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.
Just Food recently graduated twenty four students from its initial food cooking class. Another beginners class has just begun with sixteen enrolled and an intermediary class is scheduled in the spring. Hopefully, scholarships will eventually be made available to those who would like to pursue a career in the food industry. Better nutrition and improved diets through cooking education and paths to careers and self sufficiency are goals Just Food has adopted to do more than hand out food on a monthly cycle.
The classes are available through a grant of $25,000 to Just Food from the Kansas Health Foundation. The funds have been used to purchase reusable cooking stations and pots and pans that are given to cooking class participants at the conclusion of their class. Just Food has been fortunate to have Chef Rick Martin develop the class recipes. Chef Martin has taken items normally found on our shelves and mixed them with inexpensive fresh vegetables and herbs and developed tasty recipes one participant claimed made them feel like they were eating rich peoples food.
Call it what you like. We call it improving peoples lives. Just Food has been fortunate to have gained financial contributions and public support over the last several years. Hopefully those of you who support our efforts will be pleased with our mission and encourage others to help us in any way they can.
Up Next: Just Food hopes to explore the possibility of our own fresh vegetables and herbs through pallet and raised bed gardening.
"....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
Many agencies came to a United Way meeting at some point last year, not knowing what to expect. We were told that things were changing, and that community impact in the "self sufficiency" goal was going to be the way forward.
TIMEOUT. I know from many people that I've talked to that the United Way (both nationally & locally), Erika Dvorske & their board has caught a bad rap for these changes. Regardless of how you feel about United Way, please hear me out for a moment, because I used to be extremely skeptical of United Way's in general. One of the first things I did when I moved to Lawrence was sit down with Erika and have quite a long conversation with her (it was more than 90 minutes, if I recall). I did all the research I could about the efficiency of our United Way, before I committed our organization to be a community partner of theirs. I was then, and still am now, impressed by their initiative and desire to see systematic changes in how services are delivered. Throwing money at problems do not make them go away. I know some of our locally favorite charities are getting funded differently, but let me assure you, everyone is being more efficient with the dollars that are being donated. This process, as I understand it (community impact), wasn't to inhibit an agency's ability to serve clients, but to empower them to do more, together. And to actually help make a difference long term, instead of sitting around and blaming the government, or the economy. At some point, we have to stop blaming everyone else and start taking some responsibility for what's happening in our world. Erika, her staff & her board have done an incredible job through a difficult transition...but I can promise you this. In five years when things are better and our economy is worse...the same folks that are speaking ill of these changes will be the same ones singing their praises.
GAME ON. Fast forward to early last fall. The entire self-sufficiency goal had a meeting and we were told that we needed to bring what we needed and were requesting from United Way to the next meeting. Self-Sufficiency is broken down into three different things: gainful employment, emergency services & affordable housing. We broke out into those subgroups at the next meeting, and I listened as myself, Kyle Roggenkamp from Ballard Center, and Lieutenant Matthew McCluer from the Salvation Army all asked for money to feed people in our community. It was a significant amount of money. To feed the same people.
TIMEOUT. In years past, if we would have been funded for those amounts, we would be using community dollars to do the same thing. Not a jab on any agency, or United Way for how things used to be, but it's not efficient. And it's not sustainable. The need is increasing. Resources are decreasing. The same story would be prevalent every year. Help us do more with less. No one ever bothered to wonder if there was a better way. We were just simply doing things the same way we always did and would always wonder why things didn't get better.
GAME ON. Kyle, Matt and I had this awkward moment, as we were around the table with several other folks from our community, who weren't requesting money for duplicative work, that we just knew that no matter how great we thought our programs were, we had a few choices: work together or selfishly go for the most money at whatever cost. Thankfully, these guys are wonderful. The clients they serve are more important than protecting "the way things have always been" at their organizations. They came to the table willing to talk, work together, and what has come out of those conversations has been something that, in my opinion, is unprecedented collaboration with community partners working together to have an indelible impact on the lives of clients. In conversations since then, we have worked through details, and taken an enormous amount of time and care to make sure that when our clients come in and want a better life, our silo doesn't just hand them a box of food and send them on their merry way.
I'll talk about more tomorrow the great things that are happening that you've hopefully heard about. You'll also hopefully hear their perspectives too, because I've invited them to write on the Just Food blog what this collective impact will have for all of our clients, and what it has meant to them personally.
My apologies for the long break in writing! With Christmas, and the New Year, and all of the exciting changes happening, this has unfortunately taken a back seat.
