#Giving Tuesday or Friday or Any Day

donateTuesday was Giving Tuesday and if I had been on the ball I would have written a post urging you to consider giving to your local food bank, pantry or cupboard.  As it was, I took some time off for Thanksgiving and neglected to look ahead.  Thinking I had missed a perfect opportunity I was a bit down when I realized Giving Tuesday was going to pass by without me being able to write a post about it.  As I thought about my missed opportunity I became frustrated that giving was allotted one day out of 365 days in a year.  Consequently, I decided that instead of throwing up my hands because I missed the opportunity to highlight Giving Tuesday, I would urge you to give on a Wednesday or Friday or whatever day works for you and to consider giving at other times of the year as well!

I understand the reasoning behind Giving Tuesday and support the effort wholeheartedly.  People are in the giving spirit at this time of year.  Additionally, for charitable organizations aiding the poor, demand for assistance is particularly high at this time of year.  For food pantries the months of November and December contain two big food holidays.  Christmas means presents and many churches and neighborhood and civic christmas-okorganizations work to provide items for families in poverty to give to loved ones on Christmas morning.  Finally, the cold weather necessitates added clothing, like winter coats, snow boots and hats and mittens, which are often well out of the monthly budget of families living near or below the poverty line.

While the main focus of this blog is food insecurity, I urge you to consider giving to any charity or cause you support.  Making a donation to a charitable organization supported by someone on your Christmas list is a thoughtful gift for them.  Coming together as a family to pool your money for a sizable donation to an agreed upon charity is also a great way to celebrate the season.  If you are able to, spread your donation out over the year by making a regular a monthly donation, allowing your charitable organization to better budget over the year and prevent periods of limited resources.  Finally, if you do not already, I urge you to consider making giving a regular part of your life, giving throughout the year and expanding your definition of giving.  Many organizations in every community do wonderful work, but need volunteers just as much as donations to make their goals possible.  Consider touching someone else’s life by giving of your time.  I guarantee that you will receive a gift in return!

Here is a link to an article by Consumer Reports about ratings for charitable organizations if you are uncertain about giving to a particular organization.

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Bread Need Never Be Wasted

breadAll of the talk last week about the importance of cooking from scratch put me in the mood to write about cooking again.  This time I am going to focus on what to do with stale or excess bread.  As I mentioned in a previous post, each of the pantries where I volunteer gets bread donated from large retailers who have pulled the bread from sale in their establishments.  By bread I do not mean sliced bread for sandwiches, but loaves of bread, like French or Italian bread.  These donations come in once a week.  Sometimes they are barely enough to distribute to all the clients, but other times they are bountiful.  When the donations are large, excess bread is kept in the freezer or refrigerator.  When the current week’s bread arrives, any remaining from the previous week must be discarded to make space.  A couple of weeks ago I happen to be volunteering when a large bag of bread was brought out to be discarded.  It bothered me to see perfectly good, albeit stale, bread being thrown away.  I decided to take it, with the idea of finding uses for it.

As I started going through my cookbooks looking for recipes using bread I came across the sentence I used for my title in a cookbook by Alice Waters.  Boy was she right!  Here are some of the uses for stale bread that I found.  The first use for stale bread that immediately came to mind was bread pudding.  My mother made this dessert quite a bit when I was growing up.  While I was familiar with bread pudding as a dessert, I also discovered recipes for savory bread puddings that can be used as a side dish for dinner.  Like adding raisins or other fruit to a dessert bread pudding, the savory bread pudding can be made with vegetable add ins, like winter squash, roasted peppers or eggplant.  Sticking with side dishes, a great use for stale bread in the summer when tomatoes and fresh basil are plentiful and flavorfulpanzanella is Panzanella, an Italian bread salad.  Fattoush, a Lebanese bread salad, is also good in the summer.  It is usually made with pita bread, but I have substituted a cubed sturdy loaf bread in place of the pita bread and it worked just fine.

