Tis is the Season.....to Think About Giving to Food Pantries....
It was back in 2003, after 13 years in a miserable and abusive relationship, that I left my soon to be ex-husband and got my first apartment, at age 36. I had never lived on my own before. My daughter was 8 years old, and I was in college at the time, receiving financial aid, but it wasn't enough. Child support came to a grand total of $142 a month. We didn't have enough food; in fact we didn't have any food at all. My budget for food was $5.00 a week, and it was that or we didn't have a roof over our heads. So how does one go about feeding a hungry child on $5.00 a week?
First, the child gets free lunch at school, and thankfully so. Then there was dinner I had to come up with. There was macaroni and cheese, but she couldn't eat that every day. How about Ravoli or Ramen? No, none of those things would meet more than one or two food groups. I ended up buying five .99 cent tv dinners a week. They were not great, by no means, she got to eat all she wanted and I ate the leftovers. I remember being grateful for the weekends that her father took her, at least she would eat well. My mother-in-law found out she was eating tv dinners and screamed and yelled at me for 30 minutes about how bad they were for her, she had no idea that was all the food I could afford, and in the middle of a nasty divorce, I couldn't even explain why.
After some time started to go by, I began to get rather hungry and thin, I decided that I couldn't go on eating tv dinner leftovers much longer. I started to call around and finally I found out there were food banks that could help and that I should apply for food stamps. I applied for food stamps and found out they had a 30 day waiting period to determine if they could help us or not. I kept asking around, I was eventually directed to the nearest food bank. I was so relieved! We got canned goods, and bread, and some day old cherry cheese cakes, it was a good thing, too! Eventually, my daughter and I started to receive food stamps which greatly improved our situation. She is 21 now and has a life of her own, but this situation forever changed my perspective on how lives can change and how much we take for granted. It also helped me to take a stand for those who do go to food banks and the reasons they do so. So it is with wisdom, compassion, and empathy that I write this article to those who give to the food banks.
We have all done it, and many of us still do it. We get ready for the holidays by cleaning out our cupboards and donating all of our expired food to the local church or food bank. We package up all of the stuff that we bought that we wished we hadn't, the stuff that just didn't taste all that good, and the stuff that is expired. What about that jar of peanut butter that was recalled....yes those things end up at the food banks too. Unfortunately, most of the people working at the food banks have no idea that they the foods they are receiving are recalled, and no one checks. During the time my daughter and I received food from the food bank we received peanut butter that was recalled for salmonella, recalled trail bars with the same peanut butter. Beyond the recalled goods we also received a lot of food that was well beyond the expiration date, cans that were severely dented, and moldy produce, much of which was simply inedible.
Years later I volunteered at a local food bank. My job was to sort the produce. I sorted the good produce from the moldy produce. It was awful, the mold coming from those boxes as I sorted the produce out. There was so much mold that it was in the air! Out of those boxes of produce, 80% was green, and I pulled out what wasn't. None of it was ever washed. I had no idea exactly how bad it was receiving the food, but working at the food bank revealed much. I tried to keep a check on what had been recalled; there was a time we had a lot of baby food on the shelf that had been recalled for botulism. Many of the food deliveries from grocery stores came in the morning and foods sat out all day before being distributed. I tried not to think too much about it, but I never really felt right about it - not when I had to give it to my child, not when I worked giving it out, and not when I myself ate it. It really is that bad!
From a humanitarian standpoint it feels really bad to receive expired and recalled foods, it feels equally as bad if not more so to have to hand that food out. It is heart wrenching to know that the standards for food banks are so lax that no one really cares how dented the cans are, how moldy the produce is, or how very expired or recalled much of the food is.
From a psychological standpoint those who receive food are getting what no one else will eat. All of that stuff in the “marked down” bin that comes in all sorts of colors ends up at the food banks. By the time it gets there it's two weeks beyond an expire date, and then it gets to sit out all day before being distributed. Even if it is subconsciously, this makes a person feel bad, like they only deserve the foods that are nothing more than garbage in the minds of most. It is a hard thing for those who have never been to a food bank to understand. Many have never had to make the choice of eating garbage or eating, but this is the standard for many food pantries.
This food mainly goes out to families with children, the disabled, and those who are elderly - the most vulnerable in our population when it comes to food poisoning; yet, they are getting food that is substandard and unregulated, and few seem to care.
Let's take a hard look at the statistics. Who exactly is it that gets food bank rations?
Linda Patterson, who runs the Lorton Community Action Center has stated that:
"The people who come here are hard workers. They are employed. They are the school bus drivers, the lab techs in doctors offices, receptionists, the janitors who clean the floor of your children's school. They just can't make ends meet because some kind of crisis has hit them."
The Hunger in America study found that of people who use food banks:
Before you give another thing to a food bank or pantry please consider whether or not you would feed it to your own children. I mean really consider it...would you give it to your own children this very moment and feel good about it? If the answer is no, please consider donating healthy nutritious foods to the food bank, foods that have long expiration dates. Those foods are at a PREMIUM in the food bank industry.
If you really want to help out this holiday season take the time to gather some fresh foods and simple meals and give them to a single mother or a food bank. If you want to give canned goods give foods that have long expiration dates. Meal plans are also very helpful as much of the foods recipients get they are not familiar with how to prepare.
Prepare a bag of fresh food with a simple meal plan included and give it out yourself. We throw away so much food, we can serve the needy far better than what currently comes out of the food banks. Before you donate your next food item to the food bank please consider the above list of people who are receiving food at the food banks.