Tuesday, November 30, 2010
A Tale of Two Pantries - In Two Parts
Last month, someone gave me the name of a "marvelous" food pantry in a neighboring, larger city where the clients get to choose their own food. I decided to check it out even though after I looked at the web site, I saw that I would not qualify for services since this pantry operates under strict Federal income guidelines - with the pension, we are about $300.00 over the amount that would entitle us to food stamps or emergency food assistance at some pantries.
When I got to the place, it reminded me of a warehouse like Sam's Club. The bread section alone looked like a bakery. There was an abundance of food and about 75 people ahead of me waiting for a turn to choose their food. I was seen earlier since I mentioned right away that my income was higher than the client requirement. The director of the pantry, an elegant, attractive woman of about 60, sympathized with me but said I would only be able to receive what they termed the limited assistance they provide to those with higher incomes. She said that at one time in her life she was in a situation very similar to mine. I asked her what she did to survive, and she replied, "Just what you are already doing, creative meal planning, scrimping, etc."
The food I would be entitled to that day included my choice of 10 items from three shelves. On these shelves were the following items: canned beef stew, chili beans, off brand chicken & rice soup, off brand tomato soup, peanut butter (no jelly) and off brand toasted oat cereal. You can imagine my dismay at this selection because this is what I get visiting my local pantry. But I went ahead and took some of the soup, beans and peanut butter. We don't eat beef so no stew - there aren't a lot of other options as we are such a beef eating country but a can of tuna would have been appreciated.
They threw in some extra items - four loaves of bread and two desserts, including 24 cupcakes decorated in a Thanksgiving theme which was very nice - half chocolate, half vanilla - we still have 4 left. They also offered me a bag of apples and carrots and even provided me with a frozen smoked turkey when they found out we don't eat beef so I didn't leave empty handed. But it was disappointing, especially looking at the massive shelves of available food and even the sign on a stack of Hamburger/Tuna Helper that said clients could take up to six! And people living in this city get to go to the pantry twice a month (those living elsewhere, once).
At the pantry I go to, I receive pretty much the same fare each time which includes: a can of tuna (sometimes), 2 boxes of mac & cheese, dried beans, rice, a box of instant potatoes, a bottle of cooking oil, pancake mix, syrup, canned spaghetti sauce, spaghetti noodles, 2-4 cans of soup, peanut butter, jelly, and a can or two of fruit and vegetables. Sometimes there is bread and meat - sometimes, not always. Every other month I can receive a box of powder laundry detergent sold at the dollar store for a dollar - this is what I buy anyway, I am so cheap. Once in awhile there will be something extra like a box of taco shells, cheese or fresh vegetables, e.g., being able to take 3 small baked potatoes. There are days after going to this pantry that I wonder why I even go. Then I feel bad for not being grateful at what I received. I thought it was me until one time I overheard a young woman saying how little had been received. "That's all?"
It's hard eating mashed potatoes without gravy or a meat accompaniment. I currently have more canned soup and peanut butter in the pantry than I want to look at (17 jars of peanut butter), along with 8 boxes of mac & cheese even though we eat a few boxes every week. There is just so much chicken noodle soup you can eat. There is definitely no variety and a terrible lack of fresh food items. And I despise lentil beans. So a lot of this stuff has just remained in the pantry. I try to come up with recipes that will use some of items and I have left some in the laundry area of my building to pass on. But it is clear that even if someone had only this selection of items to eat, that it wouldn't last more than a few meals anyway. This pantry allows you to go only once a month, so how do poor people get through the rest of the month? I've heard of pantry hopping.
Which gets me to wondering, how does this pantry in the other town have so much more and a better variety than the one in my town? Let me add, no one goes to a food pantry willingly. I want to be able to choose my own food, not be handed a box of discards or dented cans. Many times the items received are past code by a number of months. Depending on what it is I usually eat it. The church ladies at the pantry have been condescending to me, especially the older ones. There is the pervasive belief in our country that people are poor because of some deformity or flaw with them - not that an unfortunate situation or circumstance had some impact.
I cried the first few times going to the pantry. Now I don't cry but every time I enter the parking lot I say a prayer that I'll never have to go there again.
All Americans should have access to food. Despite my pension, we didn't have any available money left over for food in November. In the middle of the month I had to write two hot checks at the grocery store to make ends meet ($60.00 each). The bank paid the grocery store but charged me fees which catch up with me now this month and are putting me behind before December even arrives, and starting the whole cycle over again.
To be continued in Part Two.