http://www.momswhothink.com/easy-recipes/bread-pudding-recipe.html

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/panzanella-recipe.html

Stale loaf bread lends itself to breakfast casseroles as well.  My kids love a baked French toast casserole I make or you could just slice the bread and make individual slices of French toast.  Additionally, there are numerous variations on the breakfast strata, which is a layered stratabreakfast casserole consisting mainly of eggs, bread and cheese.  To those main ingredients you can add any of the breakfast meats and/or vegetables like spinach, peppers or mushrooms.  The great thing about most of these breakfast casseroles is that they can be assembled the night before and would just need to be cooked in the morning.  The strata I make the most calls for ham, which is a great use for leftover ham as well.  I think stratas make a great breakfast-for-dinner meal too, add on a salad or better yet, make the strata with some spinach for a one dish meal!

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/breakfast-strata/

The recipes I have discussed so far are dishes using bread, but stale bread can be transformed into other things to be used in recipes.  Homemade croutons are a good use for stale bread.  Just cube the bread up, toss it with some oil (preferably olive oil) and herbs or garlic, and bake until the bread has dried out.  Croutons can be tossed in a salad or served in a soup.  Similarly,croutons you can make homemade bread crumbs too.  Finally, I have made toasts for snacking.  This is particularly good if you have a baguette, as the slices are the perfect size.  I mix together spices and olive oil, then brush it on the thinly sliced baguette and bake until the slices are crunchy.  The ones I make have a spicy mixture of spices on them, but I have often wanted to try ones with a mixture of Italian spices and maybe some cheese.   Finally, bread, wrapped well, can be frozen for up to 3 months, so if  you have the ability to freeze it for a later use that is always an option too.

I did not make all these recipes with the bag of bread I brought home, but I have made a version of every recipe I mentioned, sometimes with fresh bread, but most often with stale bread which usually works better.  Although not the recipes I used, I have included links to recipes for a couple of dishes I mentioned to give an idea of what the dish is like.  One thing did concern me as I was reading over recipes, particularly the ones for casseroles.  Most of those recipes called for several eggs and a good deal of milk, or even cream.  These ingredients are often precious to people who are struggling to make food last as long as it can.  In discussing making bread pudding with my mother she mentioned she sometimes makes her grandmother’s recipe.  I knew from stories my mother had shared about lean times during her childhood, that this recipe would be a simple one yet would still taste good.  I asked my mother for the recipe and sure enough it uses less eggs, a bit less sugar and omits the vanilla all together, while still being tasty.  I have included this recipe below.  Thanks Granny, both of you!

Granny’s Bread Pudding

  • 3 cups bread torn into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • optional ingredients include 1/2 cup of raisins, blueberries or chocolate chips or a sliced banana

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix bread and milk together and let sit for 15 minutes.  Mix together slightly beaten eggs, sugar and cinnamon.  Add this mixture to the bread/milk mixture and stir.  Add any optional ingredients and stir.  Turn into an 8x8x2 inch baking dish and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Chicken in a Pot

As I mentioned in a previous post, my mother cooked dinner from scratch most nights.  I came from a family of modest means and I understood that my mother cooking was one of the ways we saved money.  I was taught that food was never to be wasted, so we ate leftovers.  I learned that if you knew how to cook it properly, a cheaper, lesser cut of meat tasted wonderful and wasn’t tough.  But cooking from scratch means more that just knowing how to prepare food.  It means knowing how to plan meals, budget your time, make a grocery list and go shopping.

grocery listOne of the best ways to get the most for your food dollar is to create a shopping list and stick to it.  To make a shopping list, you would first need to create a meal plan so that you will know the ingredients you will need.  When planning meals, it is important to consider what is on sale, what you already have on hand and what time you have available to cook during the week.  Once you have a detailed grocery list you are ready to head to the grocery store.

