Full, Colorful Bowls

empty bowls ticket

This past Saturday, Feb. 20th, was the Empty Bowls luncheon I wrote about a few weeks ago.  The fundraiser was sponsored by our local arts’ alliance organization and  benefited one of the local food pantries.  Local restaurants and caterers provided several different soups and chili for the fundraiser.  Rolls, beverages and honey buns were 4 bowlsalso available.  Students from a local private school had decorated colorful placemats for the tables and music students from the arts’ alliance music programs provided musical entertainment for diners.

My family arrived about half way through the event and found our bowls among the many other wonderfully decorated bowls.  The event hall was lively with people and music.  A group of senior citizens from one of the local retirement communities had just arrived.  We chose our soups–wonton, chicken noodle and chili–and sat down to eat, while enjoying the music of local budding musicians.  While there we waved to and chatted with some friends and acquaintances and enjoyed the small town ambience.

As we were leaving I spotted the director of the organization in which the food pantry ischick noo soup housed.  I went over to say hello and while we were talking I asked her about the success of the fundraiser.  She said that the arts’ alliance ran out of the 140 bowls purchased for people to decorate.  People who did not wish to decorate a bowl or were not able to because the bowls sold out, were still able to purchase tickets and come to the luncheon.  While at the luncheon, I saw several people using disposable bowls, indicating more than 140 people participated in this fundraiser.  I do not have a definite count of tickets sold or money raised, but the community services director seemed very please with the outcome, indicating it had grown substantially over last year.

Our bowls are currently on display on my dining room table.  I leave them there while we eat dinner as a reminder to be grateful for what we have and to remember that those who are hungry exist in the United States in unacceptably high numbers.

dining room table


Reflection & Projection

anniversary cakeWell 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 printedbns bb pinto 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 thank-youhave 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 lemonideally 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 wet feetbecause 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.

Empty Bowls

Just recently I became aware of a really creative and innovative fundraising effort for food banks, pantries, soup kitchen and larger organizations that give aid to those suffering from hunger.  The Empty Bowls Project is the major project of the non profit, Imagine Render, whose mission is to “create positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build community.”  This program is an international effort to raise money and awareness in the fight against hunger.  Each empty bowls fundraiser varies from community to community as organizations adapt this program to suit their group and community.

empty bowls ticket

Here in my community a local food bank is partnering with the local Arts’ Alliance organization to sponsor this event.  People wishing to participate can go to the Arts Alliance building during a series of Saturdays.  After paying $20, they receive a blank ceramic bowl which they sign and decorate any way they choose.  The Arts Alliance organization will fire all the decorated bowls.  On the day of the event, participants will go to the local fire hall, find their bowl and use it to be served a simple meal of soup and bread.  For those people who wish to participate in the fundraiser, but not decorate a bowl, some decorated bowls will beme decorating bowl available the day of the event as long as supplies last.  Once the soup has been consumed, the bowl is yours to take home to serve as a reminder that hunger exists in our world.

I love the creativity of this fundraiser, both in the uniqueness of the fundraising activity and in the fact that participants get to be creative and create something to take away.  I also like the idea of coming together as a community and eating a meal together.  I live in a small town, so chances are I will know several people as I sit down to eat my soup and bread.  Finally I like that the meal is simple, because for people experiencing hunger, simple is how they eat, when they eat.  I am often torn by the large gala fundraisers, often featuring celebrity chefs, that are thrown to raise money for organizations fighting hunger.  I guess that may be what is needed to get some to give money to fight hunger.  I just like that this event not only raises money for those who are hungry, but it helps to raise awareness of what someone who is experiencing hunger might eat.

