It’s happening all over our country.
We’re running out of food.
Food banks and food pantries have, over the last couple of years, been hard pressed to meet local demands, even in rural areas where you would think small farms and gardens would supply many without the necessity to advertise their need.
Before we go any further let’s define the difference between a “food bank” and a “pantry”.
The “food bank” is a storehouse for millions of pounds of food and other products that go out to the community. The “pantry”, or, in some cases, the “soup kitchen” functions as the arms that reach out to that community directly. They are different but all share in the commitment to help feed all Americans
In talking with Leonard Campbell who works for NH Catholic Charities, which sponsors the states largest food bank, I found that there are several things which point to the reduction of comestibles.
“One is, of course, more demand.” Campbell says, with a smile and a weary shrug.
“Secondly”, Campbell continued, “is the increasing growth of the “big box” stores which buy truck loads of items from food processors who have discontinued some things, or have an overabundance or even something as simple as a misspelling on the packages.” He gave one example as a company forgetting to put the “h” in “graham cracker” when labeling the box.
"The company that made those crackers can make money by selling the misspelled boxes for five or ten cent on the dollar to a ‘big box’ store rather then repackaging the crackers, or donating them to a food bank.”
Campbell also mentioned that the “point to point” distribution of food is much tighter, and leaving many warehouse shelves bare of overstocked items, which translates to less donations to the countries food banks.
“And, frankly, less people are in a position to give their time and money to help in this very important cause.”
Having just finished participating in a “Toons for Spoons” day-long benefit concert here in my town and featuring music by local area singer/songwriters, I can say it is no easy job. For the organizers, it is a donation in time and effort that leaves little reward, other then the satisfaction of getting a big job done with something other then calluses’ and headaches to show for it.
The Meredith NH Altrusa Club, with the coordinated help of Cathy Barile and John Rafuse, sponsored the concert I was involved with and they, along with many others, broke their backs to get this concert up and running. Many who donated their time also dipped into their own pockets to get tables and chairs, rent tents, speakers, platforms and such. Below is a picture of two of the many terrific performers who participated; Cindy Duchin and Peter Heimlich, also known as "Middle Ground
Food banks and local food pantries are non-profit, charitable organizations that distribute food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger, and they have been around in this country since 1967 when a fellow named John Van Hengel opened the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Arizona.
Up until then those who were hungry had to rely on government surplus which did not allow much in the way of a varied diet, although the “food stamp” program did help.
Food stamps were hatched in 1939 during the tenure of the then Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. It was stopped in 1943 when most folks were able to go back to work and the country was rolling along in the midst of a war-time economic boom.
But the dictates of economics and population expansion has brought food to the front lines in the battle of social issues versus political rhetoric. And here is where the food banks can and should be able to help.
Again, in talking with Campbell, he said “You can start a food bank or pantry in your own back yard if you wish. There’s no law that says you can’t. But.” - he added with a twinkle to his eyes – “If you need some guidelines to follow you might want to check the inspection process and maintain the rules set forth by ‘Feeding America’ the country’s leading domestic hunger relief charity who’s mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.”
September is “National Hunger Action Month” and according to Carrie Fulbright, Director of External Relations for “Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana”, a major storage and food distribution facility for that area of the country, there has been an increase of 46% nationally since 2009 of those seeking supplemental food aids. There are 50 million Americans or 1 in 6 who need help to get by – and some of these folks are well educated married couples working full time.
However, unlike many world-wide programs in which the food is put directly into the hands of the people who are the hungriest, the food banks are a middleman between the overabundance of growers and the left-over’s of for-profit stores. And there is very little fresh produce available, which is somewhat unfortunate because recent studies show that a recipients physical well being and self-image is boosted when given fresh veggies and fruits.
So it was good news when Fulbright mentioned the increase in donations of fresh fruits and vegetables from her state. In fact, in the fiscal year 2010-2011, Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana distributed over 20 million pounds of food which is the equivalent to 15 million meals. 3.5 million pounds of that food was fresh produce.
It seems as though the local farmers markets, the local growers of produce and even the occasional organic farmers can and should get involved. I know many folks who give away food they have not sold at the end of a day, especially produce. It wouldn’t take much to get these left-over’s packaged up and taken to the nearest food banks. If you’re not sure where your local food bank is just use the handy-persons tool for the hopelessly lost (like me) – and Google it, and keep your eyes open for “food drives” and the like in your area.
This was the second year I participated in the “Toons for Spoons” concert, telling stories and accompanying myself with a banjo. Last year the event was interrupted by a hurricane named Irene. Though it didn’t quite live up to expectations (and the jury is still out on the reasons why) the concert did collect 15% more food and 25% more cash donations then last year. And that translates to a shelf or fridge that once had very little - to a shelf or fridge with a little more to fill empty bellies.
And after all, that’s what it’s all about.