First off, let me say that I cannot claim to be facing true hunger at this time. My sweetie is employed and we can generally meet our food needs. I don't know if I will be able to say this in the future (near or far), and you - or someone you know - may not be able to either with the economic situation exacerbated by peak oil and climate change factors.
I initially began investigating local food resources to combat hunger out of sheer curiosity. Some volunteer and paid work in my past had opened my eyes to the needs of those living without secure food resources of their own. And now, a personal friend is in need, having lost her job to cutbacks a couple of months ago, followed by her husband's unemployment soon after. Their job searches have been discouraging, uncovering a lack of available jobs, as well as subtle hints of age discrimination in a world where a large pool of young college graduates are available to work for lower salaries than those with experience. I'm glad I have been able to share some of what I've learned with her because they are beginning to be quite concerned about their future.
There are a number of ways to deal with hunger, and resources available to you as an individual and through your community. Obviously, what is available in my community is not going to be the same as what is available in yours. By sharing what we have here, I hope to inspire you to dig in and do some research into the resources your community offers. Use a phone book or computer to begin your search. A computer is definitely faster, and obviously you have access to one if you are reading this blog. However, the yellow pages are also a great source of information that can be tapped into with local phone calls. All that is required to begin is an open mind and the willingness to research and explore all available options.
FOOD BANK PROGRAMS
Food banks are one way to address immediate hunger issues. Obviously they are not the only answer, but they are a resource worth investigating if you and your family are facing hunger right now. In this situation, it's important to recognize that people may not have the luxury of tracking down or paying for local or organic food. When your stomach is empty, you take what you can get.
To see if your local area has a food bank, check your phone book or online search engine. Listings in the phone book will probably be under "food banks." If not, check the Index - not a bad idea anyway as you might come across other resources at the same time. If you don’t have a phone book, go to your local library to use theirs. Call the agencies listed and ask about their programs, or go visit them on site. For an online search, simply type "food bank" and the name of your community. If nothing comes up, try your county or the nearest city.
The food bank staff or website will likely list what they offer for assistance. This may include a variety of local, state, and federal programs. Find out what the eligibility requirements are for assistance, what is offered, and when you can get it.
I accompanied my friend to the Community Food Bank in Tucson this week so she could pick up a food box. While she was completing the paperwork, I picked up a handout at the counter listing the programs that can help with food. While the website is more detailed, the handout is very useful for folks who may not have their own computer available as it lists phone numbers. I was actually a little surprised at how much was offered.
Food Box Program – open to anyone going through a crisis and in need of food. Various pick-up locations around the city minimize personal transportation challenges. The amount of food is determined by the number of people in the household. This photo shows what my friend picked up for her 2-person household. She is eligible to get two boxes per month.
Obviously, this is not enough food for my friend to live on for two weeks. However, combined with other resources, it will help take the edge of hunger and hopefully get her through this difficult period while she works towards food independence.
Value Food Store – grocery store with low cost groceries open to anyone regardless of income. This store is located at the main Food Bank location we visited Tuesday. As I've mentioned before, anyone from the public that spends $1 in the store is eligible to receive the free produce and bread (donated by businesses and individuals) also distributed at that location. Since she has a fuel-efficient vehicle, this tips the scale to make pick-up here more appealing than a closer location to her home. On Tuesday, with our purchases in the store (canned lima beans for me), we were each able to get a full bag of cucumbers and three packages of bread.
You may wonder why I picked up the free produce and bread. Based on the quantities of produce and bread offered to each family, there is not currently a shortage of perishable foods available at the Food Bank. I take what I can use, not necessarily the amount offered, and make sure that none is wasted. This means I eat it, preserve it, or share it. In the case of the cucumbers, for instance, I offered more than two-thirds of them to others via craigslist and personal contacts. Each person that got cucumbers from me also learned about the Food Bank and its programs. I shop at the Food Bank store only once every month or so (for my local coffee). If I observe that the produce or bread quantities are suffering shortages, I will cease accepting the perishable items.
Farmer's Market – the Food Bank sells produce from their own gardens and my CSA farmer. The market is open to anyone regardless of income and food vouchers and food stamps are accepted in addition to cash. They also host other farmers and gardeners selling their surplus. Yesterday, we saw huge zucchinis filling the back of a pick-up available for a quarter each! Since the farmer's market is on Tuesdays, this creates a one-stop "shopping" opportunity for my friend. (Twice a month, she can arrive at opening time on a Tuesday to get a food box, buy discounted goods in the store, pick up the free produce and bread, and use her food stamps to buy fresh garden produce.)
There are additional programs available aimed at helping children get through hungry times:
Infant Food Box – baby formula available to families until their first WIC appointment.
WIC & Food Plus – vouchers available to use at the grocery store given to those who are pregnant, just had a baby, children up to six years old, and folks over 60 years of age.
School Lunch & Breakfast – free and reduced price meals for low income children going to school.
Do I think people should depend on the Food Bank and these programs for permanent food assistance? No, but I do think they are very helpful for crisis situations and as a temporary measure while individuals, families, and communities develop food security. In fact, part of the local Food Bank's mission is to "improve community food security for the people of Pima County by promoting, demonstrating, advocating for, and collaboratively building an equitable and regional food system, which supports food production and strengthens communities."
As part of this effort to increase community food security, the Food Bank encourages gardening and they offer free seeds. A family can pick out six packets of vegetable seeds and six packets of herb or flower seeds each season. The seeds come from a variety of companies and organizations, with some local and organic options available. Gardening workshops are available, as well as more specialized gardening assistance to those who qualify. (Gardening will be discussed in another post in this series.)
Food banks have always helped those in need, but the number of folks in need is increasing rapidly. Food banks across the country are facing shortages of food for the food boxes. A quick Yahoo search for food banks in the news brings up articles with headlines like these:
- Donations down at food banks
- Rising costs leave food banks hungry
- Food Banks Losing Volunteers (due to cost of gas)
- Food banks and agencies struggle to fulfill need
If you are not hungry now but want to help those that are, consider donating non-perishable food, extra produce from your garden, or time to your local food bank.