Kevin Finn bowlsThis past Saturday my family went to decorate our bowls, some more enthusiastically than others.  (It’s hard to get enthusiasm out of teenagers sometimes!)  We got our bowls, chose our color palette and got to work.  We all had different styles and ideas.  I had been stressing over what to paint, as I am not artistic at all.  In the end, I decided it was best to keep it simple and went with stripes and polka dots.  When these bowls are fired the colors will darken a bit.  Since finishing our bowls we have all mentioned how excited we are to see our finished products.  Check back after February 20th and I will have pictures of the fired bowls!  There are two more Saturdays left to decorate bowls, so if you live in my community and are looking for a fun, creative, socially aware event to do with your family or just on your own, head on down to the Arts’ Alliance building and get a bowl of your own!

my bowl from topmy bowl from side

Freedom from Hunger

“Hunger in America is solvable.  People in America are not hungry due to war or famine or drought.”

The above quote is from a report, released January 4th, entitled Freedom from Hunger:  An Achievable Goal for the United States of America, written by the bipartisan National Commission on Hunger.  This Commission is comprised of members from the fields of nutrition, medicine, hunger relief, public policy and poverty studies, who were appointed by Congressional leaders from both political parties.  The Commission was charged with providing recommendations for reducing hunger in the United States using existing programs and funding.  Consequently, their recommendations require a negligible amount of new resources.  The Commission chose to focus on 7 groups who typically experience higher levels of hunger:  seniors, single parent families with young children, people with disabilities, veterans and active duty military, American Indians, people affected by high incarceration rates and immigrants.  After traveling across the country, holding public forumhearings and visiting numerous programs in both the government and public sector, the Commission compiled 20 sensible recommendations to reduce hunger.

After  having read this report, I was encouraged by several things I read.  First, I like that this Commission is bipartisan.  In the polarized political climate of today to achieve anything requires buy-in from both political parties.  Additionally, addressing difficult problems, like hunger and many other problems facing America today,  requires many different points of view and ideas.  Similarly, I think it is important that the Commission members are from several different disciplines and approach hunger from a variety of perspectives.  The Commission highlighted several root causes of hunger in the United States including, labor market forces and job availability, family structure, education, exposure to violence, historical context and personal responsibility.  As a result of the numerous causes of hunger, the Commission states in the report that hunger can not be eliminated solely by food assistance alone.  The root causes of hunger must be understood and addressed before hunger in the United States can be eradicated.

I was similarly encouraged by the sensible recommendations the Commission puts forth in the report.  Of these 20 recommendations there were about a half dozen that I was particularly pleased to read.  Perhaps one of the most important recommendation I believe the Commission makes concerns the phase down of SNAP benefits as recipient income increases.  In an effort to incentivize work, the Commission suggests allowing States to offer households who have become ineligible for SNAP benefits due to gaining employment, an appropriate extension of those benefits to assist them in assuring they have a sufficient amount of income in place before loosing all assistance.  If this recommendation were to be put into effect, SNAP recipients would no longer automatically loose all of their benefits as soon as they earned more than the eligibility threshold, allowing them to accumulate sufficient funds to be able to adequately cover all necessary expenses and lessening their chances of slipping back into a situation where they need public assistance.

A cluster of four recommendations concern summer feeding programs and since I am currently working to establish a summer feeding program in my community I am particularly pleased at the inclusion of these recommendations.  Three of these recommendations concern increasing the access to summer feeding programs in ruralrural areas, which would benefit my rural community.  Most importantly, the Commission suggests lowering the area eligibility for reimbursement for summer meals from 50% of children eligible for free or reduced school meals to 40 percent.  This change would mean that more children, in areas where poverty is less concentrated, would qualify for free summer meals.  The other recommendation concerning summer feeding programs encouraging to me is the suggestion to issue EBT cards for summer meals in communities where barriers to congregate feeding sites, like neighborhood violence or transportation issues related to remote living conditions, can clearly be demonstrated.  In USDA pilot programs issuing EBT cards to children at risk for hunger in these communities has been proven to reduce hunger.

