Have you, or has someone you know, applied for SNAP? SNAP is about all that’s left in the way of assistance for people as welfare shrinks and shrinks.
SNAP is important for you and your household because you’ll be able to get more food with your SNAP card and you won’t be hungry anymore. This can translate to better health.
Are there more days in your month than money? Are you a senior who has outlived your pension, savings, or ability to hold down a job. Statistics tell us that one senior in seven doesn’t get enough to eat. SNAP is one successful way to help your situation.
If you have trouble buying food, now is a good time to apply. If you’ve applied in the past and were denied, maybe you need to apply again. You may, after all, have answered a question incompletely or incorrectly and were denied this benefit because of it. Try again. You might do better this time around, especially if you or someone in your house is disabled or is a senior with medical expenses.
You may be reluctant to apply for SNAP because you don’t know if you are eligible. Or, maybe you applied in the past but were denied. Maybe even you don’t know how to apply and are overwhelmed by the application. You might even have never heard of SNAP and think of it as food stamps.
SNAP is a debit card which offers privacy and is easy to use in grocery stores. If you don’t want anyone to know you receive SNAP, they won’t. Once you are approved, your SNAP allotment will be renewed monthly.
One thing: If you work, you need to know how to meet the work requirements. Some information is needed for you to apply successfully for SNAP. This information comes in several categories.
Proof of income is necessary. You can use pay stubs, social security income information.
Are you a senior? You are eligible for SNAP. If you are a senior, please apply for SNAP benefits. You worked all your life, paid your taxes, contributed to the economy. It’s time to benefit from all of the contributions you made throughout your life.
Identification is needed. This might be a state ID, passport, birth certificate.
Bills help. Bring your medical, heating, water, auto, rent bills.
Your social security number and the numbers of everyone in your household are necessary.
Dependent care costs will help. These include day care costs, child support, being an attendant for a disabled adult.
Contact your local Department of Social Services office for application assistance. If this doesn’t work, contact your Office on Aging or Catholic Charities.
SNAP is important for you if you’re having trouble buying groceries. SNAP helps you pay for the food you need to live a healthy life. When you eat healthier food, you will prevent and control some chronic health issues. This will lower your medical bills.
SNAP is important for your community, too, because when you are able to get food with SNAP, you’ll have cash available to use to pay your rent or buy gas to get back and forth to work.
SNAP is also good for your community because the allotment on your SNAP card brings outside money to your community. The money you bring into your local economy helps farmers, grocers, and local businesses.
When you buy groceries with SNAP, you are not taking money away from someone else who might need it more. There are enough SNAP dollars for everyone.
You can still shop at a food pantry if you are eligible for SNAP.
Get SNAP today!
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Abundance. What does it mean to be hungry?
For starters, it means you don’t have the money to buy the food you need for the next meal.
For one other thing, it means getting put in a category, or two, or even thirty. And, getting labeled. When the economic downturn began around 2007, new categories and labels appeared weekly, daily even. Journalists, politicians, social workers, sociologists, writers, created new categories as they related stories about hungry and homeless people. Stories about hungry people appeared in new ways and different situations.
The irony: labels created other labels. Simple truths seem endless and obscure the simple realities. Reduced to the lowest common denominator, a person is hungry without enough to eat. And a person is homeless without a roof to sleep under.
Abundance. Examining the label, hungry means missing meals. It means children only eat at school. Life is good when school offers a universal breakfast to all students. Lucy holds in a school with a backpack program so children bring home food on Friday afternoon for something to eat over the weekend.
Being hungry is not a category. It’s a situation. It can happen to anyone.
Hungry people are real. In the food pantry, I saw a person with a life instead of a label. Hunger and homelessness happened in many ways Every hungry or homeless person in the food pantry line has a unique story to tell which is beautiful, spiritually revealing, and heartbreaking. Each story explains what happens to a person when things spin out of control and the world falls apart. Invariably, there is a path to travel.
“Why do I do what I do?”
“How did I get in this mess?”
“How can I escape?”
“Who will I be in my new life?”
The journey begins, not ends, when things spin out of control, the world falls apart, and the person hits bottom.
Past mistakes lead to a new, better place. It’s a good time to figure out what’s important and what isn’t. It means offloading things you can’t keep anymore.
