Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hometown Memories: The Food Bank

When I was in my late twenties, I attended classes in ceramic painting two evenings a week for a couple of years or so. During that period, I met the nicest woman. She was about 20 or so years older than me, and although we didn’t socialize outside of the class, we were very friendly in it, and I really liked her. When I quit going, we lost track of each other and I didn’t see her until three years later when I bumped into her at a grocery store parking lot. I was a fresh-out-of-a-horrible-marriage single mom and she had recently left her husband, she told me, who was an abusive alcoholic. That was something I never knew when we were going to art classes together. But then she didn’t know about my toxic marriage either.

Anyhow, in addition to trying to put back the pieces of her emotional life, she was struggling financially and dealing with health issues. Nevertheless, she remained optimistic and tried her best to put her life back together. She took some classes to finally receive a high school diploma and update her education, she found a small apartment to settle into and she got a minimum wage job to support herself. But despite all her efforts, the mountain she was attempting to climb kept getting bigger. The building she lived in was plagued with problems and eventually condemned. This left her with the struggle of finding another one to live in that was affordable. Her health issues made it difficult to work and she eventually lost her job. She didn’t qualify for unemployment, so she applied for welfare, which barely covered her basic living expenses. After she paid her rent and utilities, there was not enough money for a month’s supply of food. And so, like many other people going hungry, she eventually headed to the food bank.


Because of her health problems, it was extremely difficult for her to get around, let alone lug heavy boxes and bags home, so I volunteered to drive her to the food bank once a week to pick up a few things. It was her first experience there. And mine, too. Even though I'd grown up in a working class poor family, in a working class poor community, and having witnessed families struggling to make ends meet, I’d never been to a food bank until that day. There were quite a few people there. Men, women, children. All ages, all races. A diversity of people. Waiting. Patiently. Quietly. No one spoke. No one made eye contact. When they were called, they presented themselves, picked up their food, thanked the volunteer and exited. Quietly but quickly. I watched and wondered. What were their stories? How did it get to this point? Did their monthly expenses exceed their salaries? Was there an unexpected job loss? Were they dealing with physical or mental health issues? Is it because of lack of affordable housing? Were any of them homeless? Some other crisis? And did any one of them feel the way my friend did? Ashamed and judged and frightened and beaten down?

After I helped my friend get back home, I drove away thinking about how humbling and enlightening the whole experience had been. And quite alarming. Because this could happen to any one of us. But it was also infuriating. Because no one should go hungry. No one should need to do this. No one.

Have you ever been to a food bank?

36 comments:

  1. Never been to a food bank. Nice story.

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  2. I have not been to a food bank, but I do at times support the local rescue mission. I need to actively become involved in volunteering again; at a food bank indeed would be humbling. I heard a statistic one time, but can't remember the exact percentage, I'm going to say perhaps 30% of people are just one paycheck away from being homeless. So if they lost their job, soon they would be homeless and then with it hungry.

    betty

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    1. It can happen to anyone, Betty. In addition to losing a job, illness can completely turn your life upside down. I volunteer right now with our local hospice but eventually I'd like to get involved in a food bank or soup kitchen. I think I'd enjoy doing that.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story. It's good to bring the plight of the working poor to light. I've never been to a food bank, but every payday, I make a regular donation to our local one.

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  4. My wife volunteered at a community center but I've never been to one.
    I agree. No one should have to go through this.

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    1. Yes, no one. Eating is a necessity, not a privilege.

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  5. No I haven't, not because I was to proud but because they didn't have any food banks back in the 1960's when I finally left my abusive first husband...or I didn't know of them if they did. I had two children to feed and even though I worked, my jobs were always for minimum wages. I did receive help with my rent through the county, so this saved us.
    Food banks are a wonderful service and I do donate food and money to them. My heart breaks to think of children going hungry and of mothers and fathers who don't know where to turn for help~

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    1. There are so many people in need of help. Thank goodness for places like these. No one should ever go hungry.

      Nice to see you here, Jan. I hope you're doing okay!

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  6. I worked at one for a couple of weeks when I was on sick leave in the 90's.
    Locally the demand on food Banks has increased exponentially in recent years.
    You are correct, Martha, it could have happened to any of us.

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    1. It's alarming that the demand has increased. Just goes to show how much people are struggling.

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  7. When I was a single parent and my kids were small yes, I used the food bank. Here in British Columbia the use of food banks is at an all-time high and yet our current provincial government keeps telling us how great the economy is.

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    1. The cost of living keeps going up but wages don't. It's getting harder and harder for people to make ends meet.

