Give It to Someone Who Needs It

“I don’t need this. Give it to someone who does.”

I heard this, or something very close to it, said three times this week while I was volunteering at the food pantry.  The three people who said this were not folks who had come in to donate food.  They were three clients who were receiving food.  Each one of these clients declined to take at least one item we were offering in their monthly allotment of food, not because s/he didn’t like it, but because it was not needed this month.  One lady, when she realized she had a couple of items she did not need, even brought those items back in to us after taking her food to her car .  (She also brought in a bag of children’s books to share with others because her children were done with them.)   The items they declined were dry good items–a jar of jelly, cans of vegetables, syrup–thatpancakes-and-syrup would have lasted on a shelf for several months to a year or two, and yet these people, who have so little, refused to take what they did not immediately need so that someone else who needed it more could have it.

I’m not writing about these three clients because their actions are unusual.  On the contrary, we hear this sentiment all the time.  I am often touched by the generosity of people who have little to share making sure others, who have less, are able to have something as well.  And their generosity does not end with just food.  I recently learned of two client households who opened their homes to one or more persons who were going to find themselves homeless otherwise.  Can you imagine if your resources were already stretched to the breaking point, telling more people to “Come on in. We’ll figure it out somehow.”? I am so touched by their acts of selflessness and glad that we are here to help them as they help others.

Coming to a food pantry is often a last resort for people.  They need help, but are usually embarrassed by their need.  Once they receive that assistance, they are so appreciative.  The situation is no different with our clients.  In addition to being thoughtful, the majority of our clients are extremely grateful for our assistance, often to the point of tears.  They appreciate the dry good staples we regularly provide, but are especially enthusiastic thank-you-peppersabout the fresh produce and the little extras we sometimes have, like dog food, special dietary items like low sodium soups and the baking mixes in December.  It has been so rewarding to hear how much of a lift those mixes were.  One client, in relating how grateful she was to receive the baking mix told us she used the item she baked as a gift from someone.  Once again, these stories and thank yous are not unusual, but the norm.

So often the portrayal of people who are at or below the poverty line, and are therefore food insecure, is less than favorable.  I have heard people refer to those needing assistance as lazy and that they are cheating the system.  One politician called them takers. To be fair, he has apologized for using that term and has since stopped using it, but the sentiment he expressed is alive and well in our country.  The reality of who a typical food pantry client is, however, resembles someone far different.  The typical food pantry client is the young man who left college in his third year to return home to care for his ailing mother because he was all she had.  It is the grandmother who is now caring for her grandchildren and maybe even an adult child, because drug addiction has devastated their family.  It is the person struggling to beat cancer or the senior citizen who can’t quite get by on just Social Security.  It is even the family trying to make ends meet on one, two or even three minimum wage jobs.  Time and again I am humbled by their words of gratitude and simple acts of generosity for others.  They understand more than most what it is like to need help and more importantly, how important it is that others are there to provide that help.

Warm Someone’s Heart

coffeeBrrrrr! It’s really cold out, and although the forecast calls for warmer temperatures over the next few days there can be no doubt that winter is here for the next several weeks.  As the temperatures have dipped down I find myself trying to stay warm with a hot beverage, either coffee or tea.  When the kids came in from enjoying the weekend snow, I warmed them up with yummy cups of hot chocolate.  I’m not the only one turning to warm beverages.  Over the past few weeks at the food pantry I also noticed some of the clients, especially the homeless, asking if we happen to have anything on hand with which to make hot beverages–tea, coffee or hot chocolate.  These are items we do not stock, but every now and then someone will donate some to us.  When we are able to include one of these hot beverages in a household’s monthly food supply, it is always much appreciated.

Due to the success of the baking mix drive in December, I have been wanting to sponsorteapot another drive for February.  I always like to look for ways to make February fun.  By the beginning of February, the cold and early night fall that comes with winter have cast a gloom over me.  I always tell myself if I can make it through February, winter’s spell will be almost over.  Plus it’s my birthday month and who doesn’t want to have fun during their birthday month.  So, to help make February fun and break winter’s spell I want to warm our client’s hearts with hot beverages.  For every household coming in for food in February, I would like for the food pantry to be able to give them a canister of ground coffee, box of tea bags or box of hot chocolate mix.  To do this we will need your help again.  I will leave the size of the canister or box up to you.  We have households ranging from one person to nine people.  Even though we all have our own favorite flavor of tea or coffee, please keep donations to either regular coffee or black tea and hot chocolate mixes that require only adding hot water.

