I kind of saved the best for near the last. I remember a conversation I had, with what seems like many moons ago with Chef Rick Martin. Rick is the former Executive Chef of Free State Brewery. Chances are, if you enjoy their food, you've eaten one of Rick's delectable dishes. He's the current culinary arts director at Eudora High School. What he's done with that program is second to none. They recently won an award that will bring some great recognition to what Rick has done there.
There are a few people you meet in your life where you have kindred goals, and like-mindedness. Rick and I hit it off immediately. The things that have happened at Just Food for the last few years have been because the right people have shown up at the right time. And Rick was right on time.
Rick has a passion to teach people how to cook - to understand that vegetables, fruits and other foods that may have perceptions about being too expensive and bad to taste, are actually cheaper and taste better than many other things that we put into our bodies.
Rick began to talk about what a class could look like, and I was enamored. With his passion, how forward thinking he was, and what a difference I knew these classes were going to make.
We began to sign students up for these classes after a three week pilot program last summer. To qualify, students had to be clients of Just Food and have a desire to learn how to cook. We bought portable cooking stations, with pots and pans, some utensils and bowls and a butane burner. We have 4 stations.
Through these classes, students have learned:
-Basic Kitchen Skills -Healthy Ethnic Foods -Recipe Makeover -Vegetables
Students have cooked delectable dishes such as red beans and rice with homemade pico de gallo, homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch, mac and cheese au gratin, spaghetti carbonara with pork ragout and cilantro salad and coconut curry chicken with white jasmine rice.
My favorite comment from one of the students in the class was when they said, "I feel like I'm eating rich people food." The categories that begin to define our society around something as simple and necessary as food are incredible...all because of many times unreal perceptions that govern our thought processes.
Here are some staggering numbers:
At the beginning of these classes, 75% of students indicated they ate fast food or processed food at least 4 times per week. By the end of the class, only 25% of students indicated they were eating fast food or processed food at least 4 times per week.
At the beginning of the class, 90% of students indicated they would rather eat out of a box than make a homemade meal. At the end of the class, 90% of students indicated they would rather make a meal from scratch than eat out of a box.
After the classes were over, 98% of students indicated they would be making healthier choices at the grocery store from now on.
And my personal favorite.
After the classes, 25% of our students said that, with the money they learned how to save by eating in instead of eating out, they would no longer need to get food from Just Food on a regular basis anymore. When Chef is teaching you how to make a meal for $1.50 a serving, and you can feed your family of three for $5 and eat leftovers for two days, rather than going and spending $15 on fast food for one meal...that money starts to add up. And fast.
These classes have empowered people. They have encouraged people. And they've had intangible benefits. During the first pilot class, we had a lady break down crying in our lobby. I asked her what was wrong and she said, as we were eating the food she'd just made, that it had been a long time since someone had told her that she had done anything right.
Stop and thinking about that a moment. And then a story that I heard just yesterday that blew me away.
One of the students in the class said that this had taught her that food is something that brings people together around a table. I heard her say that this reinvigorated her sense of being at the table and inviting others there as well.
It isn't JUST FOOD...
It's pretty incredible if you think about it. More is coming with these classes, and we're going to continue to build and build them until we can get as many students as they want to be involved with these. They are vitally important and making a HUGE difference.
Rick Martin is a hero. To me, and to so many, for what he has taught folks that have revolutionized their eating habits, their families lifestyles, and he has not only helped people understand the way to a better life, but for some, broken the curse that has cycled for generations and generations. Rick, from the bottom of my heart and for all those you've helped and will help. Thank you.
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.)
I remember sitting in a United Way meeting last year. The United Way has worked hard to earn its nickname, the "community kitchen table." This meeting was no exception.
We had $300,000 in requests, and way less than that which could be allocated. We went through and methodically declared agencies "safe" from cuts. At the table:
Just Food, Ballard Community Services (including Penn House), Salvation Army, Willow Domestic Violence Center, Lawrence Community Shelter, Catholic Charities, and Douglas County Red Cross.
We knew that we weren't going to get up at 3 in the morning to be with a victim of domestic violence. Not an unduplicated service.
We knew that we weren't going to operate as a shelter for folks without housing. Not an unduplicated service.