With nothing left to lost, you have a setup for your new life and opportunity. For some, moving into a job means you pay taxes, rent, maybe buy some clothes, get retrained. This is good for your community, the state and the Fed.
For all the bottoming out, I never saw a person unable to fix the circumstances. Nobody hit bottom and then hung around down there. Everyone seemed to be working toward moving back into someplace or something. As far as I could tell, anyone deciding to commit suicide with a drug overdose or something else left town to end it all. I never saw or heard those stories play out.
Several shoppers died a socially acceptable death by cancer. What is a person to do when the job opportunities evaporate, the house forecloses, the savings spent, Social Security isn’t enough, and the person is too old to start anew.
I questioned the fate of several shoppers in the depths of mental illness. By the time a person was no longer communicating in a language understandable by fellow human beings, life becomes challenging. One young shopper spoke in tweets, whistles, hisses, and other undecipherable sounds. His mother, hidden in the background, did what she could. I always wondered what would happen to him when she died.
This is the heart of the matter because pantries are all about gratitude and abundance. Churches see pantries as an outreach project. Outreach is a popular word. Congregations support feeding the hungry, especially if the money goes to a group of children in Botswana, Somalia, India. The farther away, the better, it seems. When outreach is local things get dicey.
Pantry deniers describe people as freeloaders, homeless people as lazy, and all pantry shoppers as owners of upscale cars.
Whether the car is large, small, old, new, or a broken-down beater even, there’s a larger reality here. Whether the vehicle was driven around or lived in or both, it’s the last vestige of days gone by. By the time a person gets to temporary housing for the homeless, things are reduced to a few clothes, a blanket, hot plate, or maybe an electric skillet or crock pot.
For me, feeding hungry people in a food pantry is an act of gratitude. When volunteers feed hungry people, we own up to the amazing abundance in and around us. We also face our own spiritual hunger. Feeding the hungry in a food pantry addresses the divine hunger issue head-on.
Abundance surrounds both pantry shoppers and volunteers. Many churches and synagogues house a food pantry in a room in the basement. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in our country to go hungry.
Not everyone recognizes abundance in a pantry. Not everyone recognizes the holiness of hunger. I always know those who see its grace and those who don’t. Those questioning who should be fed and who shouldn’t be fed have trouble with the sacred aspects of hunger.
To be continued…
Thank you for reading this article. Abundance 2 will continue in the next post.
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“How did we all fit?” What is the reality in the food pantry?
New shoppers always had funny looks on their faces the first time they shopped at the pantry. They expected to fill out forms. They expected to prove through documents they existed, had an address, and deserved the food.
They brought social security cards, utility bills, pay stubs, birth certificates. They came prepared to surrender their innermost private lives in exchange for recycled food originally rejected by a farmer, food manufacturer, grocer, wholesaler. It was all bound for a landfill.
The pantry didn’t have much in the way of screening procedures. For intake, shoppers signed their names and wrote the number of seniors, adults, and children in the household.
Nobody showed documents, especially not their social security cards. Our forms didn’t ask for addresses because the first inspector to visit the pantry after I became the coordinator assured me they weren’t necessary.
On pantry day, hungry people lined up and went through the pantry as fast as we could process them. In the two-to-three minutes they had in the room, they took their share of everything on the shelves, regardless of what it was. I never saw a person turn up a nose at canned peas, fresh spaghetti squash, or beets.
Pantry food is a shock to hungry people on their first visit. They see unrecognizable items. They sometimes sought a realitycheck. They don’t know what they’re called, how to prepare and eat them, how to store them. They have no idea what the nutritional content is.
Often, ethnic shoppers have no money and are separated from anything and everything they know or experienced. Undocumented citizens have no money, know few or no people, probably can’t speak the language, and they are forced by circumstances to shop in a pantry offering nothing familiar to eat. This must be a lonely feeling. They questioned the reality of their circumstance.
Worse, finding ethnic food, kosher food, Asian food, is simply not going to happen in a pantry. This is not necessarily by design. Food pantries only have food available to them that the food bank has to share. And, of course, the food bank shares what is donated.
At the end of the shift on pantry day, in the quiet of the closed pantry room, I counted totals. I carefully added the children, adults, seniors, and households in the pantry line that day. Often I was surprised at the end of a shift that such large numbers of hungry people shopped in the pantry in one afternoon.
The State of New York sent down clear guidelines, rules, conditions about what, how, and when pantries distributed food donated to hungry people.
