Liberty...An American Heritage
Tennessee Shelter Continues Prayer
Regardless of what the federal
government thinks, Darnell Yancey has never minded having to pray over
his hamburger and cupcake. Yancey said after lunch on September 14,
2000, at the Christian-run Memphis Union Mission, "If youre
down in spirit, you need to pray."
After inspectors realized there were mandatory
religious services prior to meals, the mission (which feeds 200 to 300
homeless people daily) lost its federal aid in July. Federal regulations
prohibit religious agencies from receiving food from the Agriculture
But, until an inspector pointed out this
stipulation, Reverend Mark Calhoun, overseer of the Memphis Union Mission
for the past three years, did not know of the rule. The news caused
him to worry. He did not know how he would feed the homeless without
his allotment of government aid, worth about $30,000 annually. His problem
was answered, however, when approximately $100,000 in private donations
came in from people as far away as Seattle, New York and Portland, Oregon
when news of the aid cutoff reached the airwaves of Christian radio
stations. "[The support shows] God is bigger than government and
we never did put our trust in the government," said Calhoun.
For ten years the shelter, founded in 1945,
has received U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) commodities such
as meat. The missions budget mainly comes from private donations
but the aid has represented about a third.
The intent of the federal law is to ensure
there are no restrictions prohibiting the poor and the needy from getting
food. If the religious services were made voluntary, the government
would restore its aid to the shelter according to Terry Minton of the
State Department of Agriculture, which oversees USDA programs in Tennessee.
Minton also said that many religious-based
shelters choose to make services voluntary rather than risk the lost
support, but the USDA does not have current statistics on how many shelters
have lost aid since the rule was put in place more than ten years ago.
It is not a choice for this mission said
Calhoun, "Its the old 'Give a man a fish or teach him to
fish.' Weve chosen the latter and the government has chosen the
(Woody Baird, "Prayer Continues at
Tenn. Shelter," The Associated Press, September 15, 2000)
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