Why Care About Neighbors?

 

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Could the little town of Nokomis, Illinois, population 2126, be classified as a food desert? It may be soon if their only grocery store is shuttered. Although community leaders have lobbied Kroger, the Cincinnati-based national grocer, to reconsider, the plan is to close the store at the end of January. My heart goes out to these people. My mother was born and grew up in Nokomis. Over the years, I have enjoyed many visits with relatives living there.

This closure is problematic because many of the community residents are senior adults who cannot drive the 15-30 miles to nearby groceries stores in Pana, Hillsboro or Vandalia. Meals on Wheels America research notes that 9.7 million seniors face varying degrees of food insecurity. I fear that many of these older adults live in rural communities like Nokomis. They are going to be left without their neighborhood grocers that were a familiar sight during my childhood years. 

These small grocery stores dotted small communities in the latter half of the twentieth century before many of them closed because of the expansion of big box, one-stop grocers that offered food, clothing, toy, hardware, garden and pharmacy departments all under one roof. Growing up, I didn't realize as a kid, how important all of these small neighborhood grocers were to my community. 

My great aunt and uncle, Esther and Everett Sievers, operated such a store from their home in Nokomis. Some of my fondest memories of visiting family in this little farming community were occasions when Uncle Everett opened his store on holiday mornings so his neighborhood customers could grab a much needed item for the family meal. I particularly liked to sneak into the meat case between customers to grab an end of a stick of bologna and gnaw on what remained around the plastic wrapping! 

Back then I thought (and I still do today!) that it was so neat to have a real grocery store attached to the house! I look around now and realize that these small grocers in the neighborhood are nearly extinct and will never be replaced by gas station, dollar or "almost a dollar" convenience stores. For one thing, these "grab on the go" businesses do not offer the fresh fruit and vegetables so necessary for a healthy diet.

What does the Bible say about caring for the vulnerable? Plenty! "Don't mistreat widows or orphans. If you do and they cry out to me, you can be sure I'll take them most seriously" (Exodus 22:22-23). "This is God's Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don't take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows..." (Jeremiah 22:3). "Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world" (James 1:27). (All references are from The Message). 

Why should we care about any of this? Because God does! Jesus succinctly summarized the two great commands, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart... And... Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37, 39 NIV). We cannot ignore the essence of authentic Christianity that "passes muster before God the Father!" Love and faith always result in action! 

Eugene Peterson paraphrased it this way, "Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove!" (James 2:18). Is there anybody near you who needs a helping hand or a grocery run?

Mike Keppler, retired pastor, 
active churchman and
doting grandparent. 
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com

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