Posted with permission of the Author:
`Heroes' serves truth on hunger
April 19, 2000
BY DENNIS BYRNE
When was the last time you saw a documentary on hunger in America
that dwelled on the differences between "hunger" and starvation"?
Often the words are used interchangeably, when they aren't
interchangeable. Hunger is a strong desire or need for food:
children too groggy to learn; seniors in misery; homeless people
humiliated by rummaging through Dumpsters. As President Clinton has
said, many Americans may be surprised that, in our prosperity,
other millions wake up hungry. Which is not to say they are waking
up starving--dying from extreme lack of food.
This is an important distinction made in "The Hunger Heroes," a
documentary to be aired at 10 p.m. Thursday on WTTW-Channel 11. It
opens with singer Harry Belafonte saying, "I have been hungry; I've
never starved. My mother wouldn't let us starve."
At last, a TV documentary that gives a balanced view on the
problems of hunger in America. Some of those infrequently heard
views include: "giving free food is not fighting hunger," that
freedom from hunger is not a civil right and avoiding hunger is as
much, or more, a matter of personal responsibility as it is of an
The documentary is produced by Rick Roberts, former director of the
Chicago Christian Industrial League, one of the city's largest
homeless shelters. Roberts is a White House Points of Light award
winner and former homeless advocate who has turned documentary film
In his latest work, he presents a variety of opinions on hunger,
including from such anti-hunger advocates as Belafonte, Danny
Glover, Valerie Harper and Peter Yarrow of the folk singers Peter,
Paul and Mary. Roberts asks whether hunger exists (it does, he
concludes), and if so, why and how do you solve it. It is here,
among the various regional solutions developed in New York City,
Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami, that Roberts
finds differences of views.
Lending balance to the often-expressed view that "food security" is
a civil right, Roberts also focuses on the Greater Chicago Food
Depository and its executive director, Mike Mulqueen, a politically
conservative retired Marine Corps general.
The Depository is a national model and Chicago's premier source for
delivering food to people in need. It serves more than 560 soup
kitchens, pantries and shelters, which in turn serve 200,000 to
300,000 people each month. It is stocked by hundreds of food donors
and is based on the model that those who receive food also should
contribute through work, job training or in some other personally
Asked if food security is a civil right, Mulqueen responded, "No.
We have a responsibility in this nation--again, this is a moral
imperative--we have a responsibility to take care of those who
can't take care of themselves. We've got a responsibility to take
care of our children, our senior citizens, our sick, our disabled.
But it's not an inherent right. People have a right to work. If
you're able-bodied and you can work, you should be out there
contributing to our society."
Throughout this documentary, there is a thread of difference: Do we
engage in the old style approach of just handing out food? Do we
engage in a new style of giving that seeks accountability and
responsibility in return from those who are able?
Some may criticize this approach, saying that the purer motivation
is found in giving food to the hungry without requiring anything in
return. That's a nice sentiment, but the purer motivation for
feeding the hungry is found in the moral imperative that Mulqueen
and others find resting on their shoulders: to not just feed
people, but to uplift them. It flows from a tradition of service
that motivates Mulqueen, who said that as a Marine he was serving
the nation. Now he is serving the community.
Chicago Suntimes April 19, 2000
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