The list of recommendations calls for funding for the USDA to implement and evaluate several new pilot programs, assessing their effectiveness in reducing hunger.  If successful these pilot programs should be implemented nationwide.  Three of the four pilot programs were of particular interest to me because they suggest taking steps to move households out of poverty, instead of just keeping them from slipping further into it.  The first one involves changing the SNAP benefit calculation from the Thrifty Food Plan to the Low Cost Food Plan, resulting in a more generous benefit.  The second pilot program suggests raising the earning disregard from the current 20%, which may help reduce the danger of families losing benefits prior to being ready to transition to self sufficiency.  The third suggested pilot program, which serves as a hand up rather that merely a handout, involves increasing the maximum excess shelter deduction/allowance in SNAP.  Raising the shelter allowance to more realistically account for the actual cost of housing, particularly in markets with high housing costs, could result in a lack in hunger as more household funds are available for food.

Finally, the Commission concluded their list of recommendations with a call for collaboration across governmental departments and between the public and private sector.  The Commission calls for the creation of a White House Leadership Council to End Hunger.  Representation on this Council will include members from numerous governmental agencies, including but not limited to the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services and Veteran Services, as well as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  In addition to these governmental departments and agencies, the Council would include members from the corporate, non-profit, university and faith-based sectors.  Lastly, community leaders and those experiencing hunger will also have representation on the Council.  The White House Leadership Council to End Hunger will be charged to develop a coordinated plan to end hunger by collaboration across agencies and to integrate funding streams and eligibility and delivery systems.

In this election year, in a highly polarized political climate, I do not know how likely the enactment of any of these recommendations are.  I do take heart in the fact that the Commission is bipartisan and came to unanimous conclusions.  The recommendations they put forth are sensible and require negligible additional resources to implement.  Additionally, they call for action from both government and civic agencies, as no entity alone can solve the problem.  Lastly, the report acknowledges that the root causes of hunger are many and all of them need to be addressed before any action to eliminate hunger can be expected to succeed, but succeed we can.

 “Our country-with all its strength, genius, creativity, and spirit of community-has the ability to be free from hunger.”

Building a Case

When my boys were little I remember teaching them to read or add numbers.  At the very beginning they would look at me with frustrated little faces and ask “Why is it that way?”  Initially I would look back at them, equally frustrated, as say “Because it just is.  2+2=4.”  That’s when I came to the realization that I had to step back and look at it from another perspective.  I had to figure out a way to explain something, that for me was self-evident, to someone who didn’t understand.  I am currently finding myself back in that situation.  As my group moves forward toward our goal of starting a free summer lunch program, I have spent the past few weeks thinking about how best to convince a local organization of the benefits of a free summer lunch program in the hopes that they will agree to come onboard as a sponsor.  To me the benefits seem self-evident, but to others I may have to spend some time explaining why this undertaking is worth their time, money and effort.

Just like when I was trying figure out how to teach my kids concepts which were obvious to me, I decided to do some research and reading on the topic in hope of finding the approach that would successfully convey the concept.  Through this research I uncovered a report entitled, Summer Nutrition Program Social Impact Analysis, from Deloitte Consulting, nokidhungryconducted on behalf of No Kid Hungry with support from the Arby’s Foundation.  This reports addresses both long and short term  benefits of summer lunch programs in the areas of health, education and the economy.  To illustrate some of the resulting benefits of summer lunch programs, the report also includes a case study from Maryland schools.

In the area of health, this report states that students lacking in adequate nutrition over the summer months experience more long term health consequences, like increased levels of weight gain, susceptibility to chronic diseases and hospitalization than student receiving adequate nutrition.  When children, who have access to nutritious lunches provided chicken-nuggetsfree during the school year, lose that access they are more likely to rely on cheap, calorie dense foods which provide little nutritious value.  This switch in diet can lead to a weight gain in the summer among food insecure children that is two to three times higher than their weight gain during the school year.  Providing nutritious summer lunches in place of cheap, calorie dense foods can mitigate this weight gain and reduce the susceptibility to chronic diseases like, asthma, type 2 diabetes and heart disease for these children.  Additionally, decreasing food insecurity can lessen rates of mental illness and risk of hospitalization for chronic diseases.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the lack of enough nutritious food over the summer can worsen levels of cognitive decline in these students experiencing food insecurity.   All students experience some amount of learning loss, called “summer slide” during summer vacation.  Studies show that children from low-income families, who experience food insecurity, experience greater summer slide.  This effect is cumulative and often by the end of 5th grade low income children can be as far as three grade levels behind their peers from higher income brackets.  This gap isteacher most evident in reading achievement.  According to the study having enough nutritious food to eat helps combat cognitive decline which can lessen summer learning loss.  Decrease in summer slide can save schools significant funds, as it is estimated to cost $1,540 per student to re-teach a student struggling with summer learning loss.