I remember one of my first meetings where I was sitting in a room with many agencies in Douglas County. I had been back in Lawrence for just a few months. And someone made a comment that I wholeheartedly disagreed with. They said,
"Why, every agency in Lawrence works well together, and there's no competition at all."
I bit my tongue so hard it almost bled. Those that know me know that I don't bite my tongue often, but I gave it a shot to see perhaps if there was something I was missing.
By nature, every agency has to be selfish. Our livelihoods are at stake, right? If we don't protect what we have and guard our mission closely, then maybe one day we will be deemed irrelevant and have to close.
If you didn't catch it, the statement I just made is HEAVILY toxic. And one that I wholeheartedly don't believe in. Why? Because this isn't about protecting an agency. No matter how much good an agency does, if there's someone else that is doing it better, and more cost-effectively, then by all means all power should be put behind that agency to focus on that.
Agencies in Lawrence have had to become all things to all people. There wasn't much here 20 years ago. So, agencies whose primary mission wasn't food, had to give food out, because no one else was doing it.
So, we have a ton of agencies in Lawrence doing a ton of good work, and much of it is not happening symbiotically. And the only reason it's not happening symbiotically is because people haven't sat down at the same table, willing to lose everything for the good of those that are investing, and those that they are serving.
I realize what I just wrote could be hard for many to digest. It's hard for me to digest. But, are we focusing on those that we serve and making things better for them? Or simply sustaining our organizations because they've always existed?
Three agencies came to the table willing to lose it all, to gain better service to clients, and selflessly made decisions that will forever alter the way that food distribution is done in Douglas County. We pickup there tomorrow.
We have asked a lot of our clients recently. We have asked them to give us something that they have plenty of, and that is free to give: an opinion. We've invited them to be blatantly honest with them about their struggles, needs, challenges & opportunities as they relate to food insecurity.
Shockingly (hopefully you can sense my sarcasm here), we have found that 100% of our clients didn't imagine themselves in the position that they're in. While everyone was dreaming of being a firefighter, astronaut, cop, physicist, lawyer or doctor, no one was dreaming of being poor. But somewhere between our pre-K years and the time we are legally recognized as an adult, many factors come into play that often relegate us to the same path that many before us are on: poverty. Poverty is generational. It's hard to break. Sure, sometimes it's because people made bad choices. But mainly it's because people don't know how to get out.
Food insecurity is a symptom of a greater issue. Giving out food won't fix it. More pounds distributed this year won't help it. We have to begin to attack the cause of these issues, and not just the symptoms.
So, we have clients coming to us who almost unanimously say, "I want to do better." Shame on us if all we do is put a box of food in their hand when the last thing they want is a box of food. They want a better life.
Our first focal point starts on: the need.
We started talking about what would help our folks have a better life. Wouldn't you know it - most of the time when we started asking that question, no one that was around was anyone who could have answered the question. We started asking our clients. We were shocked and amazed at the results.
So, we're starting over. We're demolishing what was and, from the very ground up, beginning again. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won't. But at least we won't have sat back another year and been averse to change, while the problem has gotten progressively worse. Just Food will look different from an operations perspective. But I can tell you this: we will be more solvent than we have ever been before. Why? Because we're no longer focused on a symptom.
There are so many numbers about how large the need is in our community, but we really don't know how large the need is. I am not into wasting resources or the investments of people's hard earned money to meet a need that we know exists, but we're not sure to what extent. We want to answer questions that people are asking, and not spend time providing solutions to things that people have already solved. This is where our quest for change began, and where we will pick up with tomorrow.
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.
One of our volunteers remarked Monday morning during our drive through mobile food pantry Thanksgiving distribution that she was blown away by the number of clients who she registered that were organ donors. Why? Many because they have nothing else to give, and if they can give their lives, that's enough.
I can't tell you the stories that keep us going during this week. I clear my calendar and I'm in the thick of it with our volunteers and staff, and we're cheering each other on. We're tired. Running on fumes. And it's stuff likes this that makes it worth it.
One of our senior volunteers was in Walmart with his wife last night, and was wearing his Just Food t-shirt. I will say this is one of our gruffest volunteers. He has a heart of gold, but I've never seen the dude cry. Last night, in Walmart, someone came up to him and said without him, they wouldn't have a Thanksgiving meal this week. He broke down. He broke down this morning telling the story. He said, "no matter how tired I get, I will never forget that moment."
Other times, when it seems like we're super busy, the right person will come along.
Like the lady who said that she got up this morning because she knew she was coming to see her "family" at Just Food, and that she was going to have food to eat. She said we were the reason to get up this morning. That was an incredible moment.
