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 of the strangest donations of product our Food Bank ever received was a holiday novelty item: Hershey bars that weighed ten pounds. They were just like the little ones, but they were about three feet long and a foot and a half wide and weighed about ten pounds. Obviously no one on earth technically “needs” a ten pound Hershey bar, and even I would hesitate to characterize a ten pound Hershey bar as “nutritious.” However, back in my Legal Aid days in Illinois I helped with the creation of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and so was somewhat familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence and what kind of situations domestic violence shelters have to help clients come to grips with and move beyond.
I insisted that all of our domestic violence shelters take at least one of those ten pound candy bars, and they all did so, albeit a little mystified by my insistence that they do so. Several of them reported that when they had gotten them back to their shelter and shown them to the current residents, a number of women and children who were clients there at the shelters – who had emotionally shut down as a result of the trauma they had suffered – burst out laughing upon seeing these totally ridiculous candy bars. That turned out to be the beginning of their healing process.