Produce came from area farms. The Hepworth Farm, the Patroon Farm (owned by the Food Bank of Northeastern New York), and Migliorelli Farm as well as from other area farms throughout the Hudson River Valley, throughout the nation, and from foreign countries even. Farms grew and gave beautiful, fresh, clean, colorful, aromatic produce.
Produce made its way from a farm to a wholesaler, food manufacturer, and finally, a bakery or grocery chain in New York State. Food manufacturers, wholesalers, farmers, supermarkets salvaged food and donated it to the food bank. And that’s where the food banks came in. Food pantries received rejected food anywhere along the food chain. Volunteers put it on the shelves, and distributed it to hungry people lacking money to buy food.
Most fresh produce came directly to the food bank and what received was often organic but not labeled. It costs money to label produce as organic. The stickers alone cost money. Paying someone to apply them is another cost. The reason against labeling the produce is practical. Labeled or not, this beautiful food kept shoppers from feeling they were getting rations. That’s how the State of New York wanted it.
Not all Hudson Valley farms used organic methods. Migliorelli Farms, for example, didn’t label produce as organic because this family-owned farm used European agricultural standards to reduce health risks and exposure to pesticides by incorporating crop rotation, fertilization, irrigation, and planting systems.
Never ours, the food was in our safekeeping to give to hungry people, homeless people, the mentally ill, physically ill, poor, to anyone in need. Leastways, that was what I thought we were supposed to do with it.
New York State tax dollars worked in the pantry. When volunteers worked at the pantry, we did so willingly and for free.
Sometimes I thought I was the only one in town to see it this way. Many felt I fed the unworthy hungry, that I embraced the wrong people. None of the food boxes came to the pantry stamped Worthy Hungry Only. I never understood what unworthy hungry meant, who the unworthy were, where they came from. I didn’t understand unworthy hungry the same way I didn’t understand rocket science. I just didn’t get it. Because I didn’t get it, no one could sway my beliefs.
Instead, I understood hunger, giving, receiving, sharing, and abundance. When people signed their names and accepted food, miracles rippled out beyond the building, beyond walls and boundaries – to a divine experience.
While shoppers got food, they sought the resources to live meaningful lives and to trust there was something to believe in, cling to. They sought the focus to rebuild lives.
At the pantry day’s end, I was thankful people got groceries.
I searched and searched and got beyond hunger and abundance. My search was about the meaning of life. In my youth, (in my thirties), I asked two questions: What is the meaning of life? Whatever happened to the Anasazi?
In the pantry (in my seventies), I still searched for the meaning of life. My questions were different: How did I end up in a food pantry at my age? Who are the unworthy hungry. My questions were wrong. What I should have asked was “why”, now “how” or “who”.
All my life I felt when I got to be a woman of a certain age I would sit in the rocking chair I inherited from my grandmother and learn to knit or crochet. Maybe I would occasionally venture beyond home in my yellow Volkswagen convertible with a black top to paint a picture or two in a class nearby. I fantasize the top would be down at every outing to free my cotton top curls.
Instead, I worked in a small town food pantry in the midst of the biggest economic downturn for decades.
I managed a food pantry in a community where some weren’t interested in recognizing poverty and hunger existing under their very noses.
It came down to reality. I never found discovered the unworthy hungry because I never saw anyone in the pantry who didn’t need food. Those preoccupied with feeding with the unworthy hungry saw freeloaders who didn’t need the food, or didn’t belong in the line.
I saw grandmothers and mothers with children standing in the line without uttering a sound. Not in my wildest dreams did I figure out how they got the children to be so quiet and stand so still. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and close friends stood in the line for as much as an hour on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon with children, mostly preschoolers.
Caregivers stood in the hallway weekly in cold, wet, dry, rain, snow, broiling heat inching their way down the long hall until their turn came in the pantry room. No one, either child or adult, complained about the freezing cold hallway in the winter where the only warmth came from the body heat of fellow shoppers. The nearest I ever got to a complaint was volunteers and shoppers wearing two hats in the winter. No one, neither adult nor child, complained about the oppressive summer hallway heat. The children never made a peep.
Many lived on fixed incomes unprepared for the financial costs and emotional roller coaster ride involved in raising someone else’s children. Ready or not, they cared for children when the biological parents couldn’t. For some, the situation was overwhelming. For others, it was just another day.
