Our Soup Kitchens
OUR SOUP KITCHENS BLOG
"Olla Comun" translates to Common Pot, but we'd better understand these places to be Soup Kitchens.
In the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, The Pucusana Project helped set up 12 different Soup Kitchens in 12 different neighborhoods in Pucusana. These neighborhoods are considered the slums, but we call them “barrios”. This is where you will find the most vulnerable people living. The elderly who can’t work, single mothers with many children, teens taking care of younger orphans and the poorest families of Pucusana.
After providing food relief to Pucusana for 8-9 months, The Pucusana Project decided to take steps away from our original food distribution process, which was providing hundreds of food bags, door to door, house to house, family to family every month. This process was incredibly straining and dangerous for our local team. Another reason we turned away from this model was because the Peruvian economy partially opened back up. With a partially open economy, people can return to work or at least there are growing opportunities for people to work. Even if it's not full-time jobs, families are earning something and therefor no longer need us to provide every meal. Of course, they are not the ones telling us they no longer need food, we had to make that hard judgement call ourselves. There is no denying that going from full food relief to one meal a day isn’t difficult for many families. But we do not want to create dependency on our charity. Instead, we want to help push people back to work and earning a wage to feed their families themselves.
Before the pandemic, The Pucusana Project had a strict "No-Free Handouts" policy. Meaning, we as an organization, sought to never give anything away for free. This philosophy is rooted in the fact that over the last 60 years, the main form of poverty alleviation has been by giving away free stuff to the less fortunate like, food, clothing, shoes, blankets, water, and medical attention. Some ministries even build homes for people in 3rd World countries completely for free. With all of this “aid”, after 60 years, we’d hope poverty has decreased, but it hasn’t, it has actually increased!
Alleviating material needs may seem necessary, but it actually teaches impoverished communities to become dependent on outside help instead of teaching them what is necessary for them to step out of poverty themselves.
Why pursue quality education or a career that can pay more when "blank said charity" will provide for half my needs for free? Why start a clothing business when "blank said charity" is giving away free clothes to everyone living in my community? - this is the global reality of what free hand outs have created. We thought we were helping them, but we were actually inability poverty to continue.
Free hand outs also hurt Christian ministry goals as well. Churches that preach personal relationship and accountability with Jesus tend to not hold impoverished communities to the same standards or values as wealthy communities.
"Oh, they're poor and uneducated so they can't help the way they are".
Ummm NOOO, poor people are not stupid!
They have the same God-given abilities for positive change that any wealthy educated Christian has. But instead of cultivating those abilities in poor people, we put band-aids on their issues by giving away free stuff. This then creates a culture of people who only go to Church to have their material needs met and not their spiritual one.
Why would you try to renew your mind, the way you think or pursue a relationship with Jesus to overcome the world when others will just do it for you?
What need of Christ do you have when others will provide for all your needs "in Christ’s name"?
Why invest in a ministry when hoping between them will get you free food or a free house?
Free handouts are detrimental to poverty alleviation. They are rooted in pity and are an injustice to poor communities because they hurt the local economy, furthering poverty for decades.
Therefore, The Pucusana Project does not give away free hand-outs. This might sound harsh, but it forces us to look at the poor as completely capable of overcoming poverty themselves. It changes how we do our projects, how we provide for real material needs and how we do short-term missions trips.
Our nonprofit works to provide opportunities for people to step out of their negative circumstances themselves. We offer quality education and scholarships to children at our private school, we give free business training workshops to adults, and provide community events that encourage positive community change. These opportunities require that the people involved do all the work themselves to have success.
Before the pandemic these statements were true, during the pandemic these statements were true and after the pandemic they remain more true than before.
When the pandemic hit and with lockdown creating a massive starvation crisis in Pucusana (and around the world), our organization was put on a cross-roads. Do the Board of Directors vote to break this policy and start funding food relief?
Yes, of course.