It is easy to look at a grocery store’s sale circular or clip coupons and purchase the cheapest processed foods.  You may feel you are getting the most food for your dollar and possibly you are getting more items, but at what cost?  Mark Bittman wrote a good op-ed article in The New York Times, entitled Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?_r=0

In this essay he compares the cost of feeding a family of 4 at McDonald’s to the cost of feeding that same family a home cooked roasted chicken dinner.  The home cooked meal is cheaper, and could cost even less if the meal was not as heavily meat based.  Additionally, one must consider the hidden cost of eating heavily processed foods–obesity, diabetes and other diseases that accompany being overweight.  What you save today, may cost you down the road in doctor’s bills and poor health.

To demonstrate how cooking from scratch stretches food dollars I will use a whole chicken versus a bag of chicken nuggets.  The price of a whole chickencartoon chicken at my local grocery store was $1.29 per pound and the average chicken weighed 7 pounds, making the cost of the chicken roughly $9.00.  The most economical bag of chicken nuggets I could find was $4.49 for a 1 pound, 11 ounce bag.  You could by two bags for roughly the same $9.00.

One can assume the chicken will contain roughly 35% waste in the form of bones and excess fat deposits.  Using that assumption, a 7 pound chicken will yield 4.55 pounds of meat, compared to 3.38 pounds of chicken nuggets from the two bags combined.  Not only does the chicken produce over a pound more meat, but once the meat has been eaten off the bones they can be used to make a soup or chicken stock.  Finally, the chicken meat is only chicken meat.  The nuggets contain other ingredients than chicken, including added salt, sugar and fat.  To illustrate the unhealthy result of the extra ingredients in the nuggets just look at the percentage of fat in the calories for each service size.  For the brand of nuggets I used as my example, roughly 60% of the calories in the nuggets were fat calories, compared to roughly 40% for the roasted chicken with the skin.  The percentage would be even lower without the skin.

Meal planning, creating a shopping list and cooking from scratch may seem time consuming and more difficult that microwaving some chicken nuggets, but they get easier with practice.  The Environmental Working Group has aEWG pamphlet helpful pamphlet, entitled Good Food on a Tight Budget, free on their website

www.ewg.org/goodfood

or with a contribution you can receive a copy.  The pamphlet provides numerous tips and tools for budgeting your food dollars, meal planning and shopping.  It also contains recipes.  Having a good all purpose cookbook is a must too.  These cookbooks provide instructions for the basics like hard boiling an egg to more complicated recipes.  They also contain information on meal planning, nutrition, shopping tips, cooking techniques and other helpful hints.  The Joy of Cooking and the Fannie Farmer Cookbook are two examples of classic, all purpose cookbooks.  How to Cook Everything is a more contemporary all purpose cookbook that includes numerous variations on recipes.

joy of cooking             fannie farmer              How to cook everything

To make your food dollars stretch takes time and commitment.  The key is to know your schedule.  Try to find a block of time each week to look at your schedule and plan meals, basing that meal plan on the time you actually have to cook the meals.  When you have a day or two where you are limited in meal preparation time,  try to prepare items for those days’ meals ahead on a day off or when you just have more time.

For those who are food insecure and may never have cooked this way, attempting to cook from scratch is probably a scary prospect.  What if something goes wrong in the cooking process and the food is ruined?  They do not have the funds to just try again.  In my final installment of this series I will present some ideas I would like to see offered through my local food pantries to help those needing assistance learn how to make the most of the food they receive from the food pantry.  I know many of these ideas are currently offered at larger food banks, so if anyone has any experience with these ideas, positive or negative, I welcome the input.

