As food pantry organizers, volunteers, and staff members, one of the most important things we can do is to be open to new and better approaches to helping the people we serve. This story comes to us from John Arnold, from the early days of the Waste-Not Want-Not research that ultimately culminated in the publication of Charity Food Programs That Can End Hunger in America.
One time the Waste Not Want Not researchers were calling on a pantry on the north side of Grand Rapids that they had heard was giving out totally inadequate amounts of food to people it served. They went and met with the director, who upon hearing the concern that she wasn’t giving out more food affirmed that the reason that was the case was that she and her pantry simply couldn’t afford to give out larger quantities, that they could barely keep up with what they were doing as it is.
In the midst of all this, our researchers, looking at the food she had on her shelves, realized that the majority of it appeared to have been purchased at stores, wholesale or retail. Everything in sight was canned, packaged, shelf-stable: canned fruits, and canned vegetables, canned this and canned that. Shelf-stable but also very expensive and not making use of the Food Bank. In particular, not making use of the quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables that we were dispensing to agencies for a handling fee of only three cents per pound. So they suggested that she try a strategy which ultimately ended up being one of the key practices recommended by their research in Charity Food Programs That Can End Hunger in America: to stretch the pantry’s money and simultaneously increase the amount of food being given out by making use of the fresh fruits and vegetables available from the Food Bank.