The pandemic was an unprecedented time. Which is just a fancy way of saying a crazy time no one knew how to deal with. And it doesn't matter what your opinion is on how the pandemic was dealt with, because governments around the world made the decision to quarantine and shut down. That’s what happened. And that choice affected every living soul on the planet - against their will. And in impoverished underdeveloped countries, it has created a massive starvation crisis.
Sometimes it is necessary to give away free hand-outs. But only in extreme cases like the pandemic, or when thousands of people are fleeing from genocide or when a natural disaster or political crisis make millions of people refugees. Or like what happened last year, when the vary survival of the community in which God has called us to minister to, is on the brink of starving to death.
The latest pools are showing that more than 40 million people around the world are now experiencing ‘extreme levels of hunger’ because of collapsed economies caused by the pandemic. This is a near 70% increase over years before 2020.
The starvation crisis is here.
God calls us to action during times of crisis. He knows exactly what to do during unprecedented times.
“For when I was hungry, you gave me something to eat,
When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink
When I was a stranger, you invited me in
When I needed clothes, you clothed me
When I was sick, you looked after me
And when I was in prison, you came to visit me.”
And in verse 40 Jesus concludes: “For whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.
For all of 2020 and continuing now, The Pucusana project has fed thousands of people every month. And we are proud of this, because sometimes… it is necessary to give away free food.
But remember, long periods of free hands outs destroy economies and hurts the poor for generations to come. Free hand outs are not sustainable. Which is why we moved away from food bags and toward Soup Kitchens.
Since the end of 2020, The Pucusana Project has been providing the funds to purchase the food for each Soup Kitchen every month. Sometimes the local government provides food for a few and the local Catholic Church usually helps one as well, so The Pucusana Project provides food to anywhere between 7-11 Kitchens every month. Each Soup Kitchen is operated by a group of people who live within a Soup Kitchen neighborhood. This group cooks enough food to feed their surrounding community one free meal a day, every day.
Our volunteers are incredible. We’ve always been lucky enough to have a solid team of 3-5 to run all our projects, but during the pandemic some of our past teachers and students have come out to help. Alumni have donated money themselves to further food relief. People outside of our circles have also contacted us, random people in the community have reached out to see if they can help in anyway. They want to help their community and we should be more than willing to let them take ownership of that.
It matters having the community seen helping the community. Yes, we are providing all the money, but we are completely behind the scenes. Our local team and all the Soup Kitchen volunteers live in Pucusana. The same people feeding you are the people you went to school with, worked with or live nearby. This is important because it instils an unsaid value that anyone living in that community can help create positive change.
The last thing we should be doing is bringing an all-American team to a 3rd world country to fix all their problems. Impoverished communities are capable of helping themselves.
Our job, as missionaries, ministry leaders, church planters, Gospel sharers and workers of poverty alleviation is NOT to change impoverished communities to be more like the US. It MUST be in the building up of the identity God has already given others
Giving Dignity – not pity – is where we must be coming from and this is more important now, post pandemic than ever before. What if Global Missions – post pandemic – looked like us walking in saying, “You are smarter them me, you know what the real problems are in your community and how do you think we can fix them together?
I’m not trying to make you, your church or your organization feel bad if it’s providing free hands outs. But I am going to challenge you to make a plan for how to exit out of that and help the community be self-sustaining. Especially now, when collapsed economies are desperate to start back up. Walking in with free hand outs will only hurt them more.
Stop making impoverished community dependent on you.
Instead, teach them how to be self-sustaining through education and business growth, thus furthering their economy which can then bring entire community out of poverty.
I expect it to be at least another 6 months, if not another year, before Peru is in a stable place where the economy is open, schools are back in session and life can move forward. Until then, we will continue supporting our Soup Kitchens to help relieve the starvation crisis. But we already have a plan on how to step out of food relief completely because creating dependency on our nonprofit is the last thing we want. We should not be a crutch but instead a steppingstone to better things.
I hope that when all of this is said and done, we can look back at this time of food provision knowing it was the right call to make because it was only for a short time – a time that the community needed to survive – a short time that then enabled the community to return to work and back to true poverty alleviation projects.
President of The Pucusana Project