We knew that we weren't going to do intensive case management in the way Catholic Charities does. Not an unduplicated service.
We knew that we weren't going to get up in the middle of the night to assist with families in the event of a fire, or be the go-to-point in case of a diaster. Not an unduplicated service.
So, Salvation Army, Ballard Community Services, and Just Food sat around a table to somehow get $205,000 that between the three of us we were requesting, down to $89,500. We had to cut a significant amount of money. I have to give props to Kyle Roggenkamp from Ballard and Matt McCluer from Salvation Army. We understand we had a job to do, and we knew that collaboration was more important than competition.
Oftentimes, with non-profits, an established brand means a lot. Or, because we've "always done it this way before" automatically means that we "must always do it this way in the future." We entered those conversations selflessly, and began to talk about what we could do to compliment each others work. A few things became clear:
Ballard and Penn House were passionate about strengths based case management. They were passionate about having conversations with clients to bring them to a point where they are more self sufficient. And they're good at it.
Just Food is passionate about food distribution. And they're good at it.
Salvation Army is the one-stop-shop for people who have needs. It's just where people go when they need help. They had an opportunity to be a huge resource-bank of information, in addition to offering case management, and spiritual help and advice. And they're good at it.
The task was clear: each of us were going to take a cut. And we did. The process was as difficult as anything that happens in Washington DC or Topeka. A 43% cut. And we had to give it to each other.
It could have went down a lot differently. But it was smooth. It didn't mean that we had to like getting things cut, but we had to. That's the money we had available. Due to some great collaboration, it happened.
Now, Just Food stocks the food pantries at Ballard, Penn House and Salvation Army. Ballard has a strengths team they've deployed at these locations. Salvation Army has case managers they've deployed, and they're working on some other innovative initiatives to get people to self-sufficiency.
What do we have to show for it? A shared database, used at all four sites.
We have an idea of how often people go where. This isn't to restrict when people can get food. But it's to provide accountability to the system that we have in place. It's to determine the NEED. Lots of statistics are thrown out there...but the true test of what is and isn't fact, is how many people are utilizing the resources that are there.
It's exciting. At these four locations, we aren't defining success by mass pounds to mass quantities of people. We are measuring it by those we help to become more self-sufficient.
This is a game changer. We're not in it alone. We're going to have some great data. We're going to provide people with the right kind of help. We're going to move the needle on the things that have been out of control for so long.
If we serve more, it doesn't mean that we've failed. It just means we need to be all the more diligent and work all the more harder to help people get the help they need.
So far in the first quarter of 2013, we have served less people cumulatively than we did in the last quarter of 2012. This means that we're serving people BETTER and more effectively.
Tomorrow, we will talk about areas in our community that don't have a food pantry within a mile of them, and what we want to do to combat it. Wednesday, we will talk about our push for increasing access to HEALTHY food. Thursday, we will talk about our cooking classes that have completely revolutionized people's eating habits, and then Friday we will bring it home. Lots of changes. But they're all for the good...and all to create stories like we shared last week.
More to come. Stay tuned!
We had a volunteer come to us in the summer of 2012 needing to work off some community service hours. They were determined to turn their life around. A client themselves of Just Food, it was important that they work in an environment that they were familiar with. They reluctantly attended the first orientation and became a volunteer driver…picking up food and delivering food to Just Food clients and partners.
This incredible volunteer completed their community service hours and stuck around. They would come in each day early, and was generally the last one to leave. They often remarked that it was the least they could do, to give back to the place that so generously helped them in their most dire times of need. This person's friends marveled at how it was so unlike them to stick around in one place for too long…they knew something was happening that was unexplainable.
This person continued to volunteer each day. They began having conversations with Just Food staff members about what it would take for them to no longer be a client of Just Food. We made sure that our clients and volunteers knew this was our focus. It turns out, they didn’t need a large amount of money to be self-sufficient and not have to access services at the food pantry. They worked tirelessly despite these needs, often having to sell personal belongings to make ends meet. All of this changed in March of 2013.
It is the mission of Just Food to not only provide food to those low-income families who need it, but to figure out how to get them on their feet so they will no longer be in need of services. Through strategic partnerships Just Food formed, and as a result of a collaboration with Penn House, Ballard Center, and Salvation Army’s strengths based case management program, this faithful volunteer found a home with the Senior Community Service Employment Program. They could actually be paid to volunteer with Just Food utilizing money set aside by this federal program.
