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”
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”
In 1995, six months into the formal Waste Not Want Not research, the two lead researchers came to John to deliver some rather disquieting news: they had been talking with many clients – hundreds – about the experience of accessing food assistance from food pantries, and they had not found a single client who was able to describe their food pantry experience in positive terms. John was appalled, so he set out to see if he could find one by inviting a group of clients to discuss their experiences in seeking and receiving food aid from pantries.
In the conversation of this group of African-American women, it had come up that they generally did feel disrespected and distrusted in the intake process or eligibility screening they had gone through. They were frustrated about being able to get food only once a month and they were mystified that often the amount of food they needed was never even asked about. It was as though that issue didn’t even matter. And then they were handed an arbitrary selection of food, again totally without regard to their realities or needs or abilities. The net result was that they were very inadequately provided with help in a very humiliating, frustrating way.
Eventually I got too perplexed: How could people continue coming in and going through the process and getting food and thanking the pantry and leaving – and never indicate to the pantry that the system wasn’t working well? It was conceivable that a pantry could be genuinely clueless, that the system they were using wasn’t working well from the client’s perspective.
So I challenged to this group of women, “Have you ever expressed your concern or dismay or displeasure to the pantry? Have you ever told them? Because if you haven’t told them that the system they’re using is a bad one in need of correction, they’re just going to go on using it forever.”
Continue reading “Why don’t clients protest?”
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.
Continue reading ““Clients Don’t Want Fruits and Vegetables””
This story comes to us 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.
Early on in the Waste Not Want Not research, the researchers identified a problem: the standardized food box list that most agencies were using. In their conversations with clients, they found that clients were being given a lot of products they could not use and would not use. In looking at what products were being given out, the researchers realized – it was clearly evident – why much of the product was not being used. A lot of the products looked responsible and nutritious and all of those sorts of things, but it was generally a lot of products that real people in the real world almost never use. A typical list would include powdered milk and dried beans and dried rice and dried noodles and a can of tuna fish. It was what we came to call the bomb shelter food, in that it is responsible, nutritious food that does store well and is fairly cheap, but it isn’t what anyone actually ever eats.
We realized that we needed to replace those lists, and at that early stage of our research we supposed that the logical solution was to replace those lists with a list that was more reflective of what clients actually wanted and would use. Continue reading “There Is No Such Thing As A Good Standardized Food Box List”