When a pantry existing isn’t enough

As the Waste Not Want Not Project research began picking up steam, it quickly zeroed in on the fact that there weren’t enough food pantries in operation to handle the volume of food that needs to be distributed in order to meet the need, and then immediately identified an array of closely-related issues: visibility, accessibility, hours, etc., all of which persist today. These stories are a reminder of why addressing those issues is a critical part of ending hunger.

A Critical Lack of Information

A Hispanic family moved to Grand Rapids from Chicago to get away from the gangs, crime, etc., so they could raise their children in a safe and supportive environment.  Unfortunately the father’s efforts to secure employment were not successful, and within some weeks they were in serious financial trouble.  Eventually when the children began crying with hunger, the father took one of the childrens’ toy guns and broke the little pink “this isn’t a real gun” marker off it, and tried to rob a bank.  He got caught of course, and because of mandatory sentencing rules he was sentenced to a decade in prison.  They lived only a block or two from a food pantry that would have served them, but they didn’t know about it…

For Want of a Jar of Peanut Butter

In another instance, a relatively new mother with her baby in her arms trudged a number of blocks to one of the more respected food pantries in town seeking food aid only to be turned away without help, having been given the explanation that they were out of some of the items that they put in their standardized food box that they give out.  This is her quoting them: “They don’t like to give out incomplete boxes because that throws their counts off.”

On Friday We Serve Repeat Users

On yet another occasion, John (then Feeding America West Michigan Director John Arnold – ed.) took a call on a Friday morning from a diabetic man who was justifiably apprehensive that he might be dying over the weekend from not having any food.  The pantry that John referred him to initially refused to serve him because, as they explained without batting an eye, “On Friday we serve repeat users. We do all of our new client intakes on Tuesdays.”

Food pantry services need to go way out of their way to make themselves visible and known in their communities, and to be open to serve whoever needs help as many days and hours a week as they possibly can, so that fewer people might fall through the cracks.  If there are multiple pantries within a relatively short distance of one another in a big city or in a small town we urge them to coordinate when each of them is open to widen the window of opportunity as widely as possible, meaning that there should ideally be at least one of them open every weekday morning, every weekday afternoon, at least an evening or two during the week, and at least one of them open on Saturday morning.  And then the information about their hours of service needs to be communicated as robustly as possible throughout the community with a goal of ensuring that anyone/everyone who might ever need help will know when, where and how to access it.

As part of End Hunger in America’s contribution to bringing about the needed change, we launched Findafoodpantry.org – a national directory of food pantries intended both to help people in need find assistance, and to help the various disparate parts of the charitable food system find each-other. Services like the United Way 211 system are crucial as well – if you are involved with a food pantry program, please check to make sure that information about it is available both places.