I saw a cancer patient with finances reduced to a large box filled with bills and no money in the bank. He shopped weekly until his death.
I saw the woman whose brother had Alzheimer’s. She was his caregiver and he couldn’t be left alone. Sometimes she arrived at the pantry so disheveled it was difficult for her to stand in the line and shop. One afternoon she crashed her car into the bridge outside the pantry entrance.
I saw the widow with more month than money who refused to go to her children for help. She visited the pantry regularly. One shopping trip included the first anniversary of her husband’s death. She kept her pantry trips a secret from her children because she was embarrassed to let them know. This was a small community, so they eventually figured things out.
THE MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER
She brings her young granddaughter to the pantry weekly. Sue is maybe four. She is shy. Dark brown ringlets frame her little cherubic face. Her expressions and posture tell me she’s still unaware of her situation. Her mother works two plus jobs. There’s not enough food to eat in this household. Her little dresses are threadbare.
This lovely child takes pleasure in the smallest gifts. Today, her treat is a can of juice a volunteer found in the storeroom that’s not dented. Her grandmother teaches her to stand in line quietly, smile, and say “thank you.”
When I see them, I see the universal mother and grandmother next door. I see a mother and grandmother working hard so that adorable little child has access to a good school, health care, safe streets.
They are our neighbors.
They are our family.
They are us.
I’m reminded we do not live in a we/they world.
Poverty hits children especially hard, with long-term consequences for behavior, learning, and mental health. They suffer the effects of going to bed hungry. Ketchup sandwiches and bowls of dry cereal don’t offer the nutritional strength a child needs to grow up into a healthy adult.
However this shakes out, the hungry are us.
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Like many first-time pantry volunteers everywhere, I showed up that morning because someone from the church asked me to come. A slot needed to be filled and I stepped up to the plate when I was asked. I was a foot soldier in the army of the outreach. I tried to live up to my status in the church as a new member. I showed up at whatever activity needed help and did my share. Nothing more.
I had no desire to move up any ladder in the congregation.
On that morning of new beginnings, I had no premonition I would ever return to this pantry room.
I had no plans for this place in my future. I had a profession teaching reflexology, Reiki, and canine massage therapy in a healing space in my home on Tannery Brook.
This was a case of fools rushing. Knowing what I know now, I should have run out the door and never looked back. Mary could have handled the crowd that day without me. In the whole two hours, no more than a couple dozen people visited the pantry.
I wasn’t blessed with any psychic knowledge…certainly not the feeling of danger I felt when I saw the head of the building committee in the hallway outside the pantry months later.
There were no lines in the hallway at the new beginnings of my time there. People wandered into the pantry in groups of one and two to choose from cereal, soup, tuna, and peanut butter.
Never in my wildest thoughts on that day did I envision the pantry hallway filled with hungry people, the tiny room packed with fresh produce and jammed with shoppers.
By 2008, the tanked economy was well underway and waits in the hallway were an hour or more.
The Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) passed down feeding guidelines which included whole-grain bread, 1% milk, fresh produce. By 2011, the building committee had rules dictating where people could stand, what bathroom they could use, and what parts of the hallway were off-bounds.
Never did I foresee monthly food deliveries averaging over 12,000 pounds.
Never did I imagine, on that day, building committee members angry over hungry people receiving food according to guidelines set down by the State of New York, the Department of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
I never thought I would spend months grappling with the unworthy hungry, a concept introduced to me by a local religious leader. The concept wasn’t explained. Only the two words – unworthy hungry – were used in a sentence: “You are feeding the unworthy hungry.” This was something I never heard of before. What did she mean? Who were the unworthy hungry?
After that first morning in the food pantry, I drove home, pulled out a little notebook from a drawer and wrote what people said, like real writers do. When I wrote these things down, I felt my grandmother’s presence.
Her spirit was with me in the room. I looked around the dining area to see if someone had entered the room without my realizing it. But, no, I didn’t find a soul. I walked over to a cabinet and began my dialogue journal on that afternoon.
A shopper: “They cut my food stamps again. I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I have no money this month. My car died and I don’t know where I’m going to get money to fix it. If I can’t fix it, I can’t buy a new one either.”
Lillie Dale Cox Thurman spoke to me clearly that morning with emphatic, strong, direct instructions. She went straight to my head: “Write this down! Write this down too! Now…write this down.”
