Few things are more frustrating than supposedly well-intentioned government policies that ultimately devastate large swaths of people.
There are plenty of historical examples of this—from high tariffs and taxes to burdensome regulations—which can imperil personal livelihoods and spell the end of businesses.
Every so often, however, individuals, companies and charitable organizations demonstrate the creativity and mettle to overcome misguided government policies, and they find a way to thrive not because of—but in spite of—the government. While many can claim this banner, one particular group comes to mind—MUST Ministries—a charity run by the pastor where I attend church.
Founded in 1971, MUST is a Georgia-based nonprofit that “addresses the basic needs of individuals, families and children,” and one of their celebrated operations is the Summer Lunch program. It provides sack lunches to underprivileged youths during the summer months when school is out.
This program has been a great success since its inception in 1995. For years, volunteers would assemble sandwiches and sack lunches at their homes or churches, and MUST would subsequently distribute the meals to children who might otherwise go hungry.
According to a 2019 WSBTV report, “[Must Ministries has] been handing out up to 7,000 free sack lunches a day for kids and families every summer.” In 2018 alone, MUST and its volunteers provided nearly 260,000 sandwiches to needy children in several metro Atlanta counties.
Sadly, one week before this program was set to resume in 2019, it came under intense scrutiny and the government effectively shut down the Summer Lunch program as we knew it. Bureaucrats asserted that the meals weren’t made in government-approved kitchens and therefore couldn’t be given to the underprivileged because health officials saw potential risks—but were these risks real?
According to MUST Ministries in 2019, “After 23 years of following our food safety rules, we have never had anyone get sick.” That’s an enviable track record that I doubt many restaurants can boast, and certainly, the government can’t claim an unblemished record such as this. Regardless, the government sacked the program.
In essence, officials seemed to prefer children going hungry than receiving sandwiches from volunteers. In spite of this setback, MUST Ministries stepped up its operations, sought and secured donations to cover increased costs, and managed to keep the critical program afloat, but trouble wasn’t far off.
In 2020, something uniquely terrible happened. A pandemic struck the world, and schools were shuttered indefinitely—leaving children without access to school lunches. Faced with this specter, government officials—to their credit—wanted to help these kids. However, the government also needed help and looked to MUST Ministries.
“To continue to support Cobb students while schools are closed, the Cobb County School District is partnering with MUST Ministries to provide food to students in need,” reads a 2020 article. Without any apparent resentment, MUST took the initiative and helped bail out the government in order to provide for the needy.
The 2019-2020 scramble for donations to keep the program from going under seemed to only be a temporary stopgap. To ease MUST’s burdens, Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-32) introduced the “Save Our Sandwiches Bill” in 2020, which easily became law. It allowed “non-profit organizations to make sandwiches in church and similar kitchens as part of their efforts to feed those in need,” wrote the East Cobb News.
Sen. Kirkpatrick’s bill helped reduce some of the regulatory hindrances hampering the nonprofit, but did not address all of them. The program still cannot depend on at-home volunteer work like they once did because the bill did nothing to address the prohibition against homemade food. But thanks to some elbow grease and tenacity, MUST’s 2022 objectives have grown even more audacious. According to their website, “MUST's goal is to provide breakfast and lunch to at least 6000 children for 9 weeks. An estimated 540,000 meals will be distributed across six counties.”
It’s unfortunate that too often government policies hurt rather than help those in need. In fairness, many of these regulations are rooted in good intentions, but to quote the poet T.S. Elliott, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” Thankfully, there are those who are dedicated to overcoming government-created problems, and somehow, they are able to persevere. In the case of MUST Ministries, it’s a benefit to the underprivileged.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.