Wednesday, October 3, 2012
This past summer I read a great book called "The Noticer: Sometimes All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective" by Andy Andrews. It was a wonderful book, recommended on several faith reading lists, and I will use it for a book study at my church in a few weeks.
This book is a great story about a wonderful person watching and noticing when someone needs help and how to provide encouragement to move beyond the disappointments, frustrations, and failures in life.
Reading this book brought to mind some comments that are often asked by others about the hungry families, children and the elderly we feed. We are often approached and asked why are the clients talking on cell phones, or a question will get asked about why we are serving a mother who has acrylic nails, or a particular type of car in our parking lot. I would like to share some perspectives and beliefs about Harvest Hope.
Cell phones are sometimes much cheaper than a regular land line and for a family who is losing their shelter or can't afford to pay utilities this is the only way to go as it is portable. In our Emergency Food Pantry, we actually did ask a client why she had acrylic nails but came to Harvest Hope for food? She said she bartered for her nails by keeping her next door neighbor's children and the mom who needed child care was a nail technician. She gave this lady free acrylic nails in exchange for the babysitting so she could go to work. The lady who came into the pantry was also looking for full time work as she kept these children in the evening. Sometimes it does appear that some of the cars in our parking lot may look to be expensive models. Some indeed may be on occasion, but they also may be vehicles operated by our volunteers, visitors, board members or possibly a person who is giving a ride to a client. But for the sake of argument let's just say that this is not the case. Many clients, when a volunteer goes to help them put food in their cars, appear to be living out of their cars as this is their only form of shelter. Frankly, as unfortunate as this is a $200 or $300 or even higher car payment a month is cheaper than rent and utilities.
Now please don't mistake that we agree with how some of the emergency situations are handled, but I like to think that when faced with some situations each of us would do all we could to keep our families together...all in all these are other perspectives. More importantly, there are six general recurring reasons why someone is at risk for hunger: unemployment, inability to pay rent and utilities, lack of transportation, a catastrophic event in someone's life's (any of these would be catastrophic, but also consider loss of a spouse or other loved one), can't afford medicine or medical care, or being disabled.
Here's something else to think about: we have pretty hard statistics documented from FRAC (Food Research Action Council), Feeding America and others, that the SNAP (food stamp) program does not provide enough food to last all month. But if we can help get families get on SNAP and then give them 90 pounds per person we only see them at our food pantry an average of three times in the course of a year. Our records at Columbia's Emergency Food Pantries show that the majority of people who ask us for food come just three times and then overcome whatever economic crisis or disaster they faced that left them without food on their table. With their immediate crisis overcome, they can go on to support themselves and purchase their own groceries as they need, just like we would all prefer. In addition, for any of those six reasons listed above we try hard to give the clients resources to help them out with whatever other needs brought them to us in the first place. But our main mission is to give them enough food to take the need for food off of the table for a period of time so they can go deal with those issues. What we want to prevent is giving them just a little bit of food that only takes them through a day or so because then that just creates this toxic, never-ending cycle of always seeking food because they are hungry. And we all know that if you are hungry you really can't focus on anything else.
We really want the same thing our clients want: to get re-employed. I have heard this statement many times and said it many times myself...'it is always better to have some type of work. It may be menial or less than what one is trained to do, but you can always keep looking for the dream job/career while you have a job'.
So at Harvest Hope, we truly want to work ourselves out of a job, we want to get people who are at risk of hunger enough food so they can go deal with any of those six repetitive issues that brought them here in the first place. There are several other good ideas to help as well that includes things like couponing, gardening, and preparing food well, etc that we are also exploring. We want to be involved in these areas solely for our clients who need to also explore how to stretch their food dollars. However, we also have our main purpose and that is to provide food-and this continues to be serving an average of 48,000 people every week across 20 SC counties.
Now, none of this can happen without the appropriate resources to get the job done. These resources include food, finances and volunteers-all of which are incredibly important. For us to give 90 pounds per person we have to have great food supplies. We have seen and continue to expect to see a total of six to seven million pounds less in USDA food over the course of this calendar year. Therefore all donated food and particularly food drives are very much needed. In addition, for us to pick up tractor trailers of donated food that is offered to us from all over the US, we have to pay transportation, continue to have warehousing and we have our own 20 refrigerated trucks that work within the state to pick up local donated food from wholesalers, retailers and others. All of this requires financial donations and to be very honest, financial donations continue to be very low. Since 2007, for every donor we had, we have had to augment that single donor with finding four more. Financial donations are tenuous and there are weeks when I truly worry about having sufficient funds to keep us going. This has been our new normal for going on five years. This is not just our new normal, but everyone's new normal.
While all of this is very true and heartfelt, keeping our perspective and faith each day is critical. We are also constantly working to gain and refine our perspectives each day, as a pledge to keep going forward to provide for our most vulnerable, and to work with others to help the people we serve get to a point that they don't need us and are empowered, skilled, and using all of their capabilities to help themselves. Please stay tuned for the next blog issue expected to be released Oct. 15, 2012 about one such true story of Harvest Hope and a positive impact on taking just one from unemployed to employed.