My grandmother, Lillie Dale Cox Thurman, stepped into my life on the first morning in the food pantry and never left. Not even when my mother, Uralee Thurman Lawrence, roared in with prayers and fast, furious, aggressive instructions which I resisted to the bitter end. Under their directions, I joined the crowd in the basement and was soon volunteering regularly.
So, now, I’ve got the second volume, “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles,” coming out on this blog.
Thank you for reading this blogged book! Please refer it to your preferred social media network and stay tuned for future chapters!
I began this memoir before I even knew it. On the first day I worked in the basement food pantry, I sat with Mary, a member of St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church and the head of the alter society. We greeted a couple dozen hungry people. Mostly single homeless men, there were a few of Woodstock’s famous colorful characters included in the mix that day.
Throughout my career in the pantry, the most colorful of the colorful was Grandpa Woodstock who liked to bring his bride, Lady Estar into the pantry to shop. The two of them went around the room choosing from peanut butter, cereal, tuna fish, and soup. While this happened, he entertained us gushing enthusiastically.
“My, how beautiful you look today!” I fell for his spiel every pantry day. Those words melted my heart. The most professional of the street actors, he knew how to make us each feel special when he flashed his peace sign and posed for photographs. Grandpa knew how to flash that peace sign, whip out his postcards to sell, and sound off his horn “toot toot”. I sometimes thought he spent a few afternoons posing in front of a mirror to figure out how to get the best response from tourists.
Grandpa Woodstock and Lady Estar were most photogenic with their long, flowing silver hair. Their lovely matching beards only emphasized floral print silk skirts and kimonos. Their toenails were painted matching colors and their Teva sandals matched.
None of Woodstock’s rich and famous got so many requests for autographs and photographs. They simply couldn’t compete with his show off tricks.
After all, Grandpa entertained us all with street theater at its finest. So what if he didn’t mean a word of it? We all enjoyed being sucked into the show!
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The first time I ever saw a child begging for food was in Mexico. I was on a car trip going through Monterrey on the way to visit my future in-laws in Mexico City. When we parked the car in front of a restaurant, children immediately surrounded the vehicle. Small children held their hands out, asking for money for food. Each held up little brown palms. Their pleading faces looked into my eyes.
At that time, I didn’t yet speak any Spanish, but I didn’t need a vocabulary beyond English to understand the situation. Their body language spoke of expectations, hope and hunger.
“Don’t worry yourself about this Coit. They’re just after a few pesos.” My soon-to-be husband tried to comfort me. In my heart I knew different. The child we discussed was about the size of a thin eight-year-old. Teeth don’t lie though. He had a mouth full of adult teeth. That put his age at about twelve years.
In Mexico, children dig through trash for food. And, nine years after this road trip, in Mexico City, a beautiful young Indian woman standing on a corner tried to sell her infant. She approached my church friends first, an American couple in Mexico City on a study visa. Bob and Sue felt they couldn’t get the baby over the border when they returned to the U.S. at the end of their class. I wasn’t a good candidate because, at the time we discussed the baby, I was still married, had no visa or citizenship papers, and didn’t feel I was ever going to cross back over the river heading North.
Whatever happened to that beautiful baby? Whatever happened to her desperate mother? I’ll never know.
You want to talk hunger, then let’s discuss Venezuela and Mexico for a while. Even now, years later, I remember each encounter with a hungry person or household as if it happened only yesterday. I’ll never forget those people, the look of hunger in their eyes.
When people wanted to talk to me about hunger in America, it was a nonissue. Hunger in America? Whoever heard of such a thing?
Hunger has been with us in this country since the beginning. Famous American history stories include Pilgrims starving over the first winter in their new home. The stories of Mormons starving when they headed west are just two. These stories are different from segments of our population going to bed hungry because there isn’t enough money for food.
Even though I’m the loudest mouth in the crowd when I talk about hungry people in America, I’ve never seen hungry children begging for food when I park my car outside a store or restaurant.
Somehow, in this country, hungry people keep themselves hidden unless they are in the food pantry or soup kitchen line.
I lived in both of those places. I could talk hunger with you “until the cows come home,” as my grandmother said. But America? “Fuggedaboutit,” as I heard someone say once on a Brooklyn bus tour.
