When an economy tanks, hungry people find the food pantry. The tanked economy of 2008 has been referred to many times in the past few days on the news. References to past broken economies are made every day.
The situation is very different this time, but for the hungry people, the situation is the same.
In 2008, New York got with the program quickly, it seemed. The Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program people handed down guidelines mandating specific foods for the pantry room. Produce, whole-grain bread, eggs, dairy products appeared on the shelves. Crowds and an ever-lengthening hallway line became the norm.
In Woodstock, the pantry attracted several hundred hungry people to its basement room every pantry day. The line formed outside the door at 1:00 for the 3:00 opening, regardless of the weather. Hungry people who visited the pantry a week ago and took home groceries, would today be out of food and need more.
Today, in 2020, some pantries are closed. That puts even more pressure on the pantries that are open. Food pantry volunteers are not only serving more and more hungry people because of the layoffs of the pandemic. They are also serving people who shopped at the now-closed pantries.
When people live close to the edge, they have no reliable cushion. They’ve lived in a situation where they make choices every day: food or medicine, food or rent, food or gas. Now, when the coronavirus strikes, they have no either/or choices.
Food pantry volunteers take precautions. They take temperatures as volunteers enter the pantry. Volunteers wash hands repeatedly and adhere to the six-foot social distancing guidelines.
But the need for food is not imaginary.
Volunteers are realistic. They can’t kid themselves into believing nothing will happen to them because they feed hungry people. They know they’re taking chances. They also know they are doing a needed job. For many volunteers, it’s something they need to do.
There are no words for this feeling.
I have a small thank-you gift for you. All you have to do is email your name and mailing address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you, free of charge, with no strings attached, a small book about a food pantry I used to work in – “Miracles”.
Thank you for all you do…not only for volunteering in a food pantry but also for shopping at a food pantry. Your actions are courageous. Following your inner moral compass is also courageous.
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The truth is that food pantries are not perfect. Not anywhere near perfect, actually. And, they never will be. How can they be near perfect when there is often not enough food in the pantry to feed the many people shopping there?
But, they get to be as near to perfection as they do because the people who work in them are often retired, elderly volunteers who really care and have the time to put in extra effort.
And, how can they be perfect when the food is mostly donated food that was on its way to the landfill before some enterprising person snapped it up for the hungry people in the line?
And, the truth is that food pantries, to a certain extent, are neighbors helping neighbors. This is a wonderful attitude.
The positive energy is exhibited in this sharing wonderful world, indeed. Without these wonderful people and their generous attitudes, people would be starving in this great nation of ours. Food pantries are our first line of defense against hunger.
But, often these food pantries which depend to a great extent on the generosity of individuals simply don’t have enough food. Insufficient is the word used.
Because there is little oversight, there is little control. So, a person shopping at a pantry may get enough to eat or may not. The quality of the food has little oversight. So, the person shopping may be getting food which is all out-of-date, or which is food which cannot be eaten by the person needing the food.
An example of this is the person without teeth. People without teeth are very restricted in what they can take because they can’t chew many foods.
Another example is the diabetic person who can only eat certain types of food without health problems.
And, all quality issues aside, there may simply be insufficient food in the pantry to feed the number of people shopping even though a pantry is the first line of defense against hunger.
Personally, in the Good Neighbor Food Pantry, I had a morning when I ran out of food. I simply didn’t have enough food to give to the people. This was an experience I’ll never forget.
Finally, the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program people sent down guidelines requiring that pantries serve a three-day-supply of food for each person in the household. HPNAP guidelines required that pantries serve fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Pantries were asked to serve whole grain breads and low-fat milk.
This was a wonderful thing which I applauded enthusiastically when I learned about the guideline. However, it was challenging to the many pantries without freezers and refrigerators.
The truth is that pantries everywhere simply don’t have enough food to meet the demand.
What can we do about this? For starters, we can realize that pantries are our first line of defense against hunger in this country.
Then, we can follow up this realization with food donations throughout the year.
One can of something every week helps over time. Find a pantry and give to help those in need. Do you plant a garden in the summer? Add a row for your pantry!
Thank you for what you are doing for those in need.