Well I’ve been at this for a year. A few weeks ago marked my one year anniversary as a food pantry volunteer and one year ago tomorrow I published my first blog post. Knowing that I had put forth my intentions and objectives in that first post, I recently went back and reread it. I wanted to see how close to my mission I had remained, or how far afield I had strayed, as I was worried I had. I discovered that, while I am not today where I thought I might be, I have accomplished what I set out to do.
I stated that I wanted to understand the problem of food insecurity from a national perspective. In addition, but perhaps more importantly, I wanted to understand what food insecurity issues were specific to my community and work to address those issues. I spent the past year reading books, articles and reports, listening to speakers on radio programs and in person and watching documentaries on the topic of poverty and food insecurity in the United States, and feel I have a much better understanding of the issues surrounding this problem. Additionally I have spent the past year volunteering in a food pantry, as well as observing and listening to the real life circumstances of people in my community who are food insecure.
I also wanted to better understand where gaps exist in what is currently provided in my community for those who are food insecure and what is needed and to work on bridging those gaps. While I do not think I know all the gaps that exist, I have identified a few, most importantly the lack of a summer lunch program. I am currently working with a group of other concerned members of my community to establish a summer lunch program for children in need in our town. Another area in which I saw a need was in encouraging clients to take fresh produce with which they were unfamiliar. Often clients would want to take something and try it, but were hesitant because they had never eaten it or cooked it and didn’t know how to prepare the item. A couple of times I printed out simple recipes for some of the less familiar produce we had on hand, like winter squash, in an effort to encourage clients to take the produce. Offering these recipes did succeed in getting a few more clients to give the produce a try.
Another goal I set out for myself, and my blog in particular, was to become connected with others who are concerned about food insecurity and create a forum where ideas and information could be exchanged. The forum aspect of my blog has not quite taken off, and perhaps that is okay. I am not sure how I would stay on top of moderating numerous comments. I have, however, received some encouraging and helpful comments, directly to the blog, on other forms of social media and in person. I appreciate every comment someone has taken the time to make and every exchange I have had with someone on the topic of food insecurity. One of the comments that has meant the most to me was a thank you for shining a light on food insecurity issues from someone whom I suspect is or has struggled with food insecurity. Ideas and information have also been exchanged as readers have sent me links to articles or have told me about local happenings related to hunger that might be of interest to me.
Perhaps the most promising connection I have made with others as a result of my blog, has been the formation of a committee of concerned citizens who have come together to establish a free summer lunch program in our community. Two local readers came to me after reading my post about the lack of summer lunch options for kids in our town and said they wanted to help fix this problem. To be honest they gave me the motivation that I needed to form a coalition and tackle the problem. We are not there yet, but the group is a committed one and we have received nothing but encouragement to pursue this goal so far. I am optimistic that, if not by this summer then next, a program will be in place.
All in all I am pleased with the progress I have made so far, but I have more goals I hope to accomplish in the future. First I will continue to work to establish a free summer lunch program in my community. I also want to build on the idea of providing clients with recipes. I hope to work with the food pantry to find out weekly what produce will be delivered and to have recipes available each week when the produce arrives. I would ideally like to be able to give out samples of the produce prepared using the recipe. I would also like to establish a pilot program of providing spices, herbs or other seasonings like lemons, not currently offered in food pantries, coupled with a food pantry staple and a recipe to clients. For instance, if a client took oatmeal or apples s/he would also get a jar of cinnamon and a recipe for oatmeal or applesauce. A whole chicken with lemons and/or garlic would be another paring, along with a recipe for roasted lemon chicken. If the pilot program is successful, my long term goal would be to form a non-profit organization to supply commonly used spices, herbs and other staples, like brown sugar or cooking oil, to the food pantry.
When I created this blog I said I was on a journey and I was jumping in with both feet. Well I am still traveling that road and both feet are still wet. I started on the journey because I was fed up with hearing those suffering from poverty being disparaged and blamed for many of society’s problems. This past year has helped to restore my faith in humanity. Along my path I have met numerous people who care greatly for those less fortunate in our society and are doing whatever they can to help. I have also met many who are in need and most of them possess perseverance and appreciation and retain a sense of optimism that humbles me. This journey has brought me laughter and tears, hope and despair. It has enriched my life and challenged me to be a better person. I knew I would be giving of myself, but I never realized how much I would be getting back.