Someone else brought their box back in today because someone within our social media network had invited them for dinner. They said, "I can give back because someone gave back to me." Profound words.
I can't say how many people have thanked us. How many kids have had tears in their eyes. How many single parents have said that without this, they'd be looking at an empty table on Thanksgiving.
When you can have that sort of impact on families to the point...wow. Just wow.
By the time it's all said and done, we will have distributed food to approximately 900 families for Thanksgiving, another 300 families who have come in for our food pantry program, 200 families coming for commodities, and another 800 families have come in for bread and produce this week. Two thousand two hundred families. In three days.
I don't know if you've ever seen the intake and outake of food, but it doesn't last incredibly long. We knew that we were going to be rushed with people, and so we ordered more food. Our warehouse was full near the end of last week. And it's nearly empty tonight. I can't count the number of times I heard people remark, "I thought the food would last longer than this."
The shelf life on food here at Just Food is less than 4 business hours. That is, everything that is on the shelf will disappear within a 4 hour timespan. Stop and think about that for a moment. We don't order the volume that a local grocery store does, but we will get in 30-40 cases in per week of the staples. That's around 800 cans of something that in a week is gone.
Bread and produce don't stick around here very long. We have fresh bread and produce that comes in daily from local grocery stores, and from local farmers. If I could put a gps tracker on this food, people would be blown away how fast it leaves our shelves. We had 1,000 pounds of turnips brought in Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. They were gone by 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. 1,000 pounds of turnips. It's mind boggling.
As much as we tell these stories, sometimes you just have to see with your own two eyes. It truly is amazing.
Happy Wednesday afternoon to you. We have survived the rush, and lucidity is slowly returning. The home stretch is on the horizon. I liken this moment to the hours leading up to the sunrise. You know it's going to be absolutely beautiful, but it's not quite up yet!
Most people don't know that Just Food has two full time staff. Two. That's it. We rely heavily on the generosity of volunteers in order to do what we do. It's pretty remarkable if you think about it. This week, we've had a multitude of people come in and give time: KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ProtectionOne (here last week), our board members, our regular volunteers, and various people across the community that have made it possible for us to do what we do. They're working just as hard as the paid staff is, and not getting paid at all.
I have seen our team step up and become more familial than it ever has before. We have jelled another level this Thanksgiving season. We're stronger than we were just a few days ago...because people know how important they are to our success. And they know that without them, we can't be successful. To the volunteers who have given so selflessly, thank you. To quote a famous songwriter and the profound, life-changing lyric...our life would suck without you.
Part of our mission statement is to be an INNOVATIVE leader in fighting hunger in our community. Innovative means to show new methods or ideas. Last year, we heard from many clients that they didn't have the resources (stove, proper utensils, etc.) to cook their own Thanksgiving meal, or they didn't know how to. So, we had a conversation with Jeff Frye from Mister Bacon BBQ and he stepped up to the plate.
Jeff's food is incredible. Some of the best BBQ I've ever had, and I consider myself to be a BBQ snob. That's saying something.
Jeff approached me a few months ago, and told me that his business wanted to donate all of the tips they were given at their pop up BBQ's to Just Food. It's very backwards for a business to approach you first, and I admire people that are innovative in their own rights to be able to help out whenever they're needed.
Not only did Jeff offer to smoke turkeys and chickens, but while he was smoking those turkeys and chickens, he's going to have some triple chocolate bacon brownies and have folks come, smell the food that's cooking and donate some tips to Just Food. This is going down TODAY at his shop at 9th and Illinois. So, if you're do nothing else, you need to go tell some heroes thank you for being just that.
WARNING: If I were smart, I'd have started these dear diary letters before Wednesday morning. If there are typos, if things don't make sense, I sincerely apologize! I'm hopped up on Amoxicilin and NyQuil (I always get sick this time of the year), and we're all running on just a few hours sleep.
I'd be lying if I didn't say that I have a love/hate relationship with this week. I love the rush, adrenaline, and the sheer madness that is Thanksgiving week. I love seeing people mobilize and work their tails off to feed thousands of people. But it's long hours. Extremely long hours. By the time 8pm on Wednesday rolls around, it will be like zombies walking around our facility. Three days. More than 40 hours put in by a ton of volunteers and team.
But this is a way to share some of the things that are happening with you that have kept us sane. To say this somewhat resembles the funny farm is the understatement of the century. I try to make it a point to know people. I have mistaken clients for volunteers, volunteers for clients, and even a construction worker behind our building...I told him to come load a box onto a truck.