hot-chocolateThe trend currently exists in coffee shops to pay it forward, whether it is paying for the coffee of the person behind you at the drive thru or buying a community cup of coffee that someone coming in after you leave can use.  Think of this as another way to pay it forward.  For the price you spend on a specialty coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, you could purchase a can of coffee or a box of tea bags or hot chocolate mix to warm someone’s heart.  For my local readers, I am happy to pick up items from you and for my farther away readers, like last time, I am happy to purchase items if you want to send a cash donation.  Thank you so much for your generosity.  Now speaking of hot beverages, it’s tea time!

Reflections

confettiThe year 2016 is coming to and end and what a year it has been.  Before I take a few days off to enjoy Christmas and the New Year festivities with my family and friends, I wanted to reflect a bit on my journey assisting the food insecure this year.  This past year contained some positive highlights.  Nationally, the US Census Bureau reported in September that the poverty rate in the US declined in 2015 for the first time since 1999.  In my community, the local school district started offering free lunch during the summer to all school age children in our community through the Summer Food Service Program.  Online I found the Click and Carry handle, and with a generous discount from the manufacturer, was able to purchase several dozen to provide to our homeless clients, allowing them to carry away more food when they visit the food pantry. And finally this past month, due to the generous response of my blog readers, the food pantry was able to provide every household receiving food with a sweet treat baking mix–cookies, quick breads or brownies–to brighten their holiday.  We were even able to offer aluminum baking pans to those who didn’t have a pan in which to cook the mix of their choosing.  Itcookies-1900558_640 was very rewarding to me and the other volunteers and staff who pack food for clients to see the happiness and excitement elicited by these unexpected treats.  I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all my friends, neighbors, family and readers who helped make this possible.

2016 also had it’s low spots.  In Pennsylvania, the year started out without a budget negatively impacting a wide range of social services, from school districts to food pantries.  When 2016 began, the state had been without a budget for over 180 days.  Just before 2015 ended, Governor Wolfe announced he would line item veto the budget proposal sent to him by the General Assembly.  Taking this action allowed $23.4 billion to be released, of which $18.4 million went to the State Food Purchase Program, which helps provide food to food pantries.  In early Spring, the House GOP released a budget plan for fiscal year 2017 in which 62% of its proposed budget cuts came from low income, social safety net programs.  Luckily this budget was not approved, but that is perhaps only a temporary reprieve from the ax for these programs, for 2016 came to a close with the election of Donald Trump for President after one of the nastiest Presidential campaigns I have ever witnessed.

I have heard many people say they are glad to see 2016 come to an end and it can’t end soon enough.  I understand what they mean; unfortunately,  I do not share their belief that next year will be better, especially with regard to those in poverty and experiencing food insecurity.  There have been calls for the nation to come together, to work together, to address our nation’s challenges.  I don’t have a problem with that sentiment, as long as that is what happens–both sides talking to each other and listening to each others’ concerns and proposals, then working together through compromise to reach a jointly crafted approach.  I fear, however, that is not what is meant with the call for national unity.  My concern is that what is being requested is for the nation to come together in support of the plans and proposals of the GOP, who will soon control the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government and 33 Governorship (in 25 of those states they also control the State Legislature as well), with little to no dialogue or compromise taking place.  If bipartisan compromise is not what is meant by the call to come together, I think the result will be unfortunate for all Americans.  I guess we will just have to wait and see.

clock-465874_640So as 2016 comes to an end I am trying to remain that same optimist who has always tried to find the silver lining.  Up until now, however, I never realized how close the colors sliver and gray were to each other. My husband keeps reminding me to focus on my sphere of influence–poverty, and in particular food insecurity–so as to not get overwhelmed by the magnitude of change that may be headed our way.  It is good advice and I intend to try to follow it as best as I can.  I will continue to advocate and do whatever else I can for those who are struggling to make ends meet and are experiencing food insecurity.  I will also continue to encourage meaningful dialogue from all points of view with this blog.  Thank you to my readers and to those who comment, either here on the blog or on Facebook or even in person.  I have received inspiration, insight and encouragement from your words.  And again, thank you so much to those who helped us brighten a few families’ holiday by donating baking mixes!