The achievement gap, resulting from the lack of adequate nutritious food over the summer months, can potentially lead to higher drop out rates.  This report suggests that providing food insecure students with nutritious food over the summer, there by reducing the achievement gap, will cause an increase in the number of students graduating from high school.  In the Maryland schools case study presented in Summer Nutrition Program Social graduates-351603_640Impact Analysis, schools offering a summer lunch program experienced a 5.3% increase in students graduating from high school.  As high school graduates typically earn approximately $10,090 more per year than non graduates and experience a 4% higher employment rate, these summer lunch programs will not only beneficially impact the student who graduates, but will also serve to strengthen the economy in the long term, as these students are better able to be productive members of society.

Finding this report made me just as grateful as when I found the section of the textbook or a website which provided me the strategy I needed to explain a self evident concept to my child.  This report by No Kid Hungry and Deloitte concretely highlights the short and long term benefits of providing a summer lunch program and saves me from having to say, “Summer lunch programs are beneficial.  They just are.”  I encourage you, especially if you are skeptical about the benefits of a summer lunch program, to follow the link above to the report and read it.


The More Things Change. . .

how other half ateI recently read the book, How the Other Half Ate:  A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century, and attended a talk by the author, Katherine Leonard Turner.  As someone who is interested in what we eat and why, as well as being a history geek, I found the topic enlightening, but not in the ways I might have first imagined.  I approached the book with the romantic notion that at the turn of the 19th century most women cooked everything from scratch and that this knowledge of how to cook helped working class families survive with meager resources.  What I discovered upon reading the book was that this notion was not the reality at all, especially in urban areas.  The situation for working class families at the turn of the 19th century was not unlike that of those struggling to get by today.  How the working class ate and society’s response to their eating habits was also remarkably similar to the eating patterns of the food insecure and attitudes of today toward those patterns.

At the turn of the 19th century most women of the working class were not homemakers, particularly in an urban setting.  They were working.  If they were not working in a factory, they were doing piecework in their home.  The money they earned from their work was necessary to help maintain their families’ subsistence.  Consequently, they lacked the time required to cook meals which required several hours of preparation.  Additionally, many of these households lacked items needed to prepare meals from scratch.  Some households lacked the necessary cooking implements, while others lacked the money for the food itself or the fuel with which to cook the food.

The lack of time and resources these women and their families experienced caused them to turn to alternative ways to feed themselves and their families.  Working class families at the turn of the 19th century ate a surprisingly large amount of their meals outside of the home.  Family members who worked in factories often purchased the equivalent of today’s fast food  from a pushcart or went to a local pub, where for a nickel beer they could get a free lunch.  Not only did families eat food prepared outside the home, but they rarely ate together, due to the varied work schedules of all the working family members.

Similarly, the social reformers of the late 19th/early 20th century held some of the same opinions voiced today with regard to the plight of these working class families.  They believed that wives and mothers in these households were neglecting their families by not cooking and allowing their family members to rely on cheaper food prepared by someone else.  They counseled these women to spend a few more hours a day cooking and cleaning, suggesting that this time and effort was the key element needed to improve their family’s situation.

These women were cast as the cause of their families’ dire situation by some, instead of examining closely their actual situations.  Working was a necessity for these women just so that they could help keep their family clothed, fed and housed.  They and their family members ate food prepared by others because it was either cheaper or these women lacked the luxury of time, cooking implements, fuel or the food to cook, not because these women were lazy or did not care about their families.  I hear strains of this sentiment today, when members of society blame those who are food insecure for their situation.  These people who are struggling to feed their families are often castigated for not cooking and relying on fast food or prepackaged, processed foods.