Today, this volunteer is a part of the Just Food team. They are paid every other week to volunteer at Just Food, by helping the same people that defined their previous situation. They often remark that Just Food changed their life. After all, it isn’t just food. This, now paid staff member, is a tireless worker who gives back everyday, so that all who need food can access it, and all who seek a better life may find it.
Why is this such a big deal? Because our focus changed, and the way we defined success changed, someone is not only self-sufficient, but they have a job, and their trajectory of their life is changed. This affects attitude, motivation, and desire. They feel alive for the first time in their lives and for one small, tiny moment, forget that they have a million reasons why they can't get out of poverty. And, despite all odds, with a little help from their friends, they climb out, and stay out.
We would have never cared enough to do this before...it was all about pounds and not about people. But now that we have changed, we will never go back.
I remember a very troubling day that happened this past year. I walked outside and saw that a few cans of green beans had been thrown out in the yard. We had also heard that food that we had distributed had either shown up in food drives we had (often, we don't have typical brands of food that can be purchased in this area), or we had heard they were being discarded of in the areas that we serve a lot of people.
I remember feeling enraged at that moment. We work our butts off. How can people throw food away that so many work to put out for people to take?
The last sentence is accurate, until the last word, take. When people came in, prior to January 1st, they received a pre-packaged box of food, containing the following items: green beans, corn, mixed vegetables, canned fruit, canned meat, mac and cheese, hamburger helper, peanut butter, jelly, canned pasta, spaghetti sauce, dry pasta, and a box of cereal. The mixed vegetables may be peas, or carrots. The fruit may have been peaches, laden with high fructose corn syrup, or juice. The cereal may have contained sugar, or perhaps it didn't.
I asked our team...what would you have felt if someone would have taken half the food out of their box and gave it back. I can't eat this. I'm diabetic, and can't have sugar. We would see them as being just as ungrateful. After all, beggars can't be choosers.
This toxic attitude has infiltrated social services. We save the worst for the least of these. We give out (there's just no better word for it) crappy food, dented cans, day old bread, processed food...and we wonder why the problem never gets any better.
We decided to take a little responsibility. We decided to not blame clients for taking food and disposing of it due to oversupply, preference, or dietary restrictions. We decided we had put them in a lose, lose situation. If they take it and don't use it, we blame them. If they give it back to us, we blame them.
So we started asking questions. We knew we weren't going to like the answers. A significant number of folks didn't use food they had received from a food pantry in a previous 30 day period. We had a focus group, and asked why.
"I get the same food from every food pantry. I have enough of that (peanut butter, green beans, corn, hamburger helper, dry pasta, macaroni and cheese)."
"I have to give some to my neighbors, because there's no way I could use everything that I get."
These were sobering days. So, we began to plan to do something differently.
We asked our clients how much food they would need in order to survive. An overwhelming majority told us a week. This reflects our numbers, as the last week of the month is the most busy.
We worked with local nutritionists from KSU Research and Extension to have a list of a weeks worth of grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, combination foods (boxed or canned dinners), baking/fats/sugars, dairy and choice products.
Each client when they come in only gets the food that they choose. We try to buy low-sodium vegetables, and lower (or soaked in their own juices) fruit. We don't spend anymore money on hamburger helper, macaroni and cheese or canned pasta. We'd rather teach people how to make something even better for them that's way cheaper (more on this the day after tomorrow).
We have seen our numbers in January be the highest they ever were. February they dropped. March, they were up again. April so far, they've stayed down. Why is this important? Because in the previous 12 months in 2012, every month was larger than the last one.
Maybe because we're giving people what they NEED instead of what we think they WANT, they're coming even less. This has huge implications.
Our commitment is to provide access to healthy food, that clients choose, so that they may have an opportunity for a better life. We want to end hunger and feed the future. This isn't the same food bank that it's always been. We want results. We want to improve the quality of people's lives.
We have redefined our success. It used to be that we would celebrate large numbers of people served significant amounts of food. Those were our metrics for success. It was a race to the top. Bigger is better, right? Not in this industry. Bigger only means that you aren't doing anything to solve the problem.
