On Nutrition: Godiva Chocolates

With all the talk about nutrition that goes on these days, it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that food is more than just fuel for the body – it also plays a social and emotional role in life, the importance and value of which cannot be overstressed. This story comes to us from John Arnold, then the executive director of Feeding America West Michigan.

When the Feeding America way of allocating out food to its member food banks went entirely online, with the twice a day auction where food banks like ours bid credits that we have been assigned based on the poverty population of our service area, I was originally the person who did the bidding at our food bank.  That lasted until a most unfortunate incident involving 5 trailer loads of wintergreen breath mints, but we won’t talk about that situation right now.  In any case, while I was still doing our food bank’s bidding, I went onto the system one morning and saw that there were three trailer loads of Godiva chocolates available from out in Pennsylvania someplace.  I was interested, but I checked on our inventory and found that we already had quite a bit of chocolate candy and so did not really need any of those three loads, but I felt a little bad about not bidding on them because Godiva chocolates certainly are among the best in the world. Continue reading “On Nutrition: Godiva Chocolates”

You Can’t Survive A Heat Wave With Powdered Milk

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.

In 1995 there was an absolutely killer heat wave that moved into the Midwest. It actually came east from Chicago. While it was in Chicago, somewhere between 600 and 800 people died of heat related conditions or circumstances.

When the heat wave moved on into Michigan, the Public Health people declared a heat emergency, essentially a disaster declaration urging players of all sorts to take extraordinary steps to try to minimize the danger and damage that might occur. In particular they were trying to get people whose utilities had been cut off and/or who didn’t have air conditioning to go to shelters that were air conditioned. Continue reading “You Can’t Survive A Heat Wave With Powdered Milk”

Ten Pound Hershey Bars – Part II

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. Click here for Part I.

The other place I delighted in sending the ten pound Hershey bars was off to regular pantries with a plea that they make them available to women with children.  My rationale was that those women had probably had to bring their children shopping with them because they could not afford a babysitter generally.  It is likely that when they got up to the checkout lanes where all the candy is displayed right at a child’s eye level, that those mothers were asked by their children, “Mama, could we have some candy?” and she probably has had to say no pretty much every time.

But then she’d gone to the church and she’d come home with the biggest candy anybody has ever seen, and undoubtedly children from all up and down the street would hear about it and they would come over and they would all stand and marvel at this candy, and they would all get to have as big a piece as they wanted, and probably a bigger one than they could actually eat, and some of them might even get sick from it, but for a time, in that household, there would be laughter and there would be fun, and there would be a sense of being very special.

Ten Pound Hershey Bars – Part I

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.

Chocolate Donuts for the Soul

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 time I was visiting a pantry – I believe down in Texas – during one of my expeditions to present at a Food Bank’s agency conferences.  I was walking up and down the aisles of the store-like pantry that was entirely along our Waste Not Want Not model.  When I turned a corner, here was a young woman pushing her shopping cart and shopping as clients were allowed to do at that pantry.

She had apparently just come upon a display of packages of chocolate donuts, and as I rounded the corner, she was in the process of hugging one of those packages of chocolate donuts.  Upon seeing me, she was obviously embarrassed to have been caught in such a display of affection for so silly a thing, and insisted on explaining herself to me, which I just as promptly assured her she certainly did not need to do.

But she wanted to, and so she explained: She had gotten pregnant while still a teenager and had dropped out of school and had had that baby and then two more children by the same father before he disappeared.  He took their car and whatever money they had with him, leaving her without a high school diploma, without a car, and with three small children to try to feed and take care of.

She said that her life was so hard, that it was so difficult to cobble together all the things that it takes to feed and house and clothe children, that to preserve her sanity she had developed little tricks and games that she played with herself.  One of them was that when she finally got those kids tucked in at night and they had all lived through another day, she would reward herself with a chocolate donut.  There were some days that knowing that that donut was waiting for her was all that got her through the day.

She concluded that, given her fairly ample figure, “Sometimes your soul needs things that maybe your body ideally doesn’t.”

Pomegranates in a Strange Land

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 as the Executive Director of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank oversaw the creation of the nation’s first large-scale mobile food pantry program.

One of our early mobile pantry distributions was at the Catholic Church in the neighborhood that I live in.  The parish consisted largely of German, Lithuanian and Polish widows, seemingly, and certainly they were the dominant population who came to the mobile pantry distribution to draw food.

One of the products we had put on the truck was several cases of pomegranates, and although the old ladies who were getting food at the distribution readily took the bread and milk and apples and other things, they weren’t having anything to do with these strange red mystery fruits.  The person supervising the distribution was well-known here in our neighborhood, and she did her best to encourage these ladies to take the pomegranates, but even claiming that it was something that Jesus himself had eaten didn’t succeed.

Then much to all of our surprise, a family of Ethiopian refugees came around the truck and saw the pomegranates.  As it turned out, apparently there is an Ethiopian holiday at which having pomegranates is the equivalent of people in this country having turkey at Thanksgiving, and that holiday was apparently fairly imminent.

When they realized that they could not only have a pomegranate, but they could take as many as they wanted – including extras to pass on to other refugee families that they were in contact with – the entire family burst into tears, with the distribution supervisor and I joining them.  It wasn’t a very big miracle, but it certainly felt pretty miraculous that we had something there that was uniquely able to bless that family.