by Michael Tait
Growing up, loneliness was one thing Michael Tait never had to worry about…
The lead singer of the Newsboys always shared a bed with one of his three older brothers. He was the youngest of nine kids born and raised in Washington DC, just a few blocks from the nation’s capitol, and he says his parents loved their kids and their God deeply. Michael and his siblings grew up eating government cheese and powdered eggs and loving Jesus.
“We had a lot of love, but not a lot of money.”
The senior Mr. Tait served their neighborhood in the inner city as a pastor. He also drove a cab for forty years.
“Some nights my dad would come home late after working all day. But mom would tell him how much the bills were, and when they were quite a bit more than the money he had in his pocket, he’d turn right back around. He would head out in his cab at 10 or 11 o’clock at night to make what they call a ‘hack’ to earn the money to pay the bills. It was tough.”
While the family didn’t have many physical comforts and conveniences, they had their faith — and they had each other. “We had the gospel and we had a loving family,” he said. “My parents were married for 55 years! That’s the most important thing, you know. Priceless.”
Michael gets choked up when he talks about how a childhood immersed in poverty deeply and profoundly shaped him and his family. It stole the brother he shared a room and a bed with. Michael has hardly seen him in the last 15 years because he’s been in and out of prison. And Michael’s older sister, Sharon, became desperately addicted to heroin, infected with AIDS, and ultimately lost her life, leaving behind two kids.
“People that I see in my travels, and now in my partnership with Feed the Children, they are just like my family was growing up. They struggle like we did, every single day.”
Michael and his siblings had to choose how they were going to live their lives. “We had the most important things going for us: Our spiritual health and a loving family. We each have free will and have to choose on our own which path to take,” he said. “But so many inner city kids don’t have what I did. When you lack both physical necessities and relationships, that’s the worst-case scenario. Without spiritual health and without love, these are the kids in most need.”
In the desperate places, with the most desperate of people – that’s where Christians need to reach out. Be “the altar in the street.”
And don’t you dare just address spiritual needs. “Phooey on you for saying that ‘be warmed and filled’ thing and then just walking away,” Michael said.
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:15-17
Feed the Children captured Michael’s heart with their vision that no child go to bed hungry. For 35 years, they’ve worked to provide hope and help to those without life’s essentials, both in the U.S. and overseas. It’s their work in the U.S. that lights up Michael’s face, though.
Michael wants everyone to know about the work Feed the Children is doing right here in the United States to help kids and their families who can’t make ends meet. “With Feed the Children’s American program, you can go across the street and help your neighbor,” Michael said. “Then take your neighbor with you when go across the seas.”
People that I see in my travels, and now in my partnership with Feed the Children, they are just like my family was growing up. They struggle like we did, every single day.
The organization provides physical needs – food, everyday essentials like soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and paper towels – and they also invest in kids, families, and communities, and thus in the future.
Hunger and poverty are complex. Ending them requires doing two things at the same time: looking at root causes and working with those, and (not instead of) meeting immediate needs today. Dropping out of school and the inability to read and do basic math all contribute to poverty (and by extension, hunger).
More than one million homeless kids are enrolled in school each year. These kids face all the usual challenges of school while always off balance by their lack of a consistent address or home base. With little to call their own, and the fear of looking (or even smelling) different, these kids need extra encouragement to stick with it and graduate.
Feed the Children works closely with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY). This network of social workers, homeless student liaisons, and school administrators works hard to help homeless students stay in school. Feed the Children sends good quality backpacks filled with school supplies and personal hygiene items to the members of NAEHCY to provide to kids who need them.
The organization also coordinates closely with local school districts, churches, volunteer groups, and corporate partners to reach hungry children during the summer months. Children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school often miss out on essential nutrition during the summer. The Summer Food and Education Program gives kids who participate the opportunity to build relationships with the volunteers who work with them each day, enjoy a nourishing meal, play active games, enjoy just enough educational activities to keep them sharp for the fall, and take home food to help the entire family through the week. The volunteers who give their time and love to these kids provide at least as much value as the meals do, if not more.
In both inner city and rural areas challenged by poverty, schools operate on razor thin budgets. Teachers often spend their own slim paychecks on school supplies for their students and to equip their classrooms. They struggle to give each child the help they need. Feed the Children works to relieve some of the burden and free them to build relationships and actually teach by operating three Teacher Stores: one in Oklahoma City at our global headquarters, one in Elkhart, Indiana, and one in LaVergne, Tennessee. Here, teachers in Title 1 schools (the most financially challenged in the country) may shop for free once a month all year. Each teacher leaves with an average of $500 worth of supplies for their room and their students, freeing them to build relationships and teach.
Americans Feeding Americans and Operation Homefront are two of the domestic food programs that send trucks loaded with food and everyday essentials into communities and military bases where kids and their families have physical needs today. Other trucks in the fleet fill the shelves of local food pantries, food banks, and other local support agencies. It’s all an effort to free children from worrying about where their next meal will come from.
A new project in New Orleans is focused on bringing fresh local foods into food deserts, areas without a true grocery store. They exist in nearly every city in the U.S. and their residents are forced to purchase food at convenience stores, where they pay more for less healthy foods. Feed the Children is testing an idea that they hope will allow them to bring a food oasis into these food deserts, so that children can eat more of the kinds of foods that help their bodies and minds grow.
All of this work thrills Michael Tait. He knows first-hand the life-transforming power of a box of hope, of someone who sees potential in you, and of a mind free to dream and plan for the future, instead of worrying about food. It’s so much more than filling empty bellies.
“The environment that I was in every single day of my childhood was no different from the very people that Feed the Children is reaching out to on a daily basis. This is part of my calling. I have a chance with Newsboys and Feed the Children to give back just a little.”
It’s your calling too. Jesus made that clear when he described his people in Matthew 25:34-36:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdomprepared for you since the creation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me,I was sick and you looked after me,I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Go to the desperate in your community. If you need help, contact Feed the Children to discuss simple ways for your youth group, women’s and men’s groups, and entire church body to share food, clothing, and Jesus’ love with individuals in your own backyard.
To learn more about Feed the Children and how your church or faith-based group can partner with them, click here.
To watch a video about Feed the Children’s many outreaches, click here.