Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Food banks should be like grocery stores

I may not get to a food bank for awhile but I can still talk about them.  Going to a food bank here in my area you have no choice about what you get.  You sign in, you get a box, you take it, and you go. I can’t eat all the highly sugared baked items or the boxes of cereal.  But, I’m not supposed to turn them down. Hungry people take and eat what’s given, right?

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Another example is when jars of peanut butter are given to a family with a child highly allergic to peanuts or a jar is given to a senior who already has 16 jars of peanut butter.  No family should be forced to take another 5 lb cabbage if they have eaten cabbage so many times the last three months that they are sick of looking at it.

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No one should be told to “take the potatoes” if the rotten smell coming from them is so nauseating its all you can do to carry them to the nearest alley garbage can.  Yes, this has happened to me more than once.  Its humiliating to take rotted food because we are struggling to feed ourselves.

I remember one pantry volunteer at the neighborhood church got upset when she saw a group of people outside going through the food to make trades.  She told them to stop doing that and just take the food and leave.  But what they were doing made lots of sense for them.  No one family has the same needs as the next family or the next and they were trading according to need.  I trade often.  I want fresh produce but others want donuts and cakes.  That’s an easy trade.

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I was reading an article in a magazine while waiting at the senior commodity center a few weeks back.  It was about a food bank someplace in New York that was letting people shop the food bank shelves like going to the grocery.  Each family was given a number of points to spend each month according to family size.  The points could be used all at once or spread out into once a week use. Recipients were called customers.  That implies dignity.  Customers are allowed a certain amount of produce, grain, protein and other foods, but within each category they can choose.  All the foods on the shelves had point values.  The healthier the food the fewer the points.  Fresh produce had the lowest points.

At that center there were full time workers ready to help with menu plans and meal suggestions.  People on food stamps were encouraged to work with a worker to create a meal plan before going to the grocery or shopping the pantry.  People were eating much better by achieving a balance between food stamp use and food bank use.

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The food bank could plan their purchases much better as well.  Yes, lots of food is donated but a lot is purchased too.  There was no need to purchase boxes of macaroni if there is plenty but the spaghetti is running low.  The article went on to say that as a result of their new shopping system the food was helping almost double the amount of people.

I think this is the most practical idea ever for a food bank.  I love it! I sure wish the food banks here would do this.  It would mean the food could serve many more people.  No more thrown away food because someone can’t eat it and no one else will take it.

The article went on to say that food banks around the country were reluctant to adopt the grocery store way of giving.  A major reason seemed to be the tracking of the points.  Citing small churches may not have access to a computer.  Well heck, that shouldn’t stop them.  People kept track of everything before computers were invented didn’t they?  What’s wrong with a dated printed punch card?  Buy something the amount gets punched off the card.  When all the card is used leave it to be replaced with a new one next month.  What’s wrong with old fashioned ledger books?  Surely people can write and do addition or subtraction?

Well anyway, I think it would be a great idea to have all larger food banks run this way but who’s gonna listen to me?

9 comments on “Food banks should be like grocery stores

  1. Patricia
    January 14, 2016

    Our food pantry has a couple of “aisles or stations” – once checked in we are allowed to wander the pantry and pick what we want – there is a whole aisle of breads/cakes/bagels, another of frozen meats and dairy, milk and eggs and cheeses, then another of breakfast items cereals, peanut butter and jams, canned fruits, oatmeal pancake mix and syrup and then there are small carts filled with pasta and sauces, canned veggies and soups, rice and mac & cheese and beans – occasionally there are items like toilet paper and shampoo or soaps… Each “station” has a note attached with the number each family is allowed. Since most of our customers are seniors it is a lot – 1/2 gal milk (whole or 2%), dozen eggs, choice of two frozen meats or ravoli, one choice of cheese (amer sliced or shredded), one bag of ravoli or frozen veggies, 3 boxes of mac & cheese, bread etc. is unlimited, fresh veggies and fruit when available are unlimited on a first come first serve basis, cereal are 2 boxes, you get the idea. It works for us – we have about 50 families on the list and possibly 25-30 come each week – families with children get double the amount allowed and we can visit once a week. I try to get there twice a month for the milk, eggs, frozen meats, oatmeal, cheese, fresh veggies and fruit, 12 grain breads and bagels. Living on a very limited budget is hard and this makes it manageable.

    • Anita
      January 15, 2016

      That is a good way of serving many families. It sounds like I was talking about but without the points. In my area there are several hundred who visit the food bank each week. On fresh produce day there are about 250 – 300 lined up. The line starts forming about 8 am for distribution at 2 pm. When I was going we would wait until 2 to leave home. By the time we arrived most of the line had already gone through so the wait wasn’t too bad.

  2. Linda Smith
    January 12, 2016

    I hear ya, Anita! In my area we have 6 or 7 food pantries. I used to volunteer @ one; now I have 3 grandkids to raise so I need to go as a recipient. Only one of them (St Vincent de Paul) has a system where a volunteer takes you & a cart & you’re offered each item & told how many you are eligible for. If you can’t use it you simply say “no, thank you”. They usually offer as much produce & bread as you like. It takes a little longer but it’s a great plan.

    • Anita
      January 12, 2016

      Not a single food bank in this area gives the recipient a choice. The boxes or bags are pre-filled. I only go to the fresh produce and bread food bank. In this area its called the mobile food bank. The trucks pull up, unload, and volunteers start handing out whatever is given.

  3. Patience
    January 12, 2016

    I think these are really good points. I myself volunteer with a local food pantry here in IL that allows its patrons to “shop”. And without keeping track of points. Instead, patrons are given empty shopping bags (sturdy reuseable ones, with handles). The size of the household determines the amount of bags per patron. Patrons then go through the pantry where all the food has been organized and stacked. They can choose the products they want, without limit — the only rule being that they may not overfill the bags (they can fill the bags up to the very top without going over). If a patron wants to fill his or her bag up with baked beans, but no green beans, that’s no problem, everyone is allowed to pick and choose according to their needs. Its been this way for years and it seems to work just fine….

    • Anita
      January 12, 2016

      I would much prefer that kind of system over the no choice system. If I were there I’d make a bee line for the fresh produce. Knowing I could fill up a whole bag would mean I could have a whole canner load instead of only enough for one meal.

  4. sarasinart
    January 12, 2016

    It would be good to do it that way. And of course people should be able to stand outside and trade things, for all the reasons you said. Everybody wants food they can actually use.

  5. wjcalderon
    January 12, 2016

    If they don’t want to adopt the points system, the least they could do is to give you a certain size box and let you fill it up with what you want.
    They could always put a few restrictions on it so that one person doesn’t come in and take all the apples, for example.

    • Anita
      January 12, 2016

      Yeah, us little old ladies do tend to take all the apples we can get. 😉 Love your gravatar. Makes me wish even more for a garden again. I want mine to look just like that.

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