What is missing from society’s assessment of those who are food insecure, both today and in the past, is a careful examination of the actual circumstances of the lives of these groups of people.  When one does that, what becomes evident it that most of them are and were working very hard, being paid very little and making difficult decisions about how to feed their families with the limited resources available to them.  Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Struggle Continues

pennsylvania sealOver a month ago, on September 30th, I wrote a post about how the Pennsylvania budget impasse was impacting one of our local food pantries.  Well it is 43 days later and we still do not have a budget in the state of Pennsylvania.  Today is day 135 without a budget, and while I have not been back to that particular food pantry, I can only imagine their situation is even more bleak.  Food banks and pantries across the Commonwealth, in places like the city of Carlisle and  Juniata, Bucks and Carbon County, are struggling to meet the needs of the numerous people in their communities who rely on them to make their food ends meet.

According to the PA Department of Agriculture website, Pennsylvania leads the nation in the amount of food assistance it provides to its residents under the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP).  Actually, only a handful of states even provide state revenue for an emergency assistance food program for low income residents.  This program serves PA residents with an annual income at or below 150% of the poverty line ($27,795 for a family of three).  Through this program cash grants are awarded to lead agencies in each county, allowing them to buy items in bulk, which are then distributed to smaller emergency food providers within the county.  These food purchases are made at wholesale or competitively bid prices to further stretch the funds available.

This week the struggle to continue to assist people needing emergency food, while dealing with the lack of funds resulting from budget impasse, hit home once again.  Tuesday is my usual day to volunteer in the other local food pantry in my neighborhood.  When I arrived I was informed about the new guidelines for distributing food we had to follow as a result of the lack of funding from the state.  Basically we are having to ration what we have, because we do not know how long we will have to go until we receive food from the lead county agency that receives SFPP empty shelvesfunding.  For smaller households, 3 and under, the reduction in the amount of non-perishable food they received was not that noticeable, but for the larger households, and on Tuesday we packed food for two households of 6, the non-perishable food allotment was almost cut in half.  Luckily we have a wide variety of produce in stock and because it is perishable, must be moved in regular quantities.  Between the produce and donated items, like bread, we were able to augment the diminished supply of non-perishable food the clients received.  But winter is coming and the produce supply will dwindle and the amount of donated bread varies from week to week, so some weeks we will have little with which to supplement the non-perishable food.

The approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas causes further concern for many food banks and pantries.  This is a time of year when utilization of emergency food services surges, as people who may not regularly frequent emergency food providers turn to them for the food for their Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.  Without the necessary state funding, meeting this extra demand will be a challenge for many food banks and pantries, like King’s Kettle Food Pantry in Shippensburg, who has already had to draw on extra funds they had set aside for their annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner baskets, just to keep the doors open these past few months.  Similarly, Project SHARE (Survival Help and Recipient Education) in Carlisle wonders if their Thanksgiving meal boxes will be able to be distributed if they do not receive their state funds.  They currently have less than 100 turkeys, but expect 1500 families to turn out to receive these Thanksgiving meal boxes.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is my youngest son’s favorite holiday.  He loves turkey and all the other side dishes that adorn our Thanksgiving table.  I can’t imagine looking into his expectant eyes and telling him that we will not be able to have Thanksgiving this year.  Even more difficult to imagine would be having to tell my family on a daily basis that we will have to eat less in order to make our diminished allowance from the food pantry last for the month.  If you live in Pennsylvania I strongly urge you to contact the Governor’s office and your local members of the General Assembly to insist they seriously work on reaching a compromise to get the budget passed.  These are real people who are being affected by this stalemate.



Additionally, I urge you to seek out your local food pantry and ask what their current need might be.  Many food pantries have a list of their most needed items if you want to donate food items.  If your local food pantry is distributing turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, you can also give them the grocery store coupon you may have earned for a free turkey. Cash donations are always appreciated as well.  Food pantries may have the ability to purchase items at a discounted rate, further stretching any monetary donation.


