Every week, as she watches people trickle into the Shepherd’s Basket Food Pantry on Ridgeway Avenue, Sharron Eichler wonders how they are able to make ends meet.
“There’s no way they can stretch what they get (paid),” said Eichler, the pantry’s director. “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why are we letting these people down?’”
More than 45,750 people have received help from Shepherd’s Basket since Calvary Baptist Church opened the pantry in 1997. The number of people who have taken food home from the pantry this year has increased by about 30 percent over 2005. Witnessing the working poor’s struggle is why Eichler supports Proposition B, which would raise Missouri’s minimum wage to $6.50 per hour. “Jesus told us to help those less fortunate than us,” she said. “We’re just following his directions.”
Religious leaders throughout the state are encouraging their congregations to support Proposition B at the polls next Tuesday. More than 30 pastors incorporated discussion of the ballot measure into their services over Labor Day weekend as part of a statewide effort to make the connection between faith and workers’ rights.
“We want to help people understand that this is an issue of justice and justice is part of religion,” said Monsignor Michael Flanagan of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Columbia.
Churches in the Diocese of Jefferson City are distributing information prepared by the Missouri Catholic Conference to parishioners. The diocese is providing pamphlets answering questions about the ballot measure and a bulletin explaining that a living wage is an important part of the Catholic conception of work. A living wage is a salary sufficient to rise above the federal “poverty line,” which is about $20,000 for a family of four.
“All social issues have deep moral roots, and we want to get it around that the conference is in support (of Proposition B),” said Barbara Ross, director of the Diocese’s Social Concerns Office.
Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in St. Louis, said society has a responsibility to ensure that people earn a living wage for the work they perform. The council’s statement of support for Proposition B opens with a passage from Leviticus, “You shall strengthen the poor.” Abramson-Goldstein said the council is encouraging members of its faith community to support the measure “as an important response to poverty.”
“We are obligated to help the poor,” she said. “It is an integral part of Judaism’s approach to the world.”
Workers’ rights is a strong concept in Jewish thinking, Kerry Hollander, director of Hillel, the foundation for Jewish campus life, said. Hollander noted that one passage from the Talmud, the collection of Jewish laws and traditions, says, “The sun should not set on a man’s hire.”
“This means we must pay people for the work they do in a timely fashion,” she said.
The Bible is also filled with references to Jesus’ sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. The Rev. Dr. Tom Nordberg, pastor at Columbia’s United Church of Christ, said a passage from the Book of Micah — “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it” — is a metaphor for the right to be sheltered and fed.
“People have to put a roof over their head,” Nordberg said. “They have to eat.”
Nordberg, who was installed as pastor at United Church of Christ in early October, said he has not discussed Proposition B with his congregation. However, he said the denomination’s official position supports raising the minimum wage so people can better support their families. The Rev. Ed Farris, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist, has not discussed the minimum wage issue from the pulpit either, but he said church teachings would support it. In addition to the food pantry, the church has a benevolence program that helps about 230 families from the community with their utility bills and, until the church suffered a recent lack of funding, rent payments.
“Jesus was about helping people and bettering the well-being of others,” he said. “Anything we can do to raise the standard of living for another person should be done.”