We signed up more than 900 families for Thanksgiving. Nine hundred families to distribute in a three day span on top of a very busy food pantry, this time of the year. We signed up 150 more families than last year. That in and of itself is not entirely surprising. And 150 more Thanksgiving boxes doesn't seem like that much...but we changed EVERYTHING from last year.
I'm not quite sure when our current standard operating procedures began for Thanksgiving, but we assumed people wanted some kind of meat, a few vegetables and some sort of grain. But we never bothered to ask clients what they wanted. This year, that changed. We asked clients what they wanted. We gave everyone a choice on their meat, vegetable, grain, and even dessert. While we haven't been able to accomodate everyone, it's definitely a step in the right direction. We also partnered with the Ballard Center to bring this choice option to their clients as well. It's pretty unprecedented. And very awesome.
So, amidst turkeys, chickens and hams flying in (and out), there have been several stories that we just couldn't not share. Those stories, we will share between now and Thanksgiving in Just Food's 24 hours of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving isn't the only time that families in our community need help to get nutritious meals. At Just Food, food through our food pantry and partner agencies is provided all year to those that need it. At Thanksgiving, we want to give opportunities for families to enjoy a meal and have some sense of normalcy, despite a life of in which the other months out of the year is often empty and frustrating.
We currently have 900 families who have a need to receive a Thanksgiving meal. We have empowered our clients this year to make choices in what they want for their meal. For each client who receives food from us for Thanksgiving, they will be more likely to get a job, be motivated to contribute to their community and do better in school. There are intangible impacts that we cannot afford to miss out on making in each family’s life.
All donations we receive during the month of November will go towards our Thanksgiving boxes. We want to be able to provide a meal for each family that has indicated that they have a need. Your help is absolutely essential!
We recently had a young mother come in who is working three jobs just to provide for her children, ages 9, 5 and 1. Her jobs allow her to put a roof over her children’s heads and barely pay the bills. She doesn’t have enough money for a Thanksgiving meal. Because of your generosity, she’ll be able to make a meal for her family.
Please consider making your tax-deductible donation to Just Food today. You may donate:
1: Online at www.justfoodfund.org, or
2: Text justfood to 80888 to make a $10 donation, or
3: Mail in your donation to Just Food, 1000 E. 11th Street, Lawrence, KS 66046.
We couldn’t do what we do without you, and we can’t wait to share the stories of those that are helped because of your gift.
A few months ago, our program committee led by former State Legislator Forrest Swall, who is also a retired professor at the KU School of Social Welfare, came up with an idea of doing a candidate tour & reception for candidates to learn more about the Just Food program and what it is doing in Douglas County to fight hunger. Forrest told me on a few occasions that as a candidate, people always want to hear from you, but he felt it was appropriate with all of the things going on, that these candidates need to hear from us about what was happening here.
Our incredible program committee began to meet and come up with an outline for the evening. We were going to invite candidates here and give them a tour of our facilities, feed them some finger foods, and educate them about what the needs are and what we're doing to meet them.
One of the things Just Food has tried to do since the beginning is to be a voice for people who haven't figured out how to use theirs yet. A component we felt was missing were the clients.
If you look around at the next candidate forum, or presidential election on TV, there aren't low-income individuals there. They are rarely at the table. They won't come unless they're invited, and they won't participate if they don't feel comfortable. It's tragic that we have conversations about how to help those folks get on their feet when life has KO'd them, and they were the people we passed on the way to these forums saying, "goodness, I hope someone helps them."
We started dreaming of a forum where clients were able to come and participate. But we didn't want to lose the integrity of educating our elected officials, and those running for office about what Just Food was doing.
So, we invited candidates last Thursday, October 11 at 6:00 p.m. for a private tour and a Q&A session and education session about Just Food. While the candidates were learning about Just Food, a huge group of clients began to gather outside, and the League of Women Voters were getting people registered to vote. We wanted clients to have their voices back. We wanted this conversation to be on their turf. A place they felt safe and comfortable with.
Our candidates and elected officials were great. They came out on a night where many were busy going door to door, to have a conversation with low-income clients of Just Food. I admire the heck out of them for that. (I'll give a list below of who came). They engaged. Asked questions. And said if we ever needed anything to let them know. I told them I'll be calling them soon.
At 6:55 p.m., we opened the doors and the clients flooded in. Our lobby filled up. And when the elected officials came back from from their tour of the warehouse, clients were sitting in the lobby eagerly awaiting this event to start.
As you can see from the pictures, we wanted to make it informal. No tables in between candidates and clients. No lectern. We were all in one room, looking for answers together.