Barely a Drop in the Bucket

The food pantry where I volunteer operates on an appointment basis.  One client is scheduled every half hour.  This method of operation ensures a manageable flow of clients receiving food and keeps the waiting area from becoming too congested.  Unfortunately it also creates a backlog of clients waiting to receive an appointment for food, sometimes as long a two weeks.  When a client is unable to keep an appointment, they go back into the line of clients waiting for an appointment.


The past two weeks, during my time volunteering at the food pantry, something unusual has happened.  Clients scheduled to come and get food have not come in for their appointment.  I volunteer from 9am-12pm, so usually only 6 clients can come in during that time to receive their monthly allotment of food.  Often we have one client out of the six not show up, but this past week only one client came in for food.  During that time we were also able to assist someone who came in without an appointment, but was eligible to receive food.  The previous week only half of the scheduled clients kept their appointments.

At first glance clients not coming in for food may seem like a good thing.  Maybe their situation has changed for the better.  Maybe they are no longer food insecure.  But after almost a year volunteering in food pantries I have learned this is probably not the case.  In the past clients influenzausually fail to keep appointments to get food because their ride fell through or their car broke down.  They have missed appointments due to illness, either their own or another family member.  During the winter months weather is a factor, particularly for the clients who walk.  Sometimes clients schedule their appointments to coincide with a break from work, but for whatever reason that break doesn’t happen as scheduled.

My point in sharing my concern with clients not showing up for their appointments is not to complain about wasted time or denigrate our clients.  My intent is to show how this situation perfectly illustrates one of the “Seven Deadly ‘ins'” of the emergency food system, as posited by charity bookJanet Poppendieck in her book Sweet Charity.  The “deadly in” to which I am referring is inaccessibility.  This particular food bank is open from 9am-4pm, 3-4 days per week, but only on week days.  Furthermore clients must have an appointment to receive food.  They must remember to call two weeks before their eligibility date because of the roughly a two week waiting period for an appointment.  If they find at the time of the appointment they can not make it, as stated above, them must start the process all over again.  Calling to cancel is helpful for food pantry staff, but usually the cancelation, if it comes at all, is last minute as the reason is usually unforeseen.  Consequently, staff is rarely able to reschedule another client on such short notice; therefore, not only has the originally scheduled client not received food, but s/he has also kept someone else from getting an appointment.  All of these clients are in need of food, but due to the limitations of the emergency food delivery system it is inaccessible to them.

This example of food pantry clients missing their appointments also highlights another of Poppendieck’s “Seven Deadly ‘ins,'” the inefficiency inherent in the delivery of emergency food.  Not only does this method of delivery require a sizeable three tiered system (federal, state and local agencies) to distribute the food, but it duplicates the food delivery system already in place in society–the grocery store.  In our rural community there are at least 3 large grocery storessupermarket which are open seven days a week, two of which are open 24 hours a day.  Additionally, there are several markets in and around town and a weekly farmers’ market during the growing season.  Wouldn’t it be more efficient and cost effective to just increase the monthly SNAP allowance and make sure all those who are eligible to receive those benefits are getting them, instead of funding this inefficient, parallel food delivery system?  This option would allow those who are food insecure and need assistance to use the system already in place in society when it is convenient for them, given their daily commitments, instead of relying on a parallel food delivery system that is much less convenient to access.

In a chapter from A Place at the Table, the companion book to the documentary of the same name, Joel Berg compares the emergency food delivery system to the fireman’s bucket brigade of the past.  Prior Fireman_brigadeto the mid 1800s, when there was a fire in a city or town, bucket brigades would be formed to combat the fire.  Citizens would line up from the town well or another water source and pass buckets full of water to the fire, with empty buckets returning down another line.  The problem was that these bucket brigades, although well intentioned, rarely put out any but the smallest of fires.  To remedy the inefficiency of the bucket brigades local governments stepped in to create fire companies with better fire fighting equipment.  Today we would never think of trying to fight a house fire with a bucket brigade.