Tomorrow, we share a personal story of someone's life who has been transformed by our renewed focus on redefining our success. Their arresting story will show you why this matters so much to us....because this is one of many.
Until then, my friends. Be well. And do good.
There has been a lot that has been said about the health of our nation. I don't know if you've ever stopped to think of how cyclical poverty and how difficult it is for someone to break out of it.
Specifically though, food insecurity is one of the worst issues that someone deals with in their lives. It's not just because it is terrible to be hungry and without food. It's because it affects so many other things that many folks don't think about.
Say you have a young mother who becomes pregnant with a child. If the mother is not receiving proper nourishment, neither is her child. Before the child is even born, its destiny is already being set forth: higher mortality rates, slowed development physically and psychologically, and poor overall health.
The child grows up. I will never forget the mother who came to Just Food with three children, ages 9, 5 and 6 months. She had $14 left on her vision card, and walked into the store to buy formula for her 6 month old, or food for her other two kids and her. She chose to purchase macaroni and cheese, cut it up into small bites, so her 6 month old could eat too.
If a child is not receiving the proper nourishment during their first few years of existence, the likelihood of them living a healthy life is significantly diminished.
The child grows up eating processed foods, becomes overweight (all the while being hungry). Overweight kids (as much as we'd like to not admit it) get made fun of in school. Our wonderful teachers and administrators do all they can to ensure this doesn't happen but it does. A child dreams of being a doctor, but doesn't realize by the time they turn 18, their destiny of being in poverty for the rest of their lives will likely already be set forth for them.
The child starts underperforming in school. They hate school. They don't want to go where they don't fit in. Their eating habits continue, because as mom is working two jobs, all they can make in elementary school is ramen noodles, mac and cheese, and spaghetti o's.
They become fatter. Less engaged. Desperate.
They come to middle and high school with a chip on their shoulder. They try harder to fit in with little luck. No one understands them. They become angry. They start misbehaving. They're put in with the rest of the "misfits" in suspension. And although no one will say it, everyone knows where their future is heading.
They have to find some way to cope. Life hasn't turned out like they thought it was going to. So, they turn to drugs, and alcohol. They keep eating foods that they've always eaten.
The likelihood of them graduating high school is significantly diminished. Socially, they don't fit in. Emotionally, they aren't connected. Physically, they are unmotivated and lazy. Intellectually, they're challenged...not because they don't have potential, or that people haven't seen it, but their brains didn't get the same nourishment that yours did when your mom was pregnant with you.
This kid is constantly battling health issues...compounding because their body has never had what it has needed to thrive.
If they don't graduate from high school, or perhaps they just barely squeak by, they likely won't have the where-with-all to go to college. A lack of a college degree in our culture means that they won't hold a job with good wages, or even health insurance.
Pretty soon, looking back, they are following right in the footsteps of their parents. They look for love in all the wrong places. A mother finds herself in the same position that her mother was...now pregnant with a child. Destined to grow up the same way she did.
The mother continues to work one job, then two, and maybe even three, while raising her children. She's still not healthy. She's overweight. People think she's just lazy and stupid. But she's doing the best with what she has.
She becomes older, brittle bones, heart disease, diabetes...years of malnutrition will do this to you. It takes its toll on your body. If you don't believe me, try living off of macaroni and cheese for a week. You'll find yourself to be lethargic, unmotivated and irritable.
This lady costs the healthcare system thousands and thousands of dollars every year. Not because she doesn't have access to medicine, but because she didn't have the right access to nutritious food that she needed all throughout her life. It's certainly not the only factor...but it's a big one.
She's been in the system her whole life. Now her kids are in the same place with kids of their own. Poverty wins. And time, after time, after time, after time, we see this song stuck on repeat until we finally get tired enough to want to break this CD and start playing a new one. We may not know what tune we want to hear, we just know we want something different.
This story is one of the many stories of people we see each and everyday. It's why we want to get healthy food in the hands of mothers just like this...so their child doesn't grow up without a chance to be successful. It shouldn't be fate, or happenstance, or a lucky break that dictates the haves versus the have-nots.
