Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thoughts on Poverty

I went to a food bank for the first time today.

The building was on the outskirts of town, nondescript. The parking lot was totally vacant. As we walked toward the door I whispered to my husband, "I hope it's okay for us to be here." I half expected to be turned away. We had not been able to reach anyone to get an appointment or to determine what their qualifications were so we came armed with some (past due) utility bills and pay stubs.

The only person in the big, drafty building was an old guy in his 80's who was doing some handy work.  He had us sit down and tell him how many people live in our home (2) and how much money we make a month (one income slightly more than minimum wage). We came in well under the income cut-off qualification. He said, "We give out food once a month but I'll go back and put a box together for you right now."  He later explained that the shopping carts and boxes piled with canned and boxed goods that filled the room we were sitting in would be given out the following week. He disappeared into the warehouse portion of the building and came out with a big box and a grocery store bag filled up with non-perishable food.

"That's a little more than we normally give away." He said kindly. He hadn't asked us for any details other than what I mentioned above, but I did thank him and explain that we didn't have enough ingredients at home to put together any meals. I didn't tell him that on our way home we were going to the grocery store to spend our last $20 on staples like eggs. Between what we were able to buy and what we received today we have food for two weeks.

He explained to us what we could expect if we came on their monthly give-away day. He advised us to come after 9:30am because the line will have thinned out by then (apparently people begin lining up at 6:30am which I can't even fathom as it has been below freezing here at night and the sun doesn't rise until almost 7:30am) and that I should bring a utility bill for proof of address. At that time we will be asked to "self certify" that our income is less than $1850 a month and then will be given a card that will entitle us to come to other monthly food giveaways.

And that was that.

I had all these feelings leading up to today about what going to a food bank would mean. Like it was accepting my current state of poverty. And in a way I guess that is exactly what happened. I should have known (certainly by now!) that acceptance is not the same as condoning. This year we have experienced massive financial upheaval due to circumstances beyond our control - we didn't "let" this happen and we fought it all the way.

And now, here we are, with a pantry full of two weeks of food. And that is a huge relief. I expected to leave the food bank feeling like I had somehow failed, but in fact I just left feeling extremely grateful and relieved. To see a whole warehouse of food that will go to feed hundreds of people this coming week made me feel glad to live in a county and a country where this sort of help is available. If you've ever dealt with food insecurity then you know it's probably in the top five worst things that human psychology can experience. NOT having to worry about that for the time being frees us both up to focus on work, taking care of our health and all the other important stuff that might suffer if basic needs went unmet.

P.S. This is sort of a diversion from the usual content of my posts but I want to take a moment to say just how much of a Normal Girl scenario this is. I have a half dozen friends that are on food stamps or relying on food banks for the first time in their lives. I have about twice as many people in my life who suffered the onset of major disability or cataclysmic loss of a job in the last two years. So I wanted to share my experiences so that people might not be afraid to seek help from food banks for the first time. According to the income criteria, my husband and I could have been utilizing food banks for most of our seven year marriage as the only time we made more than the allowable income was when we have both simultaneously been employed which has not happened all that often in the past 7 years due to schooling or difficulty in finding a job. Now I wish we had made this decision sooner!

Edit: My friend shared a post on her blog about food banks through the lens of people with eating disorders who might wish to know more about what to expect. Check it out here.


  1. I wanted to say that I'm proud of you for doing what you need to in order to survive!

  2. I am very glad to hear you did not let fear stop you from taking care of yourself. I am a 44 female with a husband that most of the time has a pretty decent job. And a few health issues of my own which has made it very hard to work in public the last few years. And most would consider us comfortable if not well off. But my husband has been laid off by three different companies in the past 5 years. With each job paying progressively less than the last one when he finds a new one.

    When we bought our house in 2008 we were in a good position to do so. and while payments were high he made decent money. Then he had some health issues and was out on FMLA for quite a while, then there was a bit of screwed up FMLA paper work and by the time we found out about the problem the time to file and appeal was over and they had a good excuse to let him go. While he got Unemployment finding a new job was hard and the checks were barely enough to cover our bills. And we got behind. We had to file bankruptcy. which let us keep our house and the one car that was paid for. We ended up taking two extra roommates to help all of us keep a roof over our heads.

    So we went to a food pantry the first one we went to was not a lot of "fun" to say the least. We were just one more family to have items thrown in a box and shoved out the back door of the building onto the loading dock. When we had asked them not to include any donuts, or cookies or snack cake type items we got a ton of them. I am diabetic and other members of the household had issues so those items were not really good for any one. Although they did give us a small bag of dog and cat food which helped out quite a bit.

    Then we found out about JFS and the experience was so very very different.We were treated as people not another number. We were allowed our dignity and the experience was more like going grocery shopping. We were walked through the little "store area" they had set up. and were able to with in the limits of the program choose items that would be eaten at our house and that had the least damaging effects on our health. I went there once a month for over a year and they were happy to help. Now when I have a chance and get great deals at the store with coupons I donated what ever I can to help out other people that are in the position we were in.

  3. Thank you for this comment! I have recently developed severe food allergies and went prepared with a list of items I cannot eat, however it was not an issue as the majority of the things I am allergic to are fresh fruit and veg. Mostly veggies. While the stuff we received was mostly high-sodium stuff, it was otherwise not too unhealthy. I hadn't really thought about the ramifications for people with health issues like diabetes - it's wonderful that you were able to access a food bank that helped you with those issues. I love the idea of holistic programs to help the poor. It seems like it could really help stop a lot of problems in their tracks.