Hunger in the United States is a fire that we are currently trying to fight with a bucket brigade.  Local citizens in food banks, pantries and soup kitchens across the country are trying to put out the building sized fire of hunger with a bucket sized solution.  Just like when the government of yesteryear stepped in to create a more effectivefire truck solution to the problem of fires, the government of today needs to reorganize how assistance for those who are food insecure is delivered into a more efficient, effective method.  I enjoy volunteering in the food pantry and the good feeling I get from knowing I am helping someone, but I look forward to the time when the emergency food delivery system of food banks, pantries and soup kitchens goes the way of the bucket brigade.  Once that happens, maybe the fire of hunger in America will begin to be extinguished.


Hunger Walk

hunger walk bannerThis past Sunday I couldn’t get the 10cc song, Things We Do For Love, out of my head.  (I know.  I’m dating myself.)  That’s because of this line in the song, Like walking in the rain and the snow, and that is what we were doing, walking in the rain and the snow to help those who were hungry.   My sons and I participated in the inaugural John H. Ware IV Memorial Hunger Help Walk to benefit 4 local organizations that help combat the problem of hunger in our area.  In past years this walk has been part of the CROP Hunger Walk, sponsored by World Church Service.  The local organizers in my town decided to break with that organization and sponsor the walk on their own for two reasons.  First, the local entities receiving the funds raised by this walk did not see those funds for several months, often almost a year after the walk.  Secondly, only 25% of the funds raised in our town came back to the local organizations.  The remaining dollars stayed with the World Church Service, presumably to cover administrative costs and assist with efforts abroad to combat hunger.

Over 150 people turned out in spite of a dramatic dip in temperatures to participate in the walk, which included 3 different loop options–a 1 mile, 5K or 10K walk/run.  Participants included people of all ages.  I was especially pleased to see a large group of teenagers, many of whom were walking in support of a local youth organization that wasme hunger walk receiving a portion of the money raised by the walk.  The chilly wind and clouds did not seem to dampen spirits and as we started off, we were greeted with a brief snow shower, followed by a couple of light showers later in the walk.  The inclement weather only seemed to add to the sense of camaraderie among the walkers.

I applaud these local organizers for deciding to take on the sponsorship and organization of this walk and keep the funds raised in the community.  At the opening ceremonies when this change was discussed, those gathered vocalized their approval as well.  Unless people are making a donation to a specific disaster or tragedy relief effort, most people want their donations to stay in the local community.  Furthermore, I think this walk helps to make people, who may not be, aware that a hunger problem does exist in their community and that there are resources within that community trying to assist those in need.  When I talk to folks about my endeavors and volunteering in the local food pantries, I have been surprised how often the response I receive is one of astonishment that we have food pantries in town.  I hope this new model works for the organizers and future years walks will be able to operate in the same manner, with all the proceeds remaining in the local community.

hunger walk sticker


Startup Stock Photos

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wanted to form a committee to help me work on issues affecting those who are food insecure.  That group met for the first time this past Monday evening, and the experience, for me, was very uplifting.  First, I was just excited that people had shown up!  As I chose people to approach to be on the committee, I tried to select members based on skills, contacts or specialized knowledge I thought they might be able to bring to the group.  That evening, as each person introduced herself, I was further encouraged to hear that each of them seemed committed to helping the food insecure.  Furthermore, I learned that some had personal experiences that brought them to the table and some had additional skills or contacts I hadn’t known about that could prove to be helpful.

Our first plan of action is to do something about the scarcity of summer feeding programs in ourlunch community.  We discussed what would be entailed in starting a large program that would require the involvement of the school district or some other parent organization like one of the local churches.  We also discussed starting a smaller operation that we could handle on our own.  Each option had pros and cons and would require the logistics to be arranged.  As we discussed the hurdles of each option everyone participated in the dialogue, offering insight and possible solutions.  Each member of the group eagerly volunteered to make inquiries or gather information, and we all left the meeting with something to do before the next one.

Throughout the meeting I was inspired by the eagerness of the group to move this project forward and willingness of people to volunteer to help.  I am so glad I decided to put this group together.  They will keep me encouraged and moving forward, provide points of view previously unconsidered and share insights I do not possess.  We will be meeting monthly, and as we clear hurdles and make progress, I will report on those successes.