This is a continuation of the cranberries story we started a week ago.
I told the cranberry story as part of my presentation up at the Food Bank of Alaska as part of their agency conference. I told the story as an example of why it’s kind of interesting and fun to get out of the way and let forces that we don’t control play a role in designing what happens.
At the end of my presentation, a young man came up, identified himself as the manager of a large pantry at a big multi-service agency up there in Anchorage. He said, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never thought about these issues this way. You’ve completely changed my thinking about how a food pantry should run. I am totally committed to changing my pantry from doing everything wrong to doing everything right. I hope to get that done as quickly as possible, but it’ll take a little while to work through the politics of the organization because it would represent quite a change for them.”
He knew, though, that he could immediately make one of the interim changes that I had commended as a possibility. While they continued giving out their standardized bags, he would come to the Food Bank, get a big selection of things that they did not include in their standardized bag, and put them out on what he was going to call the “Odds and Ends” table. After people had been given their standardized bag of food, they would be invited to go over and pick out an item per family member.
I must not have given the impression of being sufficiently impressed at that point, because he persisted, saying that he would even be taking and offering out various types of pudding. He explained that at some earlier point in his life he had been hospitalized with some ailment for an extended period of time – certainly weeks, if not months – and the only thing they had let him have to eat was pudding, to the point that the very thought of pudding was enough to make him run from the room screaming. He pointed out to me that, you never know, it might be like those cranberries, there could be somebody that needs pudding.
Continue reading “On Choice: The Cranberries and Pudding Story, Part 2”
This story of client choice comes to us from John Arnold, then the executive director of Feeding America West Michigan.
Fairly often, farmers and private individuals or even companies will give the Food Bank small quantities of kind of unusual products. With those donations, rather than logging them into the computer and trying to order them out in a computerized system, we just put them out in an area we call our shopping area. Agencies are able to get a shopping cart and walk around in that area and see if there’s anything they would like to take. We roll the cart onto a floor scale and subtract the weight of the cart, and then the agency pays us our handling fee based on the weight of the product they’ve taken.
Well, out in the shopping area, we experienced the beginning of a sequence of events that if not outright miracles are at least pretty darn close, close enough for our purposes. It all began one day when a farmer dropped off a couple of bushels of whole fresh raw cranberries to us. Continue reading “On Choice: The Cranberries and Pudding Story, Part 1”
In Bible Study in Charlotte, North Carolina, we showed how religious teachings align with Waste Not Want Not recommendations. Today, this anecdote from John Arnold, then the executive director of Feeding America West Michigan, will emphasize what happens when “filling the cup to overflowing” falls by the wayside, and people are not provided with as much help as they need.
Not all Food Bank stories have happy endings. The Waste Not Want Not research that we did indicated that the issues we had identified as barriers in the charity food system were incredibly important, but only occasionally were we confronted with how starkly awful that reality was.
I had such an experience when I answered the phone there at the Food Bank one day and had a weeping disabled widow explain to me that she had just been to her area’s food pantry for the third time in that calendar year, and had been told by that pantry that their rule was that people could get food assistance only three times in a calendar year so as to keep those clients from becoming dependant on the pantry.
Through her sobs, she explained that she had gone to the pantry those three times because with the high winter utility bills she was having to pay, there was no money left for any food. She was calling me with this report on February 27th. If that food pantry really did stick to its rule, she was going to be unable to get any additional food for ten more months.
All I could do was advise her to go back to that pantry and explain to them exactly what she had explained to me in hopes that they would do the right thing and serve her.
Today’s story of “The 90 Second Miracle” comes to us from John Arnold, then the executive director of Feeding America West Michigan. It illustrates the impact that a food pantry switching to use donated food (via the food banking system) rather than relying on retail purchasing can have.
One time I presented on the Waste-Not Want-Not recommendations at a conference at a Second Harvest national conference in Chicago. At the end of my presentation, a woman came up and identified herself as the director of – I believe she said – the largest food pantry in New York City.
She was shaking her head in incredulity and said, “Oh my goodness, I have never thought of these issues in the way you’ve described them. My pantry has been doing everything wrong, and I am committed to switching it completely over to the methods that you recommend.”
“But,” she said, “you’re going to have to help me out a little bit. My church already supports our pantry very generously; I just don’t think I can go back and get a lot more money from them… and I’m concerned that if instead of only letting people get food once a month, and making them prove themselves worthy and then giving them a three day box…” Continue reading “The 90 Second Miracle, or: The difference not buying food makes”