We asked each candidate for three minutes to answer the following question: as a low income individual, who is un(der) employed, un(der) insured, and working my tail off to get back on my feet, what are you going to do to help me if I put you in office?
The responses and the engagement that happened were incredible. Our clients felt safe enough to ask tough questions. They expressed appreciation. They expressed frustration. And at the end of the night, they were registered to vote, and their voice was heard.
This might have been one of the top five moments in my time at Just Food. Giving people a voice in a conversation where they don't normally have one is of the utmost importance to our mission as an organization. I am so grateful to our program committee, and especially our lead team of Forrest Swall, Lisa Harrod and Jim Baze.
Candidates and elected officials who showed up (we invited those not running as well) were:
Patrick Bengtson, Ron Ellis, Senator Marci Francisco, Frank Male, County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, Senator Tom Holland, Representative Anthony Brown, Representative Paul Davis, John Wilson, District Attorney Charles Branson, County Commissioner Mike Gaughan and City Commissioner Mike Amyx. Unfortunately, the other candidates had other events planned for the evening and were unable to attend. But we are eternally grateful to those who came.
As a reminder, Just Food will be partnering with KU Athletics for Late Night in the Phog 2012. Barrels are set out all around Allen Fieldhouse for those who wish to donate to drop non-perishable food donations into. If you're not able to bring a can of food, text justfood to 80888 to make a $10 donation, or go to www.justfoodfund.org to donate.
We are grateful for our partnership with KU Athletics, and all that they have done to make this a successful event. Last year, we raised just over 2,000 pounds of food. Jayhawk fans, let's see if we can get it to 5,000 this year!
An announcement will be made at Late Night with the total number of meals provided. Together, we can fight hunger in Douglas County!
LAWRENCE, Kan. - The University of Kansas men’s and women’s basketball teams will celebrate the beginning of the 2012-13 season at the 28th annual Late Night in the Phog Friday, Oct. 12, in Allen Fieldhouse.
The 2012 Late Night in the Phog, presented by Hy-Vee, will run from 6:30 p.m. to approximately 9:30 p.m. Admission is free; doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Children 12 and under will not be admitted without an adult, and the Fieldhouse doors will be closed when the arena reaches capacity.
With school in session, all university parking lots will be by restricted by permit only until 4:30 p.m. Public parking prior to 4:30 p.m. is available in the parking garage just north of Allen Fieldhouse with a $1.50 per hour rate.
As is tradition at Late Night, fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items, which Kansas Athletics will donate to “Just Food” of Douglas County.
For the sixth-straight year, Metro Sports of Kansas City will air Late Night as part of its Midnight Madness show. KU television hosts will be Nate Bukaty and former Jayhawk guard Greg Gurley. ESPNU’s Sean Farnham will be at Late Night providing live cut-ins for ESPNU’s Midnight Madness programming, which will run from 8 p.m. until midnight (Central) featuring 11 schools throughout the telecast. Additionally, KLWN Radio in Lawrence will provide coverage with Sean Levine and former KU great Bud Stallworth calling the festivities.
The event will feature music by the KU pep band, skits by both basketball teams, video highlights from KU’s award-winning Rock Chalk Video department, coach and player introductions, scrimmages by the KU men’s and women’s teams, and much more.
Requests for Sign Language Interpreting during Late Night festivities should be directed to Kim Bates at firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests must be submitted to Bates no later than Oct. 10.
The entire Late Night in the Phog can be seen and heard via the internet via AT&T Jayhawk All-Access, KU’s online network via KUathletics.com.
This marks the ninth consecutive year that AT&T Jayhawk All-Access will broadcast Kansas Athletics events either with video, audio or both. Fans who subscribe now to Jayhawk All-Access will see, among other events:
• Late Night in the Phog, the annual tipoff of basketball practice,
• KU’s two men’s basketball exhibition contests,
• Football Coach Charlie Weis’ post-game press conferences after home games,
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In Douglas County, when it comes to food for low-income families, we need more (or less) ............
Finish that sentence by leaving a comment below. Elaborate as much (or as little) as you want. Thank you in advance for your help!
I didn't get into being a non profit director so I could sit around, tell other people what to do and play golf all the time. Speaking of golf, we'll update you on our tournament really soon (but it was awesome!). I know more about the names and stories of our clients than I do my handicap, and I intend to keep it that way.
We've told stories about our volunteers and what we do. But here's why it matters...we have made that an important and integral part of our culture.
People matter here. Their stories matter here. They are listened to here. They belong here.