On the Brighter Side

bns and greensI just looked back over my posts so far, and while I am proud of what I read, the overall tone is a bit depressing.  Perhaps not surprising given the topic, but I also want to keep readers hopeful by reporting on successes and positive outcomes.  I have “liked” my county’s food bank on Facebook, and recently I have gotten a couple of posts from them on my news feed that have made me smile.  Today I will pass their upbeat posts on to you.  The food bank reported that in the past few weeks volunteers have peeled, cut and bagged 15,000 lbs. of butternut squash.  I love butternut squash and am excited to see so much of it being offered in our local food bank and pantries.  They additionally released the amount of venison they received this year from Hunters Sharing the Harvest–3,000 lbs.  As someone who regularly dodges deer as they dash across the road, I am glad this successful program is in place.  Finally, on this St. Patrick’s Day, the food bank posted that the spring greens have been planted in their local greenhouses!  I look forward to seeing those greens as they are distributed to the food pantries in the coming months.

family cooking

I am very encouraged and pleased fresh produce and unprocessed meat is being offered in our local food bank and pantries.  I will explain why over the next few weeks as I publish a series of posts about cooking.  This series will be at least three parts.  I will be discussing the decline in cooking in the United States, and by cooking I mean from scratch.  I also will explain why I think it is important to cook from scratch whenever possible and how cooking from scratch is beneficial to those experiencing food insecurity.  Finally, I will address how I think the decline in cooking is often unintentionally aided by food banks and pantries and propose some ideas they can use to combat this decline.

This series will take a bit of research and careful thought, so stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as I formulate and publish these related posts.  While I always welcome comments, this topic is one area where I really want to hear what others think.  I realize there will be some challenges and hurdles to overcome in what I am proposing, so I need help in looking at the topic from several points of view.   In the meantime, find some time to dust off some of your favorite recipes or find some new ones and cook something!

America’s New National Pastime

baseball

No, I don’t mean baseball!  I have just started reading a book entitled Sweet Charity?:  Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, by Janet charity bookPoppendieck.  In this book she contends that so many Americans participate in the fight to end hunger by donating to or volunteering in soup kitchens or food banks and pantries that it has become a national pastime.  Poppendieck chronicles the increased reliance on charity as a response to poverty and hunger in the United States, while noting the erosion of government provided assistance.  She contends that this resurgence in charity is a Band-Aid approach to ending poverty and hunger and is not the positive force it appears to be at first glance.

Her argument is two-fold.  First she states that America soundly rejected this form of poverty remediation over half a century ago.  Private charitable organizations, Poppendieck suggests, are inefficient and vary from location to location in the amount of assistance they provide.  She further states that serving meals and distributing groceries is inadequate assistance and serves to separate and segregate those in poverty from the rest of society.

The second point in Poppendieck’s argument is that participating in a charitable response to hunger and poverty diverts our attention from an actual solution to poverty in America.  Volunteering in and donating to charitable food distribution organizations, she contends, makes many Americans feel good and gives them a sense that the hunger problem is being addressed.  Poppendieck suggests that all this goodwill Americans feel prevents us from working to implement national policies with the goal of truly ending poverty and hunger in America.

As someone who has just committed a large amount of my time to volunteering in food pantries and working to fill some of the gaps that exist in assisting the food insecure, I was taken aback by the notion that I might be doing more harm than good.  I am, however, intrigued by what she has to say.  I have a feeling in the end we will not be too far apart on our assessment of the situation and what needs to occur to eliminate food insecurity in the United States.  That said, I do think this book will at times challenge my beliefs and opinions.

I think it is healthy to challenge the beliefs we hold, be they religious, political, or philosophical.  Part of the problem we face in the United States today stems from the fact that people surround themselves with information and people that reinforce their belief structure.  But that is a whole other discussion and one I don’t plan to undertake on this blog.   As I stated, I have just started reading the book, but I will share with you my thoughts on the topic and the book when I am done.  I am curious to see how or if it will alter the course of my journey to assist the food insecure.

I would be interested in your initial response to Poppendieck’s premise, or if you have read the book, what you thought about it.

Homeless in Winter

freezing thermometerIn the past week in southeastern Pennsylvania it has snowed twice, once with a topping of freezing rain and sleet.  Last Friday morning the temperature with the wind chill was between -10 and -15 degrees.  The coldest weather this area has seen in 50+ years.  This morning it was 1 degree without the wind chill.  When people meet in public the topic is how cold it is and how ready everyone is for Spring to get here.

