20 September 2008

They Eat What You Give

Hi there. Most food banks get by on a combination of government purchased or subsidized foods, food purchased with cash donations, and direct food donations from citizens (e.g. "food drives" and weekly drop offs) and businesses.

Every once in awhile, we'll get a special large donation of something wonderful, such as beef, wild game meat, or a freezer full of frozen chickens. The ones in the photo below were distributed within two hours.

Until recently at the Lord's Storehouse, the main Evanston, Wyoming food bank where I volunteer, we've been inundated with desserts; cakes, pies, donuts, etc. that would normally be thrown away. It has been our policy to accept these business donations of items that would otherwise be thrown away in spite of the fact that these are not the best foods to pass on to our clients.

Recently, we've started receiving more vegetables and fruits. Happily our food bank accepts these donations too. Not all food distribution projects do.

If you're inclined to contribute to your local food bank, find out if they will accept fresh vegetables and fruit and, if so, donate some as close to the distribution date as possible. Sadly, we end up having to dispose of a great deal of produce due to antiquity and mishandling, but much of it does make it to the tables of the client store and into the homes of individuals and families in need.


Henrike said...

When I was working at a 5star hotel in London I always got agitated by how much food they threw/throw away on a daily base, knowing how many people could live on that for a few days. :(

It surprises me to read that not all food distribution projects accept fruit and vegetables. Is there a special reason for why they don’t or is this just a result of rules and regulations someone else set up?

Mark said...

Hi Henrike. In some cases it's simply because the food distributor isn't prepared to put in the special handling requirements for "soft" foods such as vegetables and fruits. Cans and packages are much more easy to handle. Sometimes there is a concern about accepting unpackaged foods due to concerns about tampering or poisoning. :-( Some of it is paranoia, and some of it in some areas may be legitimate concern.

In areas where the food bank or charitable food distributor will not or cannot accept fresh vegetables or fruits, other outlets for fresh produce donations may be available such as churches and homeless shelters.

Stephanie said...

It saddens me to that the majority of what is donated to our homeless population are the very foods that many of us no longer choose to eat, because we know how bad it is for us. But I guess it's good enough for the homeless and people that are experiencing food insecurity? I don't accept this, but realize this is how it is for now.

Good on you Mark for trying to encourage people to donate more fruits and vegetables. I'm guessing that once you get your CSA set up, it will be easy to donate the excess produce you bring in each week.

I know we also talked about ways in which you may be able to incentivize the fruit and vegetable consumption since it seems that folks there have grown accustomed, and may even prefer the less healthy convenience foods.

When I was working for the NYC Food Bank, we started a program called Cook Shop, where we went into the classrooms of inner city public schools and cooked meals with local produce. The kids would invite their parents and everyone would help chopping, cutting, cooking, and eating. It was amazing to see kids who would normally be sent to school with "luncheables" and other processed foods, begin to get excited about vegetables and ask their parents to cook them at home.

Similarly, I often see "food demonstrations" at farmers markets and in supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. It usually consists of one person at a table with a hot plate and a pan, cooking up something really simple and healthy, using the ingredients you are trying to promote. They then give out samples to taste as well as talk about the recipes. I think given the space and kitchen facilities you have there, this would be simple enough to pull off. You can even cut up fresh fruits and vegetables with some dip for people to taste. The more appetizing you make it look, the more likely people are going to take it home.

Perhaps you know a local chef or nutritionist who wouldn't mind donating some of their time to come in, cook a little, and talk to people about their diets.

Just some ideas you may want to bring back to the rest of your hardworking crew. Maybe next time I come... I love that place. You guys do amazing things there.

Mark said...

We certainly have room for improvement when it comes to making vegetables more attractive and educating our clients about ways to use vegetables and fruits. Many moms/grandmas come to the food bank with they're wee ones in tow, and there's a built in opportunity to turn these kids on to the idea of vegetables as attractive foods if they don't yet see them that way.

What's funny is that the businesses giving the desserts - the same desserts their own families eat - probably think they're doing something extra nice for the food bank clients. The truth, as you and many readers here know, as that we're in some cases just contributing into problems of obesity and even diabetes.

We certainly could use someone with a background in nutrition to develop a relationship with our clients who pass through the line. I know one nutritionist who even speaks some Spanish - a language useful to us - who would fit that bill, but she happens to live across the country right now. :-)

Even now, it wouldn't be too hard to make a simple veggie tray or slice up some fruit, as we talked about. Thanks for your unflagging support, Steph.

Jen said...

Im inspired every time I come here. Thank you Mark and Steph.

Stephanie said...

Jen, I'm inspired every time I look at your beautiful photos. I hope you're going to start showing them somewhere. We'll come to your opening!

Mark said...

What Steph said, Jen. That's one of the positive things about the affirmative blogging community, I think.

Anonymous said...

"affirmative blogging"

Interesting phrase and implication, Mark. Is this a discussion blog, or is everyone just supposed to "affirm" what you and Steph say? It's a sad state of affairs if there can be no mature debate.

Henrike said...

Thank you Mark. I kind of thought that would be the reason but didn’t want to assume. I agree with what Stephanie said about people giving that which they don’t eat. When I was little I learned that if you give something it should be something you area attached too, and well with food especially it would be nice if people would give food that way too.

I really enjoyed reading Stephanie’s comment. There are quite a few food demonstrations here too and often people try to also come up with not only a food bank but also ways to help homeless to learn certain skills.

I agree with Jen – you two are very inspiring on many different levels. :)

Mark said...

Well, Henrike, the feeling is mutual. I'm enjoying getting to know you better here in these pages. I've met many wonderful people through Stephanie. :-)

I am really and truly for the first time in my life finally paying attention to my food and the connections I am making with other people through it.

Anonymous said...

My favourite place to give to is the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in downtown Detroit. They help so many homeless that I just want to give back.

I remember being a young girl and my grandfather taking me by there to show me the place where he took my mother's sister for a miracle. The church St. Bonaventure is the main building, and where Father Solanus Casey arrived in the nineteen twenties. Soon after he began answering the door as people brought ill children to see a priest. Sometimes he talked to them, and the ones he spoke to began healing. He's on his way to Sainthood. My mom's sister was not a child who could ever be healed. But my grandfather told me how they were treated with compassion by Father Casey. I always remembered that.

The monks still treat people with compassion. They call people who attend dinner their guests and they serve at least 2,000 hot meals a day. Now that Detroit, and Michigan itself is dying, I'm sure that number has risen.

Besides helping them, I donate food whenever there is a drive. Putting bags of non perishables out for pick up. If they'd take salad greens and fruit, I'd drop it off, but they don't. I know that the veggies I leave are used into a stew or other soup. Applesauce and fruit cups on the side. I often leave packages of cereal, coffee, bags of rice, and other dry goods, for the one drive that takes them.

Someday there will be time for me to actually work the soup kitchen.

Great blog!

Stephanie said...

I love this story, Deb. You and Mark have a lot in common. xo