I hope this grieves you. I hope this keeps you from ever looking at this the same. I hope it keeps you up tonight. I hope this instills the same sense of mission in you as it has me. And I hope you will make it your mission to join us in the everyday fight that battles food insecurity and malnutrition at every turn, in the hopes that together, we can improve the life, potential and health of people right here in our community.
Tomorrow, we enter the home stretch. We get strategic. We talk about what we have done and are doing to curb this issue. I hope you will stay tuned, once again, for the rest of the story.
When federal funding started to get taken away from programs aimed at helping people become free of the chains of poverty, and the burden shifted to having non profits and charities take care of people and the needs that they had, no one could have imagined that the problem would get as out of hand as it has.
In 1980 in the US, there were less than a million hungry people. There were 226 million people in the US at that time. That means that 0.4% of our country didn't know where their next meal was coming from. And all of this with only 200 food banks. Nationally.
Today, there are more than 50 million hungry people. There are 314 million people in the US. This means that 16% of our country doesn't know where their next meal is coming from...and all of this with more than 40,000 food banks across the nation.
A 99.5% increase in the number of food banks yielded a 98% increase in the number of food insecure people. There is no one that should read that and be okay with that.
I understand that there are many factors that go into these increases. Our national and state economies, local policies, cost of food, number of jobs, etc. But, I can tell you there aren't many hungry people tonight that are wondering why they don't have food...they just know that they don't have food.
At some point, it will take someone to stop shirking responsibility and blaming others and accept the burden that it is US that let it happen, and only US that can fix it.
Our local food distribution system is simple: give food to people who need it. The systemic structure of this food distribution system was born out of panic. Millions more in need. Thousands of new food banks. Resources had to be streamlined as fast as possible to the masses. We started providing only what we could in the beginning...the essentials. Green beans. Corn. Fruit. Peanut Butter. Jelly. Canned Pasta. Mac and Cheese. Hamburger Helper. The more people came, the more we provided these food items. We had to. They were the cheapest. They were the easiest to get. They were simple for people to buy, because they were always on sale, on nearly every endcap and so we began mass distribution of food that slowly started to turn the tide of our national health. By solving one problem, we created another. It was only a mere illusion that we were being solvent, however, but our methods of determining success were also wrong.
Hunger, meet your ugly cousin malnourishment. Mass processed food distribution, meet your new friend obesity.
We never meant to do this. We had good intentions. The problem just got so large, so fast, that we couldn't help it.
Earlier last year, in 2012, Just Food began to understand some of these challenges. After hearing many of our clients couldn't eat the food that we were giving them, due to the fact they were oversupplied, had dietary restrictions, or didn't know how to prepare it properly, we began asking questions. We found that our clients were eager to give answers. Isn't it funny that we spend most of our time assuming we know the answers, and then wondering where we went wrong?
I remember the campaign we were ready to launch called "pick peanut butter." Our food acquisition committee had worked so hard on coming up with a campaign to help us get the thing that was the most expensive and difficult for us to get our hands on. Then, we found out that people didn't need peanut butter.
I remember the conversation I had with the elderly lady who told me she had about 40 jars of peanut butter in her pantry. "Every pantry I go to in town gives me peanut butter," she said.
My heart sank.
It became very clear to me that food banks across the United States, were, for lack of a better way to put it, perpetuating their own existence. By making assumptions, and not ever asking the ever-so-important million dollar question...
If what we're doing is important, why is the problem getting progressively worse? To bring it home:
In 1980 in Douglas County, 9,000 people were in poverty (https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/census/1960/1980-Census-by-County.xls)
Today, more than 26,000 people are in poverty in Douglas County (http://www.city-data.com/county/Douglas_County-KS.html)
The number of those who are hungry continues to get worse and worse. Agencies continue to grow larger and larger, with more staff, more resources, larger buildings, bigger vehicles, and more need. But to what end?
We wrestled with this question, and completely changed the course that our work was heading towards. We scrapped our way of doing things. And we started over.
Join us tomorrow for the rest of the story.
In 1964 Lyndon Baines Johnson persuaded Congress to pass the Anti-Poverty Act. Johnson stated that it was the first step in his war on poverty. The overall strategy was to help people to "climb out of poverty and stay out". The act provided $947.5 million dollars for job training centres, loans to poor students and low-income farmers, and basic education programs.