One of our volunteers came in and told us her husband told her she needed to be at Just Food more because she "was way happier."
Another one of our volunteers called in on their vacation numerous times just to speak to people from our team and say that she missed us.
We've had volunteers say that they have no family, and they come here because this is a family. They are accepted and loved for who they are here.
Why are we so passionate about this? Why do we care so much? Because this stuff matters.
I can't tell you how many times I go places and people talk about the great things that Just Food is doing. The phone calls, texts and emails from people who are just blown away at how much momentum we've been getting.
We say it around here all the time: We will not be ignored.
We can't. We can't afford to be ignored. We can't afford to sit back on our hands and hope that someone else takes care of our issues. We can't afford to tell our clients that we're too busy to help them. We can't afford to tell our volunteers that they aren't important enough to invest in.
At Just Food today, here's who we have: a former retail mobile phone district manager, a former budget director, a former office manager/cleaning business owner, three unemployed people, a former pastor, a former HVAC manager, a teenager doing community service, a caring grandpa, a retired City employee & her grandson, a former occupational therapist, and two students from KU. Black, hispanic, white & american indian. All represented here. No former non profit executives who wanted something local. No professional volunteers who wanted to stop with one organization and start with a newer one. We're the crazy ones. The misfits. The round pegs trying to fit in the square holes. But I love these people. And THEY are the heroes that make up Just Food and who care so much about those that we serve.
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The trouble makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They aren't fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the one thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them a crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do." -Steve Jobs
We are crazy enough to believe that we can change the world, and here's the great news....we are. One life at a time right here in Douglas County.
Seriously, you'd be even more crazy not to come down here and join us.
Just Food: Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots….EVERYBODY!
I have been increasingly weary lately of how many times it's been said to me... "why would you want to set your goal THAT high?"
It's no secret that I'm a risk taker. I don't like playing things safe. Safe is boring. I lead the same way. Our organization takes risks. We aren't just satisfied with a food pantry, so we undertake the mission of adding and providing food from food drives to (now) 42 agencies in Douglas County. We are in the process of initiating a food pantry on Haskell's campus and will be doing the same (hopefully) on campus at KU. We're starting cooking classes in October, teaching people how to cook healthy, nutritious food at an affordable cost. We are looking at a community wide food distribution system, rather than many individual silos, trying to maximize impact and effectiveness.
We are growing at abnormal growth rates. We are distributing more food, to more people and more agencies. Last year at this time, we had 8 agencies and were distributing food to 2,000 people a month. Now, we have 42 agencies and are distributing food to 12,000 people a month. I say that because we never would be where we are if we didn't take risks.
Wayne Gretzky (hockey great) said, "you miss 100 percent of the shots that you don't take."
Our team knows. When it comes to events, fundraisers, community awareness initiatives...we don't set our sights low. They hear me say frequently... "if we set our sights low, you'll hit it...everytime." So, we don't ever set our sighs low. We take risks. We take shots. We make some. We miss some. But what can't be said is that we're not giving 110%.
Every volunteer at our organization, and every staff member. They leave it on the field of play everyday. All of themselves. We go home tired. Not because what we do is that exhausting (most of the time), but because we're executing our personal mission with precision and absolute effort.
It's okay to fail. It's not okay to not try.
We will continue to set big, fat, hairy, and completely audacious goals. Our team would be disappointed with anything less than that. And as we do, continue to support us as you've always done. You won't regret it.
BE A VOICE. Hold a food drive at your business or at your party. Go to http://justfoodks.org/donate/hold-a-food-drive/ for details.
VOLUNTEER. October 8, 2012 - Mobile Food Pantry, 11:00 a.m. Come and see hundreds of cars line up to receive between 7-10 tons of food.
DONATE. October 12, 2012 - Late Night in the Phog Bring a canned food donation or text justfood to 80888 to donate $10.
DONATE. October 21 - Stuff the Bus, Dillon's on 23rd Bring canned food to help KU Stuff the Bus for their 100th Anniversary Homecoming.
DONATE. October 21-28, Dillon's across Lawrence KU Homecoming slogan..."CENTURY LONG, TRADITION STRONG" - we're starting another strong tradition that will hopefully be centuries long to fight hunger in Douglas County. Sponsored by Dillon's, each store will be competing with one another to see who can raise the most food during homecoming week!
VOLUNTEER. November 19-21, December 19-22 at Just Food Our holiday distribution, we will be open 8am-8pm each day to help serve the ever-growing number of those in need, especially during the holiday season.