This morning at the food pantry I met Bill (not his real name).  He is ready for Spring to come too.  Bill is homeless and lives in a tent.  He knows exactly how cold it has been and what type of precipitation has been falling from the sky.  Twice his tent has collapsed on him from the weight of the snow.  He has a kerosene heater, but no kerosene.  Bill keeps warm with and cooks over an open fire.  He has been given permission to “camp” within the patrolled area of a local food manufacturer’s property because his tent has been burglarized more than once.  What little money he has, Bill makes from selling firewood, otherwise he has no income.  He cleans a friend’s home in exchange for her driving him places and allowing him to store items, like eggs, in her refrigerator.

His homeless situation presented us with challenges in gathering his food.  First we had to make sure he had gotten a ride, which he luckily had.  Otherwise he could only take what he could carry.  The other volunteer working with me today knew of Bill’s situation, so she knew he could only have cans and only ones with a pop tops.  He needs cans because he can put them right in his fire to warm them and pop tops because his can opener has been stolen twice.  The extreme temperatures make keeping liquids problematic for him.  He does have a cooler but he said the water he had, had frozen solid the other day even in the cooler.  In spite of these challenges, we were able to send Bill on his way with several items.

D2D-PIT-CallOut-2014According to a Point-in-Time count conducted on January 29, 2014, 684  people were experiencing homelessness on that night here in Pennsylvania’s wealthiest county.  Point-in-Time counts are used to help determine how many people are experiencing homeless on any given night in an area.  This figure includes those in emergency shelters, transitional housing, receiving motel subsidies and, like Bill, unsheltered.  Even if Bill had wanted to come in out of the cold, there are no shelters in our corner of this county.  The nearest ones are 25-30 miles away.

I would have not been surprised if Bill had been bitter or angry, but he was not.  He said he had too much to do to think about being cold, but he lingered with us as long as he could.  It is forecast to be below average in temperature for at least the next week.  Tonight, as I get into my bed with flannel sheets and three blankets, I will think about Bill and hope that he is okay.  At least I know he won’t be hungry.

Who’s in the Pantry?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I have seen young and old, men and women and several different ethnic groups using the two food banks where I volunteer.  I now want to try and flesh out how many people are using food pantries and some of the reasons they find themselves there. I will mostly be using statistics from Pennsylvania and/or the county in which I live.

According to statistics from the USDA, 49.1 million Americans, or 14.3%, live in a food insecure household.  These residents do not consistently have access to the necessary food needed to lead an active, healthy life.  Pennsylvania’s food insecurity rate falls below the national average.  State of Hunger: Pennsylvania 2013, a document prepared by the Coalition Against Hunger, states that 1.6 million Pennsylvania residents, or 1 in 8, are food insecure.  In my county the food insecurity rate is 10% in general and 14% for children.  While not everyone who is food insecure uses a food pantry or soup kitchen, the State of Hunger:  Pennsylvania 2013 report states that 105,044 county residents (503,897 total county population) participated in the State Food Purchase Program which provides food to charities, like food pantries, who help feed low income residents.

That’s a lot of people.  Each person who uses a food pantry has his or her own personal story of how they became food insecure.  Most clients of a food pantry come because they have little choice.  For many, they only go to the food pantry when their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have run out.  According to the USDA, the average monthly household SNAP benefit for Pennsylvania residents in 2014 was $241.05.  This benefit amount has declined every year in Pennsylvania since 2011 and it is projected to decline even more in 2015.  When those meager dollars run out, many turn to the local food pantry to help close the gap.  While volunteering, I have noticed it is busier at the end of the month than it is at the beginning when SNAP benefits are distributed.