I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year!  

garland

 

Calling All Elves!

cookiesEvery year my sister and I get together and bake Christmas cookies.  It is one of my favorite activities over the holiday season.  We light a fire in the fireplace and play Christmas carols all day.  As the aroma of freshly baked cookies begins to waft through the house my kids and husband follow the smell to the kitchen to sample a still warm cookie or four.   Many of these cookies will find their way to others as gifts–a little thank you to the mailman or the neighbors who can always be counted on for last minute items or pet assistance.  The cookies spread cheer to my husband’s employees and the people who work at the agency that houses the food cupboard.  As the rush and demands of the holiday season begin to encroach I always make sure I save a day for this event sometimes knowing that I will miss something else.

The other day as I was thinking about holiday events and planning activities, I thought fondly of my annual cooking making day.  I happened to be at the food cupboard when I was having this reverie and was almost immediately brought up short.  I can’t imagine how difficult maneuvering the holidays must be for someone who is food insecure.  From Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year quite an emphasis is put on special foods, large meals and sweet treats.  I felt a great sadness for those who can not escape the images of the abundance associated the holidays, and yet can not afford to partake in those treats.  At that moment I knew I wanted to do something to help our clients experience a little bit of holiday cheer, but I knew I would not be able to accomplish this task alone.

This is where you, my elves, come in.  I would like to be able to give every person who comes in to receive food for his or her household in the month of December a treat to make their month a little brighter.  I am asking for donations of packaged baking mixes, baking-mixeslike quick breads or brownies, especially ones geared for the holiday season, for instance gingerbread or pumpkin bread or brownies with seasonal add ins.  I couldn’t find it in my grocery store, but I’m pretty sure Ghirardelli had a chocolate peppermint brownie mix out over the holiday season last year. Not every packaged mix will work, however.  I am looking for mixes which only need the added ingredients of eggs, water and oil.  These added items–eggs and cooking oil–are regularly provided by the pantry.  I had initially been thinking of getting cookie mixes, but most of those require a stick of butter or margarine and many food insecure households just don’t have that luxury.  I did find that the peanut butter cookie mix from Duncan Hines does not call for butter, so it is okay.  Lastly, the donations must be mixes as opposed to slice and bake cookie tubes or frozen cookie dough, as we do not have the extra space to store items that need to be refrigerated or frozen.

I have estimated that for every household receiving food in December to receive a treat I will need approximately 250 mixes.  If any mixes are leftover at the end of December, they will continue to be given out in January.  So many of you in the past have expressed an interest in helping in some way and I thought this would be a fun, uplifting way to donate.  If you are interested in participating, please contact me and we can work out a way for me to collect the mixes or for them to be delivered.  Let’s help bring a little holiday cheer to someone in need.

Success!

handles-2Yesterday we were able to offer one of our homeless clients the option of receiving food in a gently used backpack or plastic bags with the new Click and Carry handles.  Once we showed him how the handles worked, his preference was for the handles.  We gathered his food and packed the bags, making sure to pair some lighter bags with the heavy ones to give him a balanced load, both front and back and on each side.  All in all, we were able to give him at least one third more food than we have been able to give homeless clients in the past.  He was particularly happy to receive the handles, because he said the handles on the plastic bags dug uncomfortably into his hand after carrying them for a while.  We sent him off happy and told him to give us some feedback on how well they worked the next time he was in for food.

This morning I shared our success with the owner of the Click and Carry company and she was pleased to see her product being put to such good use.  I told her how happy I was to see how well they worked and how much more were able to provide for him.  I’m not sure who was more excited about this success, us or the owner/creator of Click and Carry.  Or perhaps our client, who is benefiting the most.

handles-4

 

Click and Carry

As a volunteer in a food cupboard I have heard many stories that have broken my heart.  Often clients are embarrassed about needing help, so they want to explain why they are asking for food or sometimes they are just overwhelmed and want to share the frustration of their struggle with someone.  Even though their stories are often hard to hear, the sadness or frustration I feel is mitigated by the act of providing them with food.  I feel less helpless as I  watch them wheel their loaded shopping cart out to their car, knowing I have helped make their difficult time a little easier.  Unfortunately, with our homeless clients, this uplifting of spirit does not always occur.  The reason I am occasionally left with a sense of despair is that I can’t load a cart with food for them.  There is usually no car to which they can take bags and boxes of food.  I can only give them what they can carry, and it’s never enough, even for only one person.

