A widespread practice in the charity food system is the preemptive filtering out of products that could potentially be offered to people in need, either for reasons of nutrition, or because we think that the people being served won’t want/need them. When instead we get out of the way and let food, even obscure or unhealthy food, find its way to the right hands, it often solves problems we never even imagined.
This story comes to us from the late John Arnold, who at the time was the Executive Director of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.
One time I was visiting a pantry – I believe down in Texas – during one of my expeditions to present at a Food Bank’s agency conferences. I was walking up and down the aisles of the store-like pantry that was entirely along our Waste Not Want Not model. When I turned a corner, here was a young woman pushing her shopping cart and shopping as clients were allowed to do at that pantry.
She had apparently just come upon a display of packages of chocolate donuts, and as I rounded the corner, she was in the process of hugging one of those packages of chocolate donuts. Upon seeing me, she was obviously embarrassed to have been caught in such a display of affection for so silly a thing, and insisted on explaining herself to me, which I just as promptly assured her she certainly did not need to do.
But she wanted to, and so she explained: She had gotten pregnant while still a teenager and had dropped out of school and had had that baby and then two more children by the same father before he disappeared. He took their car and whatever money they had with him, leaving her without a high school diploma, without a car, and with three small children to try to feed and take care of.
She said that her life was so hard, that it was so difficult to cobble together all the things that it takes to feed and house and clothe children, that to preserve her sanity she had developed little tricks and games that she played with herself. One of them was that when she finally got those kids tucked in at night and they had all lived through another day, she would reward herself with a chocolate donut. There were some days that knowing that that donut was waiting for her was all that got her through the day.
She concluded that, given her fairly ample figure, “Sometimes your soul needs things that maybe your body ideally doesn’t.”