With the cuts in SNAP benefits, less and less people qualify for the program.  In my county, 25,614 residents participated in SNAP in April 2014 or 5% of the county population.  The county’s food insecurity rate is 10%, meaning that approximately half of the county’s food insecure are not receiving benefits.  Currently to qualify for SNAP benefits your gross monthly income needs to be at or below 130% of poverty.  It is accepted, however, that families need an income at or above 200% of poverty just to make ends meet.  As you can see, there is a huge gap between the income that qualifies someone for SNAP benefits and what that person really needs to survive.  People falling into that gap are certainly coming to the food pantry.

If all these numbers and words don’t help you put a face on who is using food banks, I encourage you to watch a powerful documentary called A Place at the Table.  A companion book by the same name was also published.  This movie focuses on the experiences of three Americans struggling with food insecurity.  You can stream it live from Amazon Prime or Netflix.

Two things stuck with me from this movie.  The first is the following quote from Jeff Bridges.

35 million people in the U.S. are hungry or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and 13 million of them are children. If another country were doing this to our children, we’d be at war.

The second item that has stayed with me is the fact that we almost ended hunger in America in the recent past.  In 1969 President Nixon declared war on hunger and called for governmental action to end hunger in America.  In response funding was increased for existing programs and new programs, like the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), were created.  Within a decade hunger in the United States was almost eradicated.

We have tackled this problem before and almost succeeded.  I am saddened that we have allowed so much ground to be lost over the last few decades, but I also have hope that Americans can once again rise to the challenge and eliminate hunger in the United States.  I choose to focus on that hope.

What’s in the pantry?

In 1980 200 food banks existed in the entire United States.  Today there are over 40,000 food banks, pantries and soup kitchens.  With all the recent cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called the Food Stamp Program) food banks are doing the heavy lifting in ensuring those who are hungry get the food they need.  Food banks were once considered a place to turn in an emergency, for a little while.  Now they are a necessity to many.  So how do food banks work?

Individual food banks are often networked together with other food banks and coordinated at the county or state level.  State and Federal resources are then funneled from the parent organization to each food pantry in the network.  The individual food banks serve local areas often defined by a local government jurisdiction or school district boundaries.  They have set hours each week when clients can come get their food.  Clients are allowed to come once a month to receive a full allotment of groceries, but often the pantry will allow clients to come weekly to get donated bread/baked goods and perishable items like fresh produce when available.

Most of the food at food banks comes not from donations, but from State and Federal food distribution programs.  The Federal program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), provides USDA purchased commodities and has been in existence since 1981.  The State Food Purchase Program supplements TEFAP by providing funds to food agencies.  These agencies buy food in bulk and then distribute it to the food banks in their network.  These two programs provide the majority of food distributed by food pantries.

food driveFood banks and pantries, however,  receive food other ways.  Who hasn’t given a donation to a local organization sponsoring a food drive.  I have sent food in to my kids’ schools and every year a Boy Scout troop distributes empty bags in our neighborhood one week and comes back to collect the filled bags the next week.  Right now (not long after the winter holidays) one food pantry in which I volunteer is still sorting through boxes of food donated during the holidays.

breadBoth of the food pantries I am familiar with get large weekly donations of bread/bakery products.  A staff member at one pantry goes to a local grocery store and takes all the bakery items the store can no longer sell and was going to throw away.  The other pantry has a volunteer who picks up similarly expired bread products from a local chain restaurant that specializes in sandwiches.  In both pantries these items are frozen to be distributed to clients through the week.

produceFood banks and pantries have learned to capitalize on what is unique or abundant in their area.  For instance here in rural Pennsylvania, we have many farmers.  In the summer when produce is plentiful, sometimes too plentiful (zucchini again?!) farmers can donate their extra produce to the food bank.  In addition to taking donations of produce, the main county food bank has partnered with local farmers who grow produce for the county food bank network.  That produce is then distributed to the food banks in the network who are able to take it.  Additionally, food pantries that have the land available grow their own produce in garden plots and/or raised beds.

