out, his response was, “Well, why not make it $800 then?” Eight very grateful people received $100, and when the man heard how much the extra $100 had helped, he said, “Let’s do it again for Christmas.”

As I know from personal experience, cancer treatment is no fun at all. Yet rather than turning inward, this man has turned out and is giving.

We all can’t give away $800. My husband and I certainly can’t. But just because we can’t give a lot, doesn’t mean we can’t give a little. A loaf of bread? A few jars of peanut butter to the local food pantry? A gift basket full of good things to eat to a friend who is struggling?

Just as important, we need to give as a society so that all people have health care, a good education and other things that are beyond the capacity of individuals, however generous they might be, to provide wide scale on a societal level. Unfortunately, our country has a very hard time with this concept.

See how lessons from loaves of bread can ripple outward?

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