The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
By Marc Hyden. Hyden the Director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute and is a long-time Georgia resident. He is the author of Gaius Marius: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Saviour. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.
Volumes have been written about the host of similarities between ancient Rome and modern America, and like most Roman historians, I enjoy identifying new parallels. However, when I least expected to discover one, it was right before my eyes. Indeed, the coronavirus revealed a hero right here in Georgia that has followed a path similar to one of Rome’s leading men.
According to legend, Marcus Furius Camillus was a Roman general and statesman who dedicated his life to Rome and his fellow citizens. He won countless battles and guided Rome through times of tenuous domestic strife. Even though he selflessly provided great services to Rome, the government turned its back on him and essentially forced him into exile. While away, disaster befell Rome, and the Romans subsequently begged for him to return and save them. Without resentment or demur, he marched back and rescued the city from ruin.
So, what does this vignette have to do with Georgia? Well in a way, we have our own Marcus Furius Camillus – MUST Ministries.
The Cobb County charity has been around for decades. It provides shelter and necessities for the homeless as well as needy children. In fact, one of their more popular activities was the summer lunch program in which volunteers made sack lunches at home or church, and then MUST Ministries distributed them to hungry children while they were on summer break. This program has existed in one form or another for around 25 years and aided myriad youths. In the summer of 2018 alone, MUST Ministries delivered over a quarter of a million sandwiches.
Despite the selfless services that MUST Ministries provides, last year, government regulators stepped in and informed the charity that they can longer run the summer lunch program in the manner that they were accustomed. This is because volunteers made these sandwiches in their homes and churches – not in certified kitchens. According to MUST Ministries, health officials issued this ruling even though no one has ever fallen ill due to the summer lunch program. The government’s decision had the effect of saying that they’d rather children starve than eat food safely prepared in homes and churches. Like the Roman Camillus, the government turned its back on Georgia’s children and MUST Ministries, despite their commendable contributions.
In the wake of this edict, MUST Ministries altered their program and began relying much more heavily on financial donations to keep the program afloat, but it isn’t clear if this is a viable long-term plan. Some lawmakers are working to pass legislation to ease the burdens placed on charities like MUST Ministries, but with the coronavirus outbreak, legislative session is indefinitely suspended – meaning MUST Ministries will not get any relief yet.
Also thanks to coronavirus, schools are temporarily closed across Georgia to contain COVID-19’s spread. The negative byproduct of this is that many underserved children, who would otherwise receive school lunches, now risk going hungry. To the government’s credit, schools are planning to somehow provide kids these lunches. According to 11Alive News, “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.” So, just like Camillus, after spurning MUST Ministries, the government metaphorically begged for their return and help when a crisis hit, and MUST Ministries graciously responded affirmatively.
When the pandemic fades away, and it certainly will, government officials need to remember that even though they inexplicably targeted MUST Ministries, the charity was more than willing to help bail the government out following its failure. MUST valued the well-being of their neighbors beyond anything else and demonstrated many of the same admirable traits that Camillus exhibited. In a time of widespread anxiety, it’s a relief to know that we still have heroes of legendary proportions.