We have talked recently about how our current banking model makes it easier for people to receive processed food that is the cheapest and easiest for us to purchase. Most every food pantry in the country has the same kinds of food:
Green Beans Corn Macaroni and Cheese Canned Fruit (the highest sugar concentration possible...because it's the cheapest) Hamburger Helper Canned pasta Canned stews
All of those (with the exception of the fruit) are loaded with sodium. So, as someone eats, they grow more hungry. They're stuffed and starved, the quintessential definition of what we've been discussing.
Here's what we're doing to combat it.
We no longer spend money on purchasing canned pasta, stews, hamburger helper or macaroni and cheese. We want to make sure people have the basics: fruit, vegetables, grains, dairies and protein. If someone wants to spend their money on those items we're not stocking, they're more than welcome to do that. But the issue becomes more prevalent in the example that we're setting of what's the most important. We want to give our clients options with the tools they need to use properly what we're giving them.
We're excited about growing season. We will have more fresh produce to have available for our clients. The Douglas County Master Gardeners do a wonderful job of making sure that anything that is gleaned from the Farmer's Market (last year, 14 tons) gets into our coolers and then distributed to folks in the community who need food. Incredible.
We're partnering with the KSU Research and Extension Office, and they'll be coming and providing samples of what pasta with tomato sauce could taste like, and how much better it is for families than a can of spaghetti o's. Then, we'll be giving people recipes to go home and try.
We are putting low sodium vegetables, and low sugar fruits. Why does this matter? One of our clients recently put on our facebook page: "I really like the revamped system. It's made it easier for my family to get what they need. At one point we had so much peanut butter and canned corn that we started giving it back before we left so we would have to cart it home. We could have opened our own store and sold it all if we were so inclined. This new system helps us make better choices in food, especially with diabetics in the household. And I love the fact you have more food that does not have High Fructose Corn Syrup, or corn syrup in general. That's not good for those with corn allergies. Keep up the good work."
With our previous system, I don't want to say that we didn't care about those who had special dietary restrictions...but we didn't care about those with special dietary restrictions. We were concerned with getting the most food out to the most people. The health of our clients took a backseat to everything else.
This matters because an enormous amount of money is spent on healthcare in our community. For many folks, especially children, the issue is not that they're sick, it's that they're malnourished. Your body lets you know when it's not getting what it needs, especially during your most physically and psychologically formational years.
Several national studies have been done and estimated that it costs communities between $10-20,000 to take care of someone who is in need: food, shelter, health care, clothes, education, transportation, etc. There are about 26,000 people in poverty in Douglas County. Estimating on the conservative side ($10k each), those 26,000 people cost Lawrence $260 million dollars each year. $260 MILLION. Let that sink in a minute.
The sheer economic benefits of us caring about this issue, working together to be solvent, are HUGE in and of themselves. For many folks, their intention isn't to be a drain on the system. They don't want to be where they are. Don't think for one minute that if they had an opportunity for a redo, they'd take it in a heartbeat.
I haven't done the research, but I would guess Douglas County spends way less than $260 million on taking care of its own people. From a policy perspective, this is why it is so important to have adequate resources to address the issue, rather than just putting a bandaid on it. I can't speak for other community partners that fight the good fight everyday...but I can say for us, if we want to be solvent, it will take significantly more commitment to help us to get that done.
The good news is, we're headed in the right direction with the right vision and the right priorities! More tomorrow on one of our programs that has made profound impacts on our clients. The cooking classes, taught by Chef Rick Martin (one of my heroes.)