canned-foodFor over a year I have been troubled by the problem homeless clients, especially those on foot, present.  We can not overcome some of the limitations that prevent us from providing our homeless clients with certain types of food.  For instance, if they have no way to keep food refrigerated, we can not give them food that requires refrigeration.  Similarly, if they do not have a means to cook food, we can not give them anything that requires even minimal cooking, like ramen noodles.  One problem unique to providing food to homeless clients that I have felt we can solve, however, is limitation on the quantity of food we are able to give them at one time.  The strategy to solving this problem involves a two-pronged approach–increasing the quantity and variety of food and nonfood items specifically for the homeless and coming up with solutions that allow homeless clients on foot leave with more food.

The first prong is the somewhat easier one to tackle.  For the most part, homeless clients receive different food than our non-homeless clients due to their unique living situations–no way to heat or refrigerate food and/or no can openers–which dictates the specialized food items they receive.  Consequently, a majority of the food they receive comes from donations.  As a result, we can only give homeless clients what we have in stock at the time.  I have had several local readers express an interest in donating food and other supplies for our homeless clients.  Over the summer I spent some time compiling a list of items, food and nonfood, that work for homeless clients given their unique circumstances.  I will post this list of suggested items for the homeless on my webpage.  It can be found on the dark blue banner at the very top of the page.  I will be happy to let anyone know of a specific need we have and to collect food and non-food items anyone wishes to donate.

The second prong in the approach to solving the problem of limitations on the amount of backpacksfood homeless clients can take with them involves figuring out a way for them to carry more food away, so that their allotment more closely resembles the amount an individual with transportation is able to take.  When packing food for a homeless client one of the questions we ask is whether s/he has a backpack.  Backpacks can be packed with heavier items and to capacity, as it is easier to carry something heavy on your back.  We have on occasion gotten backpacks donated, but do not always have them on hand for new homeless clients.  Additionally purchasing new ones is cost prohibitive.  Consequently, I starting searching for a more inexpensive alternative.  We usually pack as much food for clients as we can in boxes, but that is not very practical for homeless clients on foot, so most of their items are put into plastic bags.  Over time carrying multiple plastic bags in one’s hand can become uncomfortable or even painful if the bags are heavy, as anyone who has ever gone shopping at the mall can attest.  Thinking about these mall trips made me remember a sales clerk who rigged up a handle that the other handles went through so that I was only having to carry one handle in my hand.  She did this mostly so I didn’t drop a bag, but the result was also more comfortable to carry.

click-and-carryI began searching the Internet for an item that could be fed through the handles of multiple bags and then closed, making one single handle to carry.  What I found was Click and Carry.  The Click and Carry is a wide plastic handle, shaped to fit comfortably in one’s hand.  When the top of the handle is pushed down, it can rotate open allowing bag handles to be inserted.  To secure the plastic bag handles the top is just rotated back, clicking into place.  The bags can be carried in someone’s hand, or if the bag straps are long enough, they can be carried over the shoulder, allowing up to 50 lbs. to be carried at once.  I contacted the company and explained what I wanted to use the Click and Carry for.  The owner has graciously offered us a generous discount and the cheapest shipping she can find.  I am currently awaiting shipment of our first batch and can’t wait to start providing them for our homeless clients.shelves

Often when I sit down to write a blog post it is draining, because the subject matter can be bleak and depressing, or like the last post I wrote, frustrating and exasperating.  For me, I find it necessary to have positive news or events every so often.  They give me hope and keep me going.  I am excited about the Click and Carry and can not wait to receive them and start providing them to homeless clients.  In anticipation of an increase in supplies for our homeless clients, I straightened and reorganized the shelves where we store items appropriate for homeless clients to make more space.  I am hopeful that these actions will more successfully help us in assisting our homeless clients.

Christmas in July

harleyFor over 25 years on the Fourth of July weekend the local chapter of a motorcycle club pulls up outside the food pantry where I volunteer to deliver the results of their annual food drive.  This year was no exception.  On July 2nd three pickup trucks towing utility trailers loaded with food, diapers, personal hygiene products, cleaning products and paper products arrived, bringing the food pantry Christmas in July!  During the month of June, members from Chester County A.B.A.T.E. set up outside local grocery stores on the weekends to collect donations for this drive.  Additionally, club members take any financial donations they receive and purchase items the pantry IMG_0815needs, but are not usually donated in a food drive, like the personal hygiene products, diapers and paper products.