Thank you for reading this blog post. It is an excerpt from “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles”. I’ll be posting more stories from this book in the coming days.
I hope you enjoy them. If so, please refer the posts to your favorite social media network.
But, whether you refer them or not, I thank you for reading this story.
Writing this blog post was risky. In the early days I worried about peoples’ opinions. I wrote my first blog entries with skeptics in mind. On some level it was important to me for pantry deniers to understand that there are, indeed, hungry people around us
One day I saw clearly that some people aren’t going to like me or my work. Nor are they going to believe what I write, no matter what I say. Once I realized that truth, I knew I’d been wasting energy on other people’s opinions.
I’m no longer interested in convincing anyone about what it means to go to bed hungry.
I’m okay with people saying anything about me because I know the chapters I write are true. The words I write make a difference in peoples’ lives.
This blog is about people creating better lives for themselves while not having enough to eat and lacking proper healthcare, housing.
This blog is about healing and creating new opportunities in one’s life. This blog is about people changing their lives – against all odds.
While I tell this story, I know some people won’t believe a word. It’s okay. I have my story and they have their story.
Food and sex and money are three words and issues more concerned with a person’s core beliefs, emotions, and spiritual attitudes than anything else.
These three words offer rules for everyone. We each have core beliefs around them with opinions about what is okay and what isn’t okay. We have attitudes about food, sex, and money based on what we were taught by family members and peers when we were children. We live our lives based on those experiences. Reduced to their lowest common denominator, these words – food, sex, and money – are the same. They touch core beliefs in ways going straight to the heart and soul.
The food pantry was all about food and money. The sex part was limited, but still there. Sex happened in the pantry hallway line when a shopper suffering with mental illness, a handsome young man who lived in another world, masturbated in the food line.
Our attitudes, opinions, feelings about feeding hungry people are or are not based on facts, statistics, or reality. Nor will facts, statistics, information, change attitudes.
Finally, we all have beliefs about who it’s okay to feed and who it’s not okay to feed. My beliefs are based on life experiences, facts, statistics. Their beliefs are based on the same. I may have taken classes, gone to therapy. And, they may have also.
Their reality about what is okay and my reality about what is okay differ.
In the food pantry hallway, we all looked at the same people and saw different things. This situation is proof positive we each create our own reality about hungry people. Nothing changes either reality. We each see hungry people through lenses shaped by separate life experiences. Hungry people don’t live in two realities.
As the lines got longer, we looked at people in the line. I saw hungry people and they didn’t. I interacted with people weekly who dumpster-dived to feed themselves as well as their children, parents, housemates. Occasionally I read articles about the ethics of dumpster diving. I didn’t think we could explore the ethics of allowing people go hungry because they couldn’t make enough money at their jobs to buy the food they needed to live and work.
People coming to a food pantry can take a three-day-supply of food home each week. The other four days, they’re on their own. That means they can buy more food if they have a SNAP card and if they can get to a store selling food. If they don’t have the money or a SNAP card, they get creative or go hungry. This involves panhandleing, borrowing money or food from friends, relatives, neighbors. They can steal, dumpster-dive, drop in at someone’s house at mealtime, and skip meals.
“Thurman is out of control over at the food pantry” described the local vicar because of the number of people shopping at the pantry and the amount of food they took home.
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Your vacation time is here! It’s your last chance to get a break this summer. That means it’s time to go to the beach – to the mountains – to the city – ANYWHERE!
What do you have to do to get away? Well, first, find a place to go. Second, pack your bags.
FINALLY, drop off loads of food to your neighborhood food pantry before you take off on your vacation..
August is the most challenging month of the year for food pantries because it’s the month with the least amount of food available at the food bank. Food pantries get most of their food from donations and very few people donate in August. And, sadly, this carries right through to September. September brings school openings with parents getting ready for school lunches. Food pantries are often empty.
It’s my opinion that people don’t donate food to food pantries in August because they’re focused on their own activities: vacation, getting kids ready for school.
But, your neighborhood food pantry doesn’t have to be empty. There are things you can do. You can organize a food drive in your neighborhood and take the food to the food pantry. You can keep the food flowing right through to October.
Thank you in advance for thinking of things you can do for your food pantry during the leanest months of the year.
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A fairly common question I heard in the pantry line: “Are you working on or off?”