Finally, living in rural Pennsylvania there are many hunters and many more deer.  Our county food bank participates in a statewide program called Hunters Sharing the Harvest.  Hunters can donate their deer to a participating butcher for processing.  The food bank picks up the processed venison and distributes it to the participating local pantries.  I think this is a  great win win situation–hunters are helping those in need and controlling the deer population.

doe

Here are some links to websites I found helpful and informative

I encourage you to take a look at what is happening in your area.  Is there a way you can help?  Often food banks have a list of items most needed.  Next time you donate to a food drive, find out what is most needed.  I’d love to hear of any innovative programs offered by other food banks.

 

Volunteering

food pantryFor the past month, weather permitting, I have been volunteering in two local food pantries.  They serve our area and are part of the larger county food bank network.  The setting for each pantry is different.  One is affiliated with a church and the food pantry is the only service provided at that building.  It is also on the outskirts of town, so most clients arrive in a car.  The other is located in a building that houses other social services.  It is located in town and many clients walk to the pantry.

Each of the food pantries has its own mix of clientele, but all walks of life are represented.  There are large families, usually multiple generations living in one house and clients who live alone.  There are children and senior citizens.  There are Hispanics, Caucasians, and African Americans.  There are those who are disabled and the able bodied.  In many households someone is suffering from an ailment, sometimes something chronic like diabetes, sometimes just a virus or the flu.  Except for those with disabilities or who have retired, at least one person in most households was employed.  Those who were unemployed were looking.  One client even asked me if I knew anybody who was hiring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My primary task is to assist clients with getting their food.  The food in each pantry is similar, often identical, because most of it comes from the same agencies.  The differences that exist are due to what each pantry orders to serve its unique clientele and the donated items it receives.  There are guidelines about what and how much clients can take, but clients also have some input in what they receive.  More often than I expected they do not take all to which they are entitled.  Most only take what they need right then.  Additionally, several clients I encountered came only when they were truly running short on food.  In other words, they do not make appointments to come when they do not need the extra assistance, even though they would still qualify to receive that assistance.

Many of the clients initially seemed wary of me, probably because I am a new face.  I imagine being there is not easy for them.  One of the other volunteers told me that when clients sign up to use the food pantry, particularly for the first time ever, they always cry.  I try to do whatever I can to put them at ease.  I look them directly in the eye and smile.  I make small talk, no talk or offer a handshake.  I try to catch their name so I can address them properly.

The manner in which I complete my tasks at each of these two food pantries has been different, due to the constraints of each location.  What has not been different is what I take away each time I have volunteered.  I always feel that warm feeling you get in your heart when you help someone else, but there is more.  I also feel inspired by the manner in which these individuals meet the adversities in their lives. With each encounter I have I learn more about the reasons people find themselves at a food pantry.  Consequently, I find myself more committed than ever to this endeavor.

Jumping in with both feet

I have done it!  Over the past couple of years it has become increasingly important to me to find time in my life to become involved in efforts to assist those experiencing food insecurity, particularly in my own community.  So I said good bye to my job and reorganized some of my household responsibilities to find the time to pursue this endeavor.

I started by doing a bit of research on the topic of food insecurity in America.  While I wanted to understand the problem nationally, I wanted to focus my help locally.  I looked around in my own community to determine what assistance was available for those without enough food.  I discovered two food pantries and I have contacted them about volunteering my time.  In addition to helping immediately by volunteering with existing programs, I want understand where gaps in the assistance that is currently provided exist and propose solutions to fill some of those gaps.

To assist with that goal I have started this blog.  With this blog I hope to connect with others who are similarly concerned about food insecurity.  These folks might be running a program helping people get the food they need.  Maybe they, themselves are experiencing food insecurity or know someone who is.  Or maybe, like me, they are just someone who has reached the boiling point and said enough.

In addition to a chronicle of my experiences, I hope this blog will become an exchange of ideas.  A place where others can offer suggestions and insight.  I want to know what has been successful as well as what didn’t succeed and why.  I welcome all points of view as long as they are presented respectfully.  If you have made it this far and you are still reading, I hope you will join me.  I believe that when people work collectively, great things are possible.