EVENT. December 15, 2012 - TCP5 http://www.facebook.com/events/156728241133863/
Take a risk. Give it a shot. Come on in, the water is fine. Join (if you haven't) and continue with (if you have) the rest of us at Just Food as we fight hunger in Douglas County each and everyday.
Just Food In Need of Volunteers to Go Pick Fresh Green Beans from Pendleton’s Country Market TOMORROW (Thursday, August 30, 2012)
We had a great conversation today with Karen Pendleton from Pendleton's Country Market (who have been WONDERFUL partners of Just Food) and she has offered a ROW (about 50 yards long) at Pendleton's to pick green beans tomorrow. If we can get some volunteers to go out in the morning and help pick the green beans and deliver them to Just Food, we will have fresh picked green beans tomorrow for our clients and partner agencies.
Can you help? Pretty please?
Email us at email@example.com and we'll get you the details. THANK YOU!
10: You get to be out on the golf course on a beautiful, sunny, crisp fall day.
9: Whilst out on the golf course, you get to play mini games to receive mini prizes.
8: You have a 1 in 2 shot at driving a golf cart. You've always wanted to drive a golf cart.
7: You will be served dinner by the wonderful staff at Alvamar. And the food will be really good.
6: Because your business name will benefit from those in attendance seeing that you support the mission of fighting hunger in Douglas County.
5: There will be a cocktail hour with free drinks. Happy hour will be really happy...and free.
4: Two words: SILENT AUCTION. None of the hibiddity, dibittidbitty stuff. It'll be quiet. And happy. See above.
3: Valet parking. At a golf tournament. Are you kidding me? We're not kidding. Someone will park your car for you...for free. Someone will unload your clubs...for free. You won't even have to lift a finger...except for getting a few bucks out for a very generous tip that will be given in full to feed those who are hungry.
2: Bill James. THE Bill James. Who is Bill James, you ask? He's some baseball writer who they made a movie about. Some guy named Brad Pitt starred in it. He'll be speaking....live and in living color. You'll be extremely glad you came to hear what he has to say. Anybody that works for the Boston Red Sox, has had a movie made about him, and grew up in Lawrence is just fine for Just Food.
1: Because every penny throughout the day will be given to fight hunger in Douglas County. Just Food served 7,592 people in the month of July and provided more than 40,000 pounds of food FOR FREE to 40 agencies in Douglas County. That is reason enough to come and support the cause.
Sponsor a hole: $600 (includes 4 golfers, and 4 tickets to dinner) Golf: $125 per person (includes a ticket to dinner) Eat: $35 per person (we will release all tickets to dinner to those that aren't staying from golfing on September 1)
SIGN UP TO SUPPORT THIS INCREDIBLE CAUSE AT WWW.JUSTFOODKS.ORG
You'll be glad you did. Really.
The time is near for our biggest fundraiser of the year, and this year, we're pulling out all the stops. One of the things that we have endeavored to do the most of is provide excellent service. Many of you have faithfully read of our commitment to making sure that those whom we serve aren't relegated to being second class citizens, just because they have a need. We strive to take care of our donors in much the same way.
This years golf tournament will be held on Friday, September 21, 2012 at Alvamar Country Club.
Here's the schedule for the day:
12:00pm we will be serving a lunch that is provided by Johnny's West.
1:00pm - Shotgun start. We're hoping to have enough golfers to fill both courses. (Interested in golfing? You can golf for $125, or sponsor a hole and get 4 golfers AND 4 tickets to dinner for just $600). Sign up at www.justfoodks.org
5:00-6:00pm - Cocktail hour - free drinks. Did you read that right? Free drinks. And buy our silent auction items. Every penny goes to fight hunger in Douglas County.
6:00pm - Dinner with BILL JAMES speaking. Bill James. The Bill James. Celebrity Boston Red Sox, Sabermetrics, Moneyball Bill James. He'll be live. In person. You could pinch him. Well, don't try that, but he'll be there. He'll speak for about 40 minutes and then take some questions.
7:00-7:30pm - Hear a few of the stories that make our lives so special at Just Food.
At 7:30, you'll be done. Free to go home, and enjoy the rest of your Friday night!
Here are a list of the amenities we're offering. (Yes, amenities. At a golf tournament):
-Free valet parking (yes, valet parking at the golf course). Tips will be accepted, and all donated monies will be to feed people in Douglas County who are hungry.
-Massages out on the golf course (thanks to our friends at Pinnacle Career Institute)
-Plated dinner. This isn't your run of the mill golf tournament dinner. You'll be served a plated dish. It'll feel like a good ol' fashioned family meal.
