This story about the importance of individual choice (and the silliness of standardized food bags/boxes) comes to us from the late John Arnold, who at the time was the Executive Director of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.
This story involves a pantry in the greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area that grappled with a quandary that I only learned about when they discovered a solution and came into the Food Bank on one of their normal visits.
This pantry had received lots of leftover bags of cornmeal from the community action agency that handled most of the mass distribution of USDA commodities in the area. Of course the leftovers were available because very few people had wanted any cornmeal in the first place, but the pantry immediately started giving every one of their clients a bag of cornmeal in their standardized food bag.
Unsurprisingly, they started to find bags of cornmeal out in the parking lot. Clients would come to the pantry, be given a standardized bag, and would get outside and realize there was this silly bag of cornmeal in there and they would abandon it.
So the pantry convened a committee to try to figure out what to do. Continue reading “Cornmeal in the parking lot”
This is a story that was told to John Arnold by a food pantry director. This pantry director had become convinced that client choice and the other Waste Not Want Not methods were the right way to go, and had the authority to force the implementation of those practices in the pantry that he ran, but he was not able to really convince some of his volunteers, who remained pretty openly skeptical about how this was all going to work. Interestingly, their own skepticism led them to discover the trustworthiness of the clients they were so anxious about.
Just a few days into using the new system, the volunteers noticed a particular client who was radiating a certain amount of guilt in his body language and was clearly taking an unusually large amount of food. By the time the pantry director became aware of the situation, they were actually congratulating one another on having their suspicions confirmed that you really could not trust the kind of people who came to food pantries to get food.
The pantry director found their attitude and behavior to be inappropriate and upsetting, occurring as it was in a church; but he himself was a little shaken by the episode and allowed himself to be coaxed out the door with the most antagonistic volunteers so that they could get into a car and follow this particular client to see what happened – what really happened – when you let people take as much food as they want. They surreptitiously followed the client’s car until he pulled into a driveway. Continue reading “Following a Client “To See What Really Happens to the Food””