In this era of eroding commitment to government sponsored welfare programs, voluntarism and private charity have become the popular, optimistic solutions to poverty and hunger. The resurgence of charity has to be a good thing, doesn't it? No, says sociologist Janet Poppendieck, not when stopgap charitable efforts replace consistent public policy, and poverty continues to grow. In Sweet Charity, Poppendieck travels the country to work in soup kitchens and "gleaning" centers, reporting from the frontlines of America's hunger relief programs to assess the effectiveness of these homegrown efforts. We hear from the "clients" who receive meals too small to feed their families; from the enthusiastic volunteers; and from the directors, who wonder if their "successful" programs are in some way perpetuating the problem they are struggling to solve. Hailed as the most significant book on hunger to appear in decades, Sweet Charity? shows how the drive to end poverty has taken a wrong turn with thousands of well-meaning volunteers on board.
Tens of thousands of programs across the U.S. distribute free food to the hungry, a type of charity, according to the author, that "comes with a price tag." In a hard-hitting, radical analysis of a national crisis, Poppendieck, director of Hunter College's Center for the Study of Family Policy in New York City, calls the food programs a Band-Aid approach to deepening poverty, which counterproductively relieves pressure for more fundamental solutions by enabling government to shed its responsibility for the poor. Poppendieck, who has participated in or observed food distribution programs in nine states across the country, meticulously investigates the factors she cites as driving people to the soup kitchen or food pantry: low wages, unemployment, high housing costs, homelessness, disability and shrinking public-assistance benefits. She calls for a nationwide political movement to pursue an antipoverty, antihunger agenda vigorously through a reformed tax system, affordable housing, a stronger federal safety net and vastly improved public education and training. This is a book to prick the nation's conscience.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information.
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July 31, 1999
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