The Johnson administration pushed through an unprecedented amount of antipoverty legislation. The Economic Opportunity Act (1964) provided the basis for the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Upward Bound, Head Start, Legal Services, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Community Action Program (CAP), the college Work-Study program, Neighborhood Development Centers, small business loan programs, rural programs, migrant worker programs, remedial education projects, local health care centers, and others. The antipoverty effort, however, did not stop there. It encompassed a range of Great Society legislation far broader than the Economic Opportunity Act alone. Other important measures with antipoverty functions included an $11 billion tax cut (Revenue Act of 1964), the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Food Stamp Act (1964), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), the Higher Education Act (1965), the Social Security amendments creating Medicare/Medicaid (1965), the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (1965), the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Model Cities Act (1966), the Fair Housing Act (1968), several job-training programs, and various Urban Renewal-related projects.
By the year 1980, the number of hungry individuals was reduced to less than 1 million in the United States. Ronald Reagan came along, passed unprecedented tax cuts, and needed to find "fat" to trim around the federal budget. Money started to be taken away from the programs that were serving the poorest of the poor. The idea was that charities and church organizations could more effectively take care of people than the government could, and by doing that, our economy would be able to recover better, and government could get smaller.
The burden to feed people began to be taken off of government programs, such as food stamps, WIC, and school breakfast and lunch programs, and began to be put on local charities.
Let me stop here and say that I understand both sides. I get that it's more ideal that the private and nonprofit sector fund programs to help people. I understand that population grows, we have to protect our country and our national economy must be taken into consideration.
But 1 in 6 go hungry in our community. 1 in 6. 1 in 2 kids will at some point in their lives right here in Lawrence, Kansas will receive food assistance. 1 in 2. In our country, the number that was less than a million in 1979 has grown today to over 50 million people. In just 33 short years, the number of hungry people has increased by more than a million people per year.
We don't have a food problem It isn't because there isn't enough food. It isn't because we aren't doing a good job. It isn't because there are not millions of community dollars across this community leveraged to take care of these issues. It's because we're going into a gun fight with a butter knife.
Symptoms Most non profits must treat symptoms, rather than the root of the issues. There's nothing else you can do when you're so busy trying to stay open with just keeping basic necessities on the shelves...the programs that aim to move people to "climb out of poverty and stay out" can't be done, because there's such a large number of people in need. It was never meant to be that way.
The solution is not an isolation of responsibility to one group or another, but a collaborative partnership between government, private and non profit sectors.
Regardless of which side of the political fence you find yourself on, and what responsibility you think the varying players have in this story...ask yourself two questions.
- Is what we are doing working? I think most could agree that it is not.
- Are we okay with this many people (and growing) going hungry in our community? No one is. Period.
"...what you're doing isn't just food."
A senior citizen client of ours wrote that in an email to me a few weeks ago. I couldn't agree more.
Tomorrow, we're going to look at what it is that we are doing to combat this issue. We aren't just distributing food. We aren't just focusing on volume and pounds. We want people to be reminded of the hope that we had in the 1960's that they can "climb out of poverty and stay out," with a little help from their friends. Stay tuned. Your part in the story awaits.
I remember being at a meeting when I first moved back to Lawrence. I was extremely green behind the ears as it related to a community that I was becoming acquainted with again. All was well until I heard someone say...
"WE DON'T HAVE HUNGRY PEOPLE IN LAWRENCE...EVERYONE'S TOO FAT."
We live in a community that is stuffed...and starved. In a recent survey of Just Food clients, when asked what their health was in general:
43% of respondents said "fair" 37% said "good" 8% said "poor"
People don't die from hunger in Lawrence, and because of that, it doesn't feel like it is that big of a deal. But it's not hunger that is going to kill our community, and for the first time, leave a generation that will live sicker and die younger than the previous one.
People aren't dying...but their overall health is. It's possible to be stuffed...and starved. There is a significant amount of research that points to the fact that if children in their formative years are not getting adequate nutrition in their diets, and processed and fast food abound, they will have cognitive deficiencies. Social anxieties. They will be obese. They won't graduate from high school, won't get a job with health insurance, and because their body lacks nutrition, they'll be sick more often than not.