This considerably large donation comes at a great time of year.  Food banks and pantries, ours included, often get most of their large donations in the late fall, right before the holidays, so by the summer donated supplies are running low.  Additionally, summer is often a time when food pantry usage goes up, as children, who may normally receive two meals a day at school during the school year, are home for the summer.  This sizeable donation helps in another way, by allowing us to bring new items into the pantry and fill in the gaps in our staple items, like pasta, beans, rice and vegetables.  I can see the difference this donation has made already.  Our shelves are completely stocked, including personal care items, diapers, and items for the homeless.

IMG_0816Operating a food bank, cupboard or pantry would be impossible without the generosity of those who donate.  We are fortunate to get individual and organization donations regularly throughout the year.  As a matter of fact, as I was leaving the pantry on Tuesday I held the door open for a lady bringing in a box of donated food.   Additionally, several churches drop off regular donations from parishioners.  Sizeable donations like this one, however, coming at a time of year when most people are focused on things other than food drives, help us better serve those in need in our community.  So to the members of this motorcycle club I say a heartfelt thank you and safe ride!

Make Me Look Normal

This week when I was volunteering at the food pantry one of our homeless clients stopped in to let us know that he had gotten a job.  He was happy and proud of himself and wanted to share his good news, but he also had a request.  He wanted to know if we had any wipes so he could keep himself cleaned up and he wanted some food, especially food he could take to work to make him “look normal” to his coworkers.  Luckily we were able to provide both due to recent donations.  We gave him some wipes and a few cans of Chef Boyardee and stew and a can of Spam.  We even gave him a cantaloupe to celebrate of his good news!  Overall this interaction was positive, but his request to “look normal” tug at my heartstrings.  All he wanted was what most of us take for granted; he wanted to fit in, to be an accepted, productive member of society.

In our society we have a tendency to ignore or even shame people in poverty.  We look pasthomeless-man-free-picture-for-blogs-1[1] the homeless person sitting on the sidewalk or avoid making eye contact with the mother with the child who is asking for something to eat because he is hungry.  Or worse, we look at them with disgust or harsh judgement.  There are many reasons why we behave in this manner.  Maybe we are frustrated because we are working hard and not getting ahead and we worry that one day that could all too easily be us.  Or maybe we look away because we desperately want to be of assistance, but feel powerless to truly help these folks out of their situation.  Some may tell themselves this homeless person or single mother is responsible for his or her situation due to the poor decisions he or she has made in life, and therefore deserves no further consideration.  Whatever our rationale, the result of our actions is to push people living in poverty to the edges of society, to segregate them.

I admit that at times have been guilty of such actions myself.  I admit to looking past a homeless person or pretending not to hear the heartache in a mother’s voice as she responds to her child’s pleas of hunger.  I regretfully chose to look away because, at best, I could only help them in the moment, but do nothing to change their situation.  Initially, when I started volunteering in the food pantry I was worried about how to interact with the clients.  I didn’t want them to feel I was patronizing or pitying them.  In the end I settled my nerves by telling myself to just smile and greet them, to acknowledge them like I would any other person I would meet in my day.  I didn’t quite understand the power of that act until our client’s request to want to “look normal.”  He didn’t want anything special.  He just wanted to be regarded and treated like everyone else.  He is not alone, as I imagine most people living in poverty, in addition to wanting a path out of poverty, want to be treated with humanity and acceptance.

This longing to appear “normal”, I’m sure,  is felt strongly by children.  They may not understand why some children can have so much, but they do not.  Whenever we can we try to make sure a client with children gets the boxed mac and cheese with the Star War noodles or the Frosted Flakes.  We sometimes get donated boxes of Little Debbie birthday-cakesnack cakes or sweets that are out of season, like the packaged peppermint bark we got right after Christmas.  It is always fun slipping these items into a family’s monthly groceries, knowing the joy it will bring to a little one whose life holds few treats.  This past week we were able to ensure a young girl got a birthday party thanks to someone who donated a birthday party in a bag, which included cake mix, birthday candles, plates and napkins. (What a great idea this is!)  This young lady’s birthday party will be on Saturday and I will happily think of her getting to celebrate her birthday like a “normal” kid.

