Tag Archives: food banks

“Let Them Eat Cake”, Replied the Food Bank Staff

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.


Hey, Merry Christmas!

I do tell people, “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Hanukkah!” depending on to whom I am speaking.  No point in saying, “Have a great Yule!” because that means nowt to most people and who am I, anyway?  The holiday police?

Naw, I greet people this time of year in whatever way keeps them the most, well, merry.

I celebrate Christmas, always have.  I don’t always celebrate Yule in the manner I would like, because most of the places I have lived do not have anywhere to burn a Yule log (yep, y’all stole that from pagan folk).

Here is a brief explanation of Yule, by the BBC:

“The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.” (“Winter Solstice”, BBC website, 6/7/2006)

And thus concludes this installment of ‘alternative religion and holidays’.

What I want to write about, this week, is something a lot of you probably don’t want to think about – how poor folk might deal with this time of year.

This is my annual plea to those of you who donate to the food bank.

First of all, thank you.  It’s really good-hearted of you to donate, and I hope you keep on doing it.  But I have some suggestions…

You’ve heard of BPA?  It’s not good for you and it’s in most canned foods, especially canned pastas and meats. Apparently it has been linked to cancer.   It’s also in vegetables and beans – the highest amount found in canned vegetables is in green beans.  And green beans, along with corn, seem to be the 2 things most people donate.

Please don’t.  Oh, you could go all “organic aisle” and get canned stuff without BPA,  but no one expects you to do that – that stuff is expensive.  I was just at the store today, and a can of
“BPA-free organic beans” is $2.39!!  That’s ridiculous.

So please, get dried beans and lentils instead.  They take longer to make than, say, popping open a can, but especially this time of year when people are cooking and baking a lot anyway…oh yeah, we po’ folk bake cookies and cook holiday meals too.

Dried milk instead of evaporated milk (I know, dried milk is pricey, but it’s much needed). Tomatoes, soups, vegetables in those box things instead of cans.  Stuff in glass jars is a little trickier, so you may want to ask your food bank if that’s ok.  Think of what you like to eat during the holidays, and maybe toss in a bag of cookies or something.

In Hollidaysburg, it will go to the people for whom it was intended.  Wherever you live, I don’t know – use your discretion.  I have seen people in Memphis and Altoona rip off the poor that way.  One director of a charity thrift shop in Altoona keeps all the “good stuff” in the back (pastries and so on) that the local grocery store donates to them, then sets out mostly bread for people in need to take.

“Well gosh, poor people don’t need pastries!  The nerve!  They’re all too fat anyway!”

Oh, this is turning into a rant.  Sorry.

Yes, I agree that giving is an act of kindness, and “beggars can’t be choosers”, nor should they “look a gift horse in the mouth”…but, come on, it’s the holidays!  Everywhere you look, people are buying things, visiting relatives, getting involved in holiday things, and of course TV has all the heartwarming shows anyone could ever watch.

A percentage of the population hasn’t money to buy presents, may have no family with which to spend the holidays, and/or is isolated and not involved in holiday activities.  Maybe they are ill, physically or mentally.   Most of them wouldn’t dream of asking for anything from anyone…

…which is why I am going to do it on their behalf.  Because I am one of them, and I choose not to use the food bank because I would rather have very little or no food at the end of the month than to eat the canned stuff they give out.

Side note: Hate to belabor the fact, but just in case y’all think people on disability are not poor, the poverty level for a ‘family of 1’ is $11,670.  That’s per year, folks.  The usual disability check is $735/month (that’s the basic check amount), or $8,820/year.  That means a lot of people subsist at a level that is almost 25% lower than the federal poverty line.

I want to drive home the point because I don’t know how else to get it across – think about how much you make, because you are able to work.  Hell, I don’t begrudge you a million dollars, if you can get it –  that’s not the point.  I want you to imagine how you could live on $11,000/year or less.

If you suddenly become poor, does that mean you have no right to at least eat a somewhat healthy diet?  Compare prices in the store sometime, healthy vs non-healthy, and then you can understand why that food stamp person in the line in front of you is buying canned punch instead of real juice, white bread and pasta instead of the whole wheat versions, even soda instead of something more healthy.

Ever try to bring 2 cases of water home on public transportation?  They get really angry if you try it and they threaten to ban you if you do it again.

Don’t you even dare say we can drink “free” tap water.  If you lived in SuperFund Pennsylvania like I do, you won’t even give your pets tap water, it is that nasty, unhealthy, and sometimes you can set fire to it thanks to fracking.  A water pitcher with filter?  Yeah, I have one.  It sits empty because I can’t afford the refill filter.  That, I have to save up for.  Oh, and in PA most renters have to pay their own water bill…and it’s $60/month.  There is no federal or state program to assist you with your water bill. So, tap water isn’t really free.