Many of our clients are living off of a diet that consists of food that cause weight gain without nourishing the body. It seems like a paradox...how can food cause you to gain weight without giving you what you need?
We have let it happen. We have made our model one of feeding the masses instead of taking care of the person. It's all wrong.
Join me this week and next as I tell a story. It's a story that starts with a focus on the things that matter the most. It's a focus on stories of people, not all over the world, but across the street, that are struggling with this epidemic of being food insecure. Then, I'll tell you what Just Food, the Douglas County Food Bank is doing about it.
"Just Food has enabled me to change the way my family eats. It's not just a food pantry. It's a cadillac food pantry." -A single mother, 40, with three kids
I can't think of a better compliment. And I can't wait to share more of this story.
"....When I was not able to eat fresh produce, I felt like I was dead like the food in a can. Eating from a can is not fun. The food was not tasty. I lost my taste buds and forgot how to cook and my sense of creativity because most of them I get from food pantries are already processed and don't need to add variable things before it goes to the table. The more I ate food from food banks, the deeper my craving toward other things. I started consuming more sweets and snacks whenever it was available." -A Just Food Client
It is one of the comments I heard from a client. Most of the clients we see everyday do not look happy. The situation pushed them to knock our door itself is not pleasant for them and sometimes it needs courage to ask a stranger a favor. Even though it is hard for them to ask food for us they show us gratitude when they get food without charge....what if we have to stick with the same food everyday for months and years? Does it fulfill our soul and body?
We see some clients grabbing things desperately as if there is no more tomorrow. It made us wonder how we can help them to feel safe enough to take little at a time? We don't have everything a store has, but surely there is new or different inventory which comes tomorrow. How can we make it sure for them?
Looking back, we packed the same food items in a bag or a box and distributed them monthly according to the household size of our clients hoping it would release their crisis. But, we found out that the food we served was not different from what our clients were receiving from everywhere else.
An advocacy group tried to live with the food from Just Food. As it turned out, it was really hard for most of them, except a chef who lived all his/her life facing and wondering how to make delicious and nutritious food without much cost.
Starting 2013, we adopted a system called a 'choice based system' to help our clients choose what they want to take home from the shelves we set our in our location. How does it work? The details to be continued another time soon.
Kyung Hwang, Just Food Volunteer
I really wrestled with the title of this post, because I didn't want it to be all that people read and then moved on with their lives without wanting to explore why I would say that. Conversely, I didn't want people to not read what I had to say just by the fact that there wasn't a provocative title. I don't think I have anything particularly profound to say, other than this has been what has kept me moving and stirring for the last six months. I began to ask a question that all of us at some point in time in our careers should ask: what the heck am I doing?
The need in our community is ever-increasing. And so is our desire to meet whatever needs there are. We need more so we can do more. But think about this. Year after year, you hear of food banks needing more resources, bigger facilities, more trucks, and additional staff. And you give selflessly to that cause, because people eating is important, right? And year after year, the number of hungry people increases, poverty rates rise, and the problem gets progressively worse. Go back and re-read that. We need more and more stuff to do more and more things for a problem that never gets better. I don't view more food distributed as any sort of legacy of success, but as a telling example of our failure to stop this problem from getting even more out of hand.
I don't know about you, but that really bothers me. It's kept me up at night. It's bothered me so much that in January, we are completely changing how we do business here at Just Food. How we've been is not how we will be any longer.
I was once told that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We will no longer be insane. We are going to start over, from the ground up. This means many changes for our clients, and many changes for those that invest in our program. We no longer want to put a small bandaid on a very large problem. We want to be solvent. We want to shrink. We want to eventually go out of business, the right way. Truthfully, I want to be unemployed in five years. How's that for a five year plan?
I recently told a group of financial investors that if the return on investment with something they were offering was as low as what I can offer, they'd go out of business in a hurry. I don't want people to give us resources so we can do more good work. I want people to give us resources because they are investing in a collective community impact.
I will be rolling out over the next few days what that collective community impact is with Just Food beginning in 2013. The time for us needing more just so we can do more is over. We will work harder and smarter with what you give us to help those who want a better life find it and those who are hungry to receive nourishment.
We're going to do more with your investments in 2013 than you ever thought possible. And I absolutely cannot wait to tell you why.