When I think what a food pantry provides I have been defining my answer in the broadest terms.  A food pantry provides food and other supplies to someone who is in need.  After this exchange with our homeless client, I realize what we provide is more than just food.  This gentleman came back to us to share his success, not only because he needed items, but because he knew he would be acknowledged and treated “normally”, that we would be happy for him and celebrate, as well as help him with his request.  One doesn’t have to volunteer in a food pantry, however, to have this interaction with people in poverty.  The next time you see someone struggling with poverty, certainly assist them if you can, but equally important, remember they want to be seen and treated as “normal”.  A smile and a friendly greeting can go a long way in making someone feel that they are accepted and belong.

Passing the Baguette

bread okThis past Tuesday, rather than do my usual volunteering task of packing food for clients, I went and picked up the Panera bread and sweets that get donated to our pantry, since the lady who regularly makes this run is on vacation this week.  I think a while ago I mentioned the bread we get from Panera, but for those who have not read that post let me explain.  Once a week on Tuesdays the food pantry receives a delivery of breads and sweets that Panera Bread would otherwise throw away because they had not sold within Panera’s allotted time.

I have been curious about how these items get to us, so I was happy to make the run to pick them up.  Instead of heading into the pantry on Tuesday, I drove to an office park near Wilmington, DE, where I met the person who is the first leg of the relay.  After picking up the bread and sweets from Panera in West Chester, PA, she brings them to work with her.  I asked her how this relay came to be.  She said that she saw Panera employees throwing away the bread products one day and asked them about what they were doing.  She was told it was bread that hadn’t sold and if she couldbagels find someone to come and take the bread, Panera would let her have it.  She called all around the West Chester area and no one needed bread.  While conducting this search, she made contact with the person who is the second leg of the relay.  This lady knew about our pantry through one of our volunteers and asked us if we might be interested in this Panera bread if she brought it to us.  Absolutely!  And the relay was born–from a West Chester Panera to a business park in Wilmington, DE to a food pantry in rural Southern Chester County.

We usually get 1-2 grocery carts full of all sorts of bread products-baguettes, boules, rolls, bread bowls and bagels-in white, wheat and seeded form.  In addition to the breads, we get panera sweetssweets as well, from Danish and scones to cookies and brownies to muffins and cinnamon buns.  We get whatever didn’t sell.  Once the bread and sweets get to us we package them for storing so they can be distributed throughout the week.  I usually help with packaging the sweets.  These we wrap individually in plastic wrap.  We don’t get enough sweets to give to every household, so we save them for treats for clients who are experiencing an unusual hardship, like caring for someone who is ill or a grandmother raising her grandchildren.  Most of what we receive is bread and the bread products get bagged to be frozen.  A retired couple comes in on Tuesday afternoons to volunteer to do this task.  The amount of bread we get each week determines how we distribute it.  Usually we have enough to distribute something to each household, but sometimes when the delivery is small we use save the bread for large families to help augment their allotment.  We also use this bread for our homeless clients when we can.

I love this arrangement for several reasons.  First, I love that this perfectly good food is not going to waste and into a landfill.  In addition to our group getting the bread from this Panera on Monday nights, other groups pick up unsold bread on other nights.  Secondly, I love that our clients, who’s lives are full of struggle and stress, are getting a treat.  Who doesn’t love a loaf of good bread or some nice bagels?  Finally, I love the humanity exhibited by all the people who go out of their way to make this happen week after week.  Being a part of this relay of bread, and now understanding what each person does to keep bread out of the trash and get it delivered to people who need it, helps to restore my faith in the generosity and kindness of the American people.

 

Why We Need a Living Wage

During my shift at the food pantry this week we packed food for a homeless man.  He was very young, not much more than a boy actually.  He came to us because he was desperate and hungry.  He had a job, although he hadn’t had it for long.  He didn’t have a car, so he walked over 3.5 miles each way to work, taking him over an hour.  We packed spamhim what we could, considering he didn’t have a refrigerator or any way to cook or warm his food.  What we gave him was a mish mash and not much of it was very healthy.  He said he would take anything we had to give, because he was really hungry.  We gave him SPAM, Vienna sausages, sardines, saltines, granola bars, tuna fish, peanut butter and a couple tiny jars of jelly.  We were also able to give him canned fruit, applesauce and beef stew and Chef Boyardee products (to be eaten cold).  All of these items had to have pop tops or foil tops because he doesn’t have a can opener.  Luckily we were able to give him some fresh grapefruit and apples.  We were also lucky that someone had donated a package of plastic forks, so we were able to give him something with which to eat.  He was fortunate to have a ride, which meant we were able to give him several bags of food.  If he had been walking we would have only been able to give him what he could carry.

