No, I don’t know any food bank staff who said this. And yes, I know Marie Antoinette never said that (here is a link explaining the possible origins of that phrase).
It’s just a title to get your attention. But, yes, this post will be about hunger and public attitudes.
I felt a need to write another blog post because I was in tears coming home from my volunteer gig yesterday.
It sometimes feels as if my words – either in print or verbally – have no impact, no matter how often I repeat them, explain them, or try to appeal to peoples’ humanity.
Yesterday, the bigwigs at the hospital held a holiday dinner for the volunteers. It was pretty good. And, aside from the administrators standing by the buffet, all in a row, wishing everyone who got food a “Merry Christmas”, it was a nice thing to do.
The administrator “line-up” is something one sees a lot in situations like these. And, as an employee/volunteer, you are expected to thank them humbly, each and every one of them. They, for their parts, stand there looking every bit of “noblesse oblige” with smug smiles on their faces.
But, hey, I can play that game so it just pinched my heart a tiny bit.
I took my food and went back to the gift shop, as much to avoid some other volunteers for whom I did not have patience that day as avoiding the atmosphere in the room.
When I got back, the manager was there with a friend of hers who works in some department in the hospital – clerical, not clinical. The manager is nice, and I enjoy working with her.
Her friend had always been nice and friendly, so I didn’t have a problem with her…until yesterday.
The first thing out of her mouth was, “I thought you needed your cane to walk, but I was surprised to see you go get your food without it.” She was smiling as she said it, though the smile did not reach her eyes.
I was caught off-guard by this. I am not used to people making personal remarks like that. And, as usual when I am surprised, I default to the truth. Instead of just not answering, which clearly would have been the normal option.
I said to her, “I usually do use it, but when I know I have to carry something I don’t, because then I will have several people making a fuss and trying to carry things for me, and I am not comfortable with that. But it will make it hard on my back the rest of the day.”
She smirked. She actually smirked!
I decided to just eat my food and let it go.
But apparently she had a bee in her bonnet or something because she decided to continue to talk to me.
“How’s the food?” she asked.
“Better than at many places I’ve eaten, like at the senior center,” I replied, since she had wrinkled up her nose as if she wouldn’t deign to eat the dinner.
“Yeah, they really don’t serve very good food at places like that,” she continued. Then she turned to the manager and said, “I hate to even drive by those places, because I see people with shopping carts full of free bread! They shouldn’t take so much! I can’t afford to buy that much bread!”
I remained quiet, and continued to eat, not even looking up.
She added, “And they’re on food stamps! What do they need so much bread for? They’re lucky to get any food from the food bank.”
I looked up.
“It’s hard because the food bank often doesn’t have good food,” I explained. “For example, many people give large amounts of canned corn and unhealthy food like ramen, so maybe some people supplement by using bread,” I suggested.
I added, “When I have used the food bank, it’s mostly donations of baked goods, corn, high sodium canned goods, and a lot of unhealthy things I cannot eat. With choices like that, sometimes the bread is the healthiest, most filling option.”
And here it came…
“People who are hungry have no right to decide what they should get from the food bank. If they’re really hungry, they’ll eat it. And, like I said, I can’t afford to buy 6 loaves of bread, why just last week I was at JC Penney and I had to spend $24 on a pair of slacks…”
I tuned her out.
I looked at this woman, who claimed she couldn’t afford 6 loaves of bread – she had on full makeup, her hair was salon perfect, she had very nice clothes and jewelry on, as well as very expensive shoes.
My first reaction was to want to reach in my wallet, pull out $6, hand it to her, and say…
“Here you go, now you can buy 6 loaves of out-of-date bread.”
But, of course, I didn’t. Because this woman is not worth me losing my gig over.
I tried again. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did.
“I don’t know many people who have food stamps and also use the food bank who take more than their share,” I stated. “And for someone to be pushing a shopping cart through the streets of Altoona during winter suggests to me that they might have a mental health issue.”
She ignored me, continuing on….”Some old woman told me that she hates food bank food because it has bugs in it! Can you imagine? Here she was, getting free food, and…”
Her voice took on the “wah wah wah” of a Peanuts cartoon, when the adults talk.
The last thing I heard her say was, “And that’s why I never donate to charity.”
I tuned her out for good this time.