The first time I heard this question, I was confused. What did it mean? Actually, it referred to whether or not the person was paid in cash under the table or was paid money with withholding taken out.
Often the answer was something like: “I’ve got two days over at the food store and three days at Mrs. O……’s where I help her with her house and her office. I’m looking for a few more hours but it’s not happening.”
What this question asked was how many hours a person worked on the books and how many hours off the books. Not only was this practice illegal but it robbed workers of any benefit accrual and the opportunity to pay taxes.
Minimum wage paychecks simply don’t last a week. Individuals, families, entire households even can be employed and still live in poverty. My experience in the pantry was that more people in the pantry shopping line are employed than not.
I used to think of people as being employed or unemployed.
As I gained experience with the situation, I added another label: underemployed. So, rather than thinking in terms of employed or unemployed, I thought of hungry people in the line as being employed or underemployed.
I still see unemployed people but I realized many people aren’t paid a living wage.
I see shoppers where each person in the household works more than one job. The hope, dream, goal for many is simply to work enough hours and make enough money that a person can take a day off occasionally and have enough money to eat the following day.
People holding down more than one job often had trouble finding time to get to the Department of Social Services office to apply for SNAP (food stamps), although they might have qualified for the benefits.
Without a secure community safety net for the poor and destitute in our country, pantry volunteers needed to feed groceries weekly to families and households without money after they paid for rent and transportation to get to work.
Since the ’90s, many states have been “hell bent to Harry” to get people to work…no matter what. Welfare is no longer on the table.
A tip: Some people don’t realize our nation hasn’t offered much in the way of welfare in a long, long time. In polite conversation, I heard a statement: “That person shouldn’t be in your line. Her son has a job and she has a car.” I find it amazing that people in this country have been and continue to be comfortable denying assistance to the needy and destitute families while offering tax breaks to the wealthy.
My question was this: “How do people cope?”
Work first is not always a good option. I regularly saw pantry shoppers with family members who would be institutionalized if they weren’t being cared for by family. The institution is always the more expensive option.
The problem was that the family had nothing. So, while Helen or Sue or Fred was caring for the ill/disabled person, s/he wasn’t able to work.
Employment opportunities are a large part of the problem. People find themselves down and out in places with few job opportunities. Young people graduated from high school or college and can’t find a job anywhere.
Every economic downturn erases job opportunities. When the economy finally recovers, many jobs don’t return. Each recovery creates a class of citizens permanently living in the poverty of unemployment, underemployment, temporary employment, and day labor. Part time employment and being “on call” is a way of life.
The new group created after the downturn of 2008 had its own label: The Struggling Class.
Education costs are a factor. Fewer and fewer people can afford college or trade school. Some are afraid of the college loans they might not be able to pay off. One young woman in our food pantry line worked sixty hours weekly in low wage jobs to repay her college loan.
A fundamental attitude adjustment helped us realize food stamps, food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters are no longer emergency concepts. They are the new way of life in the 21st century.
“I’m finished!” he blurted out. ” They fired me today!” I’ll never be able to get another job again. I’m too old!” Frightened reality covered his face when he entered the pantry for the first time. I didn’t say a word. I let him shout. He didn’t look or act as if he was going to hurt anyone and I felt he needed to release his anger.
I wanted his life to be easier than it was but what I wanted for him or any other shopper was nothing more than wishful thinking. There was little to nothing I could do. And, truthfully, I was helpless to do anything for him beyond offering a three-day-supply of food.
Every week after the first visit, he entered the pantry, shopped, and never made a sound. The mask of his face never changed.
Once the hair goes grey, it’s hard to compete in the market place. In a down economy, employers hire the younger applicants believing they’ll work harder for less money.
I hoped his unemployment would hold out until he could figure out how to get something more.
We all just left him alone. The pantry space was so small. It took him a year to calm down.
All we had was delicious, nutritious, food with a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits. I relied on the food to make up for what we didn’t have.
I saw him recently – calm, maybe at peace with his situation. He lives in his truck, semi-homeless I suppose. He has places to bathe and sleep when he’s in Woodstock.
Woodstock attracts musicians. He’s one of those considered talented, this man. He’s found places to play around the area and he’s looking okay. What more can we all ask for anyway?
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“I heard you need volunteers. I’m here.”
