Thursday, October 04, 2012

Would you donate something like this to your local food pantry to feed the needy?

The Box

Peeking inside

Is this real food?

Do you consider this food? Real food?

A local food pantry that used to give out real food now gives these packs out to the people that they serve. They have been doing this for about 4 months. Included in the pack is 1 package containing a Slim Jim-like beef stick and a small cheese stick, 1 extra individually wrapped cheese stick, 1 single serving of apple sauce, 1 single serving of sunflower seeds, 1 single 4 oz. serving of juice, 1 single serving of mini animal grahams. Lots of fat, sodium, and carbs in that little box, This same food pantry also gives out single servings of cereal in little bowls with tear off paper lids, and single serving 8 oz. juicebox size containers of milk.

It doesn't matter what the family size, everyone gets the same amount of packs....4. And you get 3 bowls of cereal, and 1 box of milk. You can only get food from this food pantry once a month.

These packs are produced by ES Foods.The company claims they were designed to be snack packs for after school programs. Or lunches for schools without cooking facilities (they make packs with sandwiches in them). And they were not designed with adults in mind.

This food pantry used to give out bags of real food, stuff you could feed a family with for more than a day...bags of rice, boxes of pasta, cans of tomato sauce, quart size pouches of powdered milk, full size boxes of cereal, cans of tuna, bags of dried beans, cans of baked beans, cans of vegetables, boxes of macaroni & cheese, cans of beef & gravy, jars of peanut butter and jelly. You used to walk out of there with 2 large paper bags of groceries, packed full. Then suddenly this, in one little plastic bag.

Now this is a big deal to me for the following reasons:

  1. I am one of the people that rely on this food pantry for food. Don't get me wrong, I am not being ungrateful or looking a gift horse in the mouth.
  2. What bothers me about this is that most people I know would not consider the packs they give out to be real food. Most parents would not send their kid to school with Lunchables because they are unhealthy, over priced, and do not contain very much food. While these convenience packs they are giving away are not Lunchables, they are pretty much equal to them.
  3. What they are giving is 3 breakfasts, 4 lunches (maybe), screw you for dinner. What if you have a family of five, 2 parents and 3 kids? Or 1 parent with 4 kids?  What they used to give out fed my family of three, for days...breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What they gave out was much healthier food, with lots of stuff we all could eat.

I opened up the 4 packs and divided them up among the family members, according to what each person could consume. My hubby is a diabetic, so he can't have the juice, apple sauce, or cookies. He also doesn't have teeth, so he can't have the sunflower seeds. I have gall bladder issues, so I can't have anything too fatty, which means I can't have the cheese, meat, or sunflower seeds. I also don't like sugary drinks, so I can't have the juice. Daughter is a vegetarian, so can't have the beef sticks. So I ended up with all the applesauce and cookies, daughter ended up with all the juice and sunflower seeds, and hubby got all the beef and cheese sticks. Now the big question: What is for dinner? That was a question I used to be able to answer after visiting this food pantry.

This particular food pantry is serviced by Feeding America (aka Second Harvest). This is the organization where you can donate money at the cash register of the supermarket, when you do your food shopping. This organization discourages people from making food donations. They claim food donations are bad because they never get enough of the right items and too many useless items. They claim that money is better. They claim they can get more food, better food,  for your money than you can because they buy in bulk and know what they need. If you donate to this organization, this is what they are now buying with your money. Is this what you'd buy? Can you do better than this? Could you buy better food, more food?

Other food pantries in my area are run by churches, serviced by food donations from parishioners. They give out real food, normal food, food that answers the question, what's for dinner? You get 2 bags of real groceries, and you can go twice a month. Two of them even gives out stuff like 10 lb bags of frozen chicken legs, fresh eggs, fresh produce, frozen fish, venison roasts, loaves of fresh Italian bread, hams and turkeys for holidays. They don't get any help from any of the large regional food banks and they are serving their community much better. One of them has a couple of community cookouts during the summer, where they invite the needy to a nice barbeque and provide some fun social interaction with the, music, games for the kids. They will even come and get some of the shut-ins, with parishioners providing transportation. If they can do stuff like this, why can't Feeding America provide even a fraction of what they do? What the hell happened to make such a sudden drastic change in the amount of brains behind this organization?

Maybe, just maybe, Feeding America needs new management, people that really care and use their brains to provide real food with the money they are entrusted. Maybe that would better serve the hungry, and do right by the donors that support the organization, spending their money more wisely.

I used to support this organization with cash donations, back when things were much better and I could afford it. I used to encourage other people to donate to them, too. I even did so on this blog. I won't any more, not till they show some evidence of having more than 2 brain cells running things.

I am suggesting everyone follow my original advice for donating to a local food pantry:

Your local food pantry will need your help, more than ever, during this time of economic crisis. If you can spare anything at all, please consider making regular donations of food to the one closest to you. A little bit can go a long way and help a lot of people get by this winter, and beyond.
These are the kinds of items they would always be in need of:

  • spaghetti and other pasta products
  • spaghetti sauce (preferably with vegetables or meat)
  • canned meats (like tuna or chicken)
  • shelf stable milk that doesn't need refrigeration (something like Parmalat)
  • canned and dried beans
  • peanut butter & jelly
  • hot &cold cereals
  • pancake mix & syrup (get the "complete" kind that doesn't require eggs)
  • rice
  • canned fruits and vegetables
  • soups and stews (stuff with lots of meat & vegetables)

Just think healthy & nutritious, and don't give anything that you wouldn't eat. This is not an invitation to clean out your pantry of all your unwanted crap. They don't want your dust covered cans of gourmet liver paté and jars of pickled baby corn, that neither you nor your dog would eat.

If you are giving anything that requires something else to make it a complete meal, be sure to buy the other item to go with it, such as is the case with stuff like pasta & sauce, pancake mix & syrup, peanut butter & jelly, and cereal & milk.

When in doubt, contact your local food pantry and ask what they need most, or if they are willing to accept an item you may want to provide, before you make your purchase.

Probably about the easiest way you could do this, is to just pick up at least one extra non-perishable meal each week, when you do your shopping for your family. Then drop off the food you bought at your local pantry, on your way home.

If you are having trouble locating a local food pantry near your home, pick up your phone and call churches in your neighborhood. Many of them serve their community by running a food pantry.

Most do not require the people they serve to be a member of their church or even hold any religious beliefs, at all. And they don't use it as an opportunity to preach their flavor of religion to the people they serve, either. So if you are an atheist/agnostic, this shouldn't be an issue for you. Don't let it stand in the way. (Who cares why churches help, as long as they help and do it fairly.)