Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Local Food Bank
Anyone who knows me personally knows that feeding others is what I do. For decades I have donated food and personal hygiene supplies to my church food pantries, I have delivered bags of food and necessities to others in need, cooked and delivered meals to the ill, fed everyone who enters my home, including laborers whom I'm paying to do a job.
20+ years ago when our family lived at the poverty level, we never visited or accepted food from a local food bank. Individuals have left bags of groceries for us on our door steps and various churches have also blessed us with bags of groceries at Thanksgiving or Christmas, however, we never asked for or expected it. We were simply blessed by others whom God moved upon their hearts to help or assist us, even though we, ourselves, were not serving the Lord at that time. So, our recent volunteer experience at our county food bank has been my first experience with a local food bank and how that system works.
I couldn't believe how discriminating this system was toward senior citizens and the working poor. When I use the term working poor, I am referring to those individuals and families who work to earn a living but make just a few dollars over the maximum guidelines to qualify for government assistance, such as food stamps, WIC, etc. OR those who do qualify but choose not to accept government assistance based on personal morals, religious conviction, etc.
While volunteering I asked Mrs. S, our county food bank coordinator, what the procedure was for folks in our community who had a need for these donations. Mrs. S explained that since our county food bank accepts food donations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the administrative department of the federal government that operates our nation's food stamp benefit programs, she MUST follow very strict rules set by the USDA regarding whom the food is given to, veering from these rules is a crime and punishable by closing the food bank, fines and imprisonment.
Our local food bank pantry is a 25ft. x 25ft. gated and locked room located in the back of our senior citizen community building and consists of 2 sections. Section 1, 90% of the pantry's floor space including a refrigerator and two freezers, is reserved for the weekly food delivery from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Section 2, literally two 6ft. shelving units placed in a corner, are reserved for private donations from the community. The food bank is operated and staffed by local volunteers.
Mrs. S informed me that only those who receive government food stamp benefits will be given food from section 1, which is boxed and bagged, labeled with the recipient's name and placed on a table for pickup or delivery. These boxes and bags contain enough food to feed my family of 4 for a week. If recipients need or would like donations from section 2, the private donation section, to supplement their food box they may choose a few items. However, senior citizens who qualify and receive food stamps are eligible to receive only specific products from section 1 and are barred from products in section 2. These items make up less than 50% of the selections of what their socioeconomic peers will receive and it is only enough food or 2-3 small meals.
Section 2 is reserved for those in need who do not qualify for or accept government food stamp benefits. These folks are not allowed, regardless of hardship, to receive any food or products from section 1. Also, non-food stamp citizens are not allowed to receive any food from section 2 until all the food stamp recipients have been served. If there is anything left in section 2 after this, non-food stamp residents will be given a maximum of one bag of any left over groceries from section 2. If there is not enough groceries left in section 2 after the food stamp recipients have made their selections, then non-food stamp recipients must locate other resources for help.
After being given this information, I visited the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service web-site to inquire what the qualifications were for food stamp benefits and how much a family of 4 would qualify for. It must not be very much if our local food bank gives a week's worth of groceries out to food stamp recipients each week, right? I was very surprised by what I found.
According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service web-site a family of 4 can qualify for a maximum of $668.00 per month in food stamp benefits. Of course this amount would be reserved for families who are completely on well fare and do not work to earn a living. Please note, that is $218.00 per month more than our family's personal grocery budget of $450.00 per month, $25.00 of which is reserved for food and necessities for our church's food pantry. But if a family does have an income from working how much in food stamp benefits, if any, would they qualify for? A family of four's gross income can not exceed $2,050.00 per month. At the maximum income allowance a family of four qualifies for $321.00 per month in food stamp benefits. (please note: senior citizens are segregated into a very different qualification procedure and must have a much lower income and qualify for less than 1/2 of what their younger socioeconomic peers qualify for.)
$321.00 - $668.00 per month for a family of four, plus boxes of food each week from the local food bank, plus free breakfast and lunch for students during the school year at the public school? Contrary to what the public service ads on T.V. and the federal government tell us, if the well fare and food stamp benefit poor in this nation are being honest and refraining from well fare fraud, how can they possibly be hungry? They have far more food resources than we (and most other hard working families I personally know) have budgeted per month for groceries. This information helps me understand how well fare recipients can commit well fare fraud by selling their food stamp benefits for 50 cents on the dollar in exchange for cash. (Throughout the years I've encountered several food stamp recipients who've tried to sell me food stamp benefits for cash. I've never agreed to this as it is a federal offense and punishable by prison. NEVER enter into this type of agreement, no matter how desperate the offending party may appear to be. It is well fare fraud and you will get caught, you will go to prison and you will loose everything that's important to you).
The Lord has always impressed upon my heart to give to our church's private food pantry and specific individuals rather than government assisted food banks and organizations. When I give to my local church and private organizations that do not accept government assistance, senior citizens and those in need who do not qualify for government benefits can have their needs met and they do not have to wait in line hoping for the leftovers of those who receive government benefits. No, I will not give to government assisted programs. Yes, I will continue to give to churches and private organizations as the Lord leads me.
If you, or someone you know, are in need and do not receive government benefits or are a senior citizen, I encourage you to visit your local church's food / clothing pantry. We are there because you have a need and we want to help you.