The man standing at the door of the food pantry room on that gorgeous afternoon in April was short, probably weighed less than 125 pounds, and had a deep voice. Guy looked to be a little younger than me so that put him in his 60’s. Since I’m terrible at guessing ages, I had no idea whether he was about 61 or about 69. I only knew he was too young to be 70..
I had no idea, no premonition, about Guy Oddo being important in the pantry. I completely overlooked the vibe of this momentous event. I always did that. And then, later, I would remember the moment and comment to myself about how, I was never, ever aware of its importance. And, setting eyes on Guy was no exception.
Guy Oddo was destined to become the food pantry hallway czar.
And, it’s just as well. If I’d been aware of what was happening at that moment, I would’ve gotten all excited and jittery and he would have wandered off thinking to himself that he didn’t want to get mixed up with pantry volunteers where a ditzy old cotton top woman hung out.
“Thanks for coming in! Can you greet the shoppers in the hallway today?” As I said this, I took the sign in sheet off a shelf in the pantry room and handed it to him. Since the beginning of my time in the pantry, no one had been specifically assigned to this task. I just handed over the sign in sheet to anybody who would accept it and asked them to sign in the shoppers. If no one was available, I did it myself while I distributed the groceries.
My thought at that moment was that if this man, Guy, who just walked in the door, would hand around awhile, I could, maybe, hopefully, put him in charge of the list. I had handed this list to many would be volunteers over the months. So far, none of them was interested. This list was, incidentally, the single most important piece of paper in the pantry.
People signed their names when they shopped in the pantry. So the list counted the people. Shoppers also shared the members in their household. We always asked “How many children, adults, and seniors are in your household.”
Then, at the end of the month, I added up the totals and sent them off to the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). These totals were important. They pantry got food every month based on them.
Up to this moment, our list was more a lick and a promise than anything else. With no one person in charge of it, I felt we were losing names which meant we were losing food. More shoppers translated to more food.
As the afternoon wore on and Guy and I worked together, something about his voice convinced me he was going to be around more than a day or even a week, that he wanted a list to take care of.
As it turned out, he wanted not only the list but also the hungry shoppers located all over the place in the overcrowded church parking lot as they waited to get in the basement hallway and then to get in the pantry. The whopper population was made up of hungry people who, for the most part, had been on a spiritual path which ended outside the door of the pantry.
Misfortune was common in the hunger community. Some shoppers seemed to be beaten down by it. The thing I learned from seeing misfortune in action was that it can happen to anyone. The important thing was how they dealt with it. Some overcame misfortune while others were themselves overcome and lost their voices entirely.
“Hi. C’mon in. Sign in. I’ll call you as soon as your number comes up.” Guy greeted the shoppers.
Over time, Guy became the first to first to arrive and the last to leave on pantry day. He was combination greeter, concierge, information desk, hallway policeman, expediter, and director of personnel. And, just because…As I walked into the pantry room to distribute food, I handed him my cell phone. He took calls throughout the afternoon from troubled or inquiring shoppers.
Last, but certainly not least, he made me feel safe.
I never told anyone, but I had several experiences in the pantry and in the community that put fear on the front burner of my life. I knew, as a healer, that evil surrounded my presence in the pantry. Feeding hungry people without strings was not an acceptable philosophy for many people.
I came down on the side of feeding hungry people according to guidelines set down by the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Acceptance Program (HPNAP). Many in town definitely differed.
The bottom line was that I feared that the building committee of the church would shut the pantry down. For me, that would be a catastrophe because the hungry people simply had no place else to go for food.
So, there I was feeding hungry people in a small town food pantry in the basement of a church. Each week the line was longer than the week before. The wait to get in the pantry room to shop for two or three minutes was often an hour – in the broiling heat, the freezing cold, or a flooding rain.
AN OLDER MAN
He shopped in the pantry weekly and never uttered a word. His only message was embroidered on his baseball cap: Korean War Veteran.
This man who fought as a soldier in the brutal Korean conflict in the early 1950’s was now, as an old man, reduced to standing in a line for food.
A FATHER TO BE
“I live in my car. My wife is pregnant. We’ve got her in a woman’s shelter. I’m working two jobs to get the money together for the baby.”
A FAMILY MOVING ON
“We’re really stressed out today. I don’t know where we’re going to go. We got evicted because I don’t have the money to pay the weekly camping fee. The woman next to us in the campground is almost as broke as we are but she gave me $5.00 for gas because we have to leave.”