Hopefully this young man’s life is beginning to turn around.  Hopefully he maintains his temp. job and it turns into a permanent position.  For him, this I hope, but here’s something I know.  I have packed food for other employees, permanent, full time employees who work for the same employer where this young man is currently temping.  So while I hope for a better future for this young man, I am not overly optimistic I will never see him at the food pantry again.  The plight of this you man and all the other people who are working full time jobs, yet still need SNAP, housing subsidies, Medicaid or food from a food pantry, clearly illustrates why the minimum wage needs to be raised to a living wage.  The current minimum wage of $7.25/hour barely keeps a single person without dependents, working 40 hours per week, above the poverty line.  Raising the minimum wage to the proposed $10.10/hour will only keep a 3 person household, say a single mom and 2 children, at the poverty line.  It is only when the minimum wage approaches $12-$15/hour that we see households begin to inch away from the poverty line.

factory worker

At the mention of a living wage, some will argue that it is a burden to small businesses and quite possibly for truly small businesses this may be true in many cases.  My family operated a small business for many years and employees were paid minimum wage.  It is quite possible that if my parents had had to pay their employees more per hour that all employees hours would have been cut or that they may have been forced to let someone go.  However, the minimum wage those employees took home was worth more than today’s minimum wage.  The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.  When my parent’s began operating their business in 1978, the minimum wage was $2.65/hour.  When that salary is adjusted to today’s dollars it equals $9.14/hour.  Today’s minimum wage is $7.25/hour, which is almost $2.00/hour less than the 1978 minimum wage adjusted to today’s dollars.  The minimum wage in 1978 went farther, paid more bills, than the minimum wage of today.  Furthermore, many of the businesses paying employees today’s low minimum wage are large companies which boast sizeable yearly profits and are often run by CEOs who earn exorbitant salaries, suggesting these companies have the resources to increase their employees’ salaries.

Another common argument against raising the minimum wage to a living wage is that it will kill jobs.  Workers will be laid off and employers will be unable to hire employees, causing a stagnate job market.  Most economists used to believe that raising the minimum wage would have a negative effect on employment until the Card-Kruger study conducted in the early 1990s, which found a surprisingly positive effect.  Additionally, former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, points out that raising the minimum wage puts money directly into the pockets of people who are going to spend that money, mostly in the local economy.  That infusion of money into the economy creates a greater demand for goods and services, resulting in job creation.

mcdonalds archesSo, what happens when employers do not pay their employees a living wage?  Many of those employees are forced to turn to the government for assistance in the form of SNAP, Medicaid and housing and child care subsidies, forcing the U. S. taxpayer to make up the difference caused by their low wages.  According to an article by Clare O’Connor on Forbes.com, Walmart and McDonald’s cost U. S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively, in public assistance because their workforce must turn to these social safety net programs in order to make ends meet.  At one point, McDonald’s even assisted it’s employees in signing up for public assistance programs, because they knew their low wages would not provide enough income for their workers to live on.  As a result of their employees receiving so much in public assistance benefits, Barry Ritholtz, in an article on the website Bloomberg View, labeled Walmart and McDonald’s as America’s largest and most undeserving welfare queens.

Many people in poverty are employed.  The homeless man I packed food for on Tuesday has a job.  Others are retail sales clerks, home health aides, janitorial staff and factory and warehouse workers.  They are performing often physically demanding jobs, doing tasks field workerthat make many of our lives easier, like picking our produce, caring for our children or elderly and ailing parents or cleaning our office buildings.  As Robert Reich so astutely stated when advocating for a living wage, “People who work full time are fulfilling their most basic social responsibility. As such, they should earn enough to live on.”  Raising the minimum wage to a living wage will not only restore dignity to America’s working poor, but it will stimulate the economy and assist in moving more Americans off of assistance and out of poverty.

Note:  A local paper reported this week that Walmart will be giving raises to all associates hired before January 1, 2016.  The average salary for full time associates after the raise will be $13.31.  The pay increase is part of a two year commitment, on the part of Walmart, toward higher pay, more effective training, clearer career paths and increased educational opportunities for workers.  This commitment is projected to cost Walmart $2.7 billion.