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  8. I've never been. And I hope I never have to

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  9. I have dropped things off at the food bank several times. It's a grubby dingy place. Hampers were being made up but I didn't see any clients. My opinion is that our governments have cut back in so many areas that many people are unable to get by. Your friend's story is quite typical. A number of problems and no support.

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    1. So true. And with the cost of living going up all the time but wages remaining the same, it's very hard on families. I don't know how some people manage.

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  10. Sadly poverty and hunger is a world wide problem. Thank you for helping.

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  11. Thankfully, I have not had to go to a food bank. I agree with the person who said that many people are just one paycheque away from having big problems. People don't have money put away in savings (for a whole lot of reasons) and so if some big financial crisis happened, they would have nothing to fall back on. It's humbling. -Jenn

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    1. Very humbling. It's getting harder for people to make ends meet, which doesn't leave much room for savings.

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  12. Great post Martha, I did help out at a food bank once but it was sorting, not at the actual collection point.

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    1. That's nice, Christine. I'd like to volunteer at one at some point.

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  13. Food banks play an important role in our society. Our Food Pantry feeds nearly ten percent of our residents, over half of them children who might otherwise not have enough to eat.

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    1. Yes, they play a very important role. Everyone should have enough to eat.

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  14. What a post Martha ... thank you.

    I have never been to a food bank but do donate, and the appeal for help that the food banks now need is really quite alarming. They do help people / families from all walks of life and are most necessary, which is perhaps a sad reflection of our times.

    Our local Church also offer a weekly soup run and has many volunteers who help.

    A most thoughtful post

    All the best Jan

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    1. It's surprising just how many people need these services, Jan. I'm glad that they are there to help.

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  15. So many of us (myself included) lead a rather charmed life. Sure, we have issues, but we don't really have to think too much or worry too much about a head over our heads or warm food in our bellies. Thank you for reminding us we are one or two steps away from everything changing drastically pretty fast, and to daily count our lucky stars.

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    1. We often take it for granted. There are a lot of people struggling just to survive. It's very sad. And it shouldn't be this way.

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  16. I donate to food banks but I haven't actually been AT the food banks. I do think it would be a life enhancing experience. That is a really sad story about your friend. I think there are lots of really sad circumstances out there and people need help and compassion...not judgement or condemnation.

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    1. It is quite an experience, Cheryl. I'd like to get involved at some point and help out. And at a soup kitchen, too. I think that would be a good place for me.

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  17. ....we dont have foodbanks here. the needy received money from welfare monthly.
    but this post makes me think about the unfairness of life and how thankful we should be, getting the things we have.

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    1. Yes, we should be thankful for the things we have. Simple things like food!

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  18. God I got teary!

    Never been to a food bank, but mum grew up poor, even though her father always had money in his pocket for alcohol and women, mum raised five kids by working hard and managed to buy a house and do it up back in the 60s, but the men in her life were a disappointment. By the time she had me we were okay, scraping by. Couldn't afford brand new cars so went for second hand but we got by.

    Once dad left and stopped paying child support pensions got us by, as they do now. We live in government housing but our rent goes up every six months when we get a rise in our pensions. The rent is $424 a fortnight, our food bill runs anywhere from $260 to $300/$400 with mum's prescriptions and anything else we get, our bills come quarterly, we put money aside each fortnight, we don't have air con or central heating, we deal with fans and heaters and that's rough.

    We don't smoke, drink or do non-prescription drugs. Most of my monthly credit card bill these days is book edits/interiors, covers, self-publishing, jewellery etc, all business. I occasionally get to buy up big on books, clothes or other things, but it's a matter of dealing it all out across twelve months and fitting it all in. I pay in full because most of my pay goes to it. Our healthcare is paid for by taxpayers, which we all are, and we get half back if we have to pay.

    All in all, it sounds like the US health/benefit system sucks for so many, while we seem to have it fairly good here. But then that could be down to population as well. I feel sorry for people who don't get a fair deal with hand outs. That's what tax dollars should be for, when the public get sick and need help (my last year as an example). Not for fricken wars and stupid politics.

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    1. Thank you for sharing all this! I'm glad you and your mom are doing okay. I don't really understand how everything works in the US but here in Canada we have universal healthcare, which I love. I can't imagine being without it. We all pay into it and everyone gets to use it. Personally, I think healthcare is a right not a privilege. We also have a lot of great social programs to help the people who need help but I feel we can do more. And we can learn from other countries that are doing much better than us socially.

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