-You'll have an opportunity to win $1,000 in cash.
-If you sign up to be a golfer, you'll get a polo shirt. A nice looking polo shirt that you'll be proud to sport after the tournament is over.
-1st prize for each flight is $100 in gift certificates to Alvamar's Pro Shop...PER PERSON. 2nd prize for each flight is $50, 3rd prize for each flight is $25.
Here are some FAQ's:
What if I just want to go to the dinner? How much are tickets? We are releasing all tickets to the dinner on September 1, 2012. We want to to give our golfers first dibs on dinner tickets. Tickets will be $35. It won't get you free drinks (that's just reserved for our paying golfers), but there will be a cash bar that you can take advantage of, and you'll get dinner and you'll get to hear Bill James. And you'll get to bid on items for our silent auction.
How do I sponsor a hole? Go to our website at www.justfoodks.org and click on golf tournament. For $600, you'll get your logo on a hole, 4 golfers, 4 polo shirts, 4 tickets to dinner and you'll help to feed a whole lot of people. The best news of all...if you don't have the money in this years budget, we're taking your payments through the first quarter of 2013...and you don't even have to fill out a credit application!
How do I volunteer? We'll be posting information on our website soon. We'd love to have you volunteer and if you'll send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll be sure to hook you up with that information.
How do I just golf? Golfers are $125 per person. The dinner is $35. You could win $100 in prizes if you're the top of your flight.
Wait. So, we're giving away more than we're taking in...that's a bad business decision, right? Not really. We have some great partners that we're working with to make sure that everyone who participates is well taken care of. That includes our sponsors, our golfers, and our volunteers. DO NOT MISS this opportunity to get involved! Sign up to golf at www.justfoodks.org. You'll be glad you did!
It will be a day to remember. Help us fight hunger in Douglas County.
One of the long term issues to address that our founder, Ann Weick, wrote down was:
-Is ultimate goal of Just Food to create a central food bank to store food, providing nutritional programs and provide other related services?
The truth is, we have a relatively easy job at Just Food. Someone else tilled the garden, planted the flowers, and now, we just have to make sure we have good people go out to harvest the crops and take care of the garden. We're stewards, really.
I have a deep appreciation for those who have put in hours upon hours of sweat equity and sacrificed. I think in order for an organization to know where its going, it has to know where its been. It means a ton to me to be able to look back on this goal and know that we are at least heading in the direction of bringing it fruition.
The original vision for Just Food was to create a central food bank to store food. We have a 9,600 square foot building that we acquire food to and distribute food out of. We have grown out of one warehouse and are nearly growing out of the one we are in. In 2011, we distributed 975,000 pounds of food. In 2012, we are projected to distribute almost double that. To put things in perspective, we distributed around 200,000 pounds in 2010. It's pretty awe-inspiring when you think about it.
The second part of that vision was to provide nutrition programs and other related services. This means that we have do all we can to get people out of the cyclical natures of poverty that exist.
The people that we've surveyed have stated that they don't know how to cook properly. They're eating processed, boxed food and they don't know anything different...and if they do know something different, they don't have the resources necessary to do it right. They don't know how to spend $1.50 on a meal that they can eat healthily. And they don't have pots and pans that they need to cook well. They have a microwave and maybe a sauce pan.
There has to be a better way, we thought.
We are rolling out nutrition classes that WellCommons own Karrey Britt will be covering. Two pilot nights will be taking place on Monday, August 6 and Wednesday, August 8. They'll start at 6:00 p.m. We have purchased portable kitchens and utensils and pots and pans. We are inviting our low income folks to come learn how to cook. We are also inviting the community to see these great things that are happening.
The classes will be taught by former Executive Chef of Free State Brewery, Rick Martin and Rick has put together a curriculum that will cover knife skills, sanitation & the first class will consist of making homemade pico de gallo, rice & beans, and the food cost for each person will be around $1.50. Who says you can't eat homemade food that's easy to cook and have it be cheap?
Great things are happening. The vision from the beginning is being fulfilled right before all of our eyes. Come and see.
Have you ever seen the movie Hotel Rwanda? There is an interesting exchange that happens between Paul & Jake.
Paul (Don Cheadle): How can people see this footage and not intervene? Jack (Joaquin Phoenix): I think if people see this footage, they’ll say “Oh my God, that’s horrible” and go on eating their dinners.
I have a deep admiration for people that just couldn't go on eating their dinners anymore when they see a need. It takes inspiration, perspiration, innovation, preparation and motivation to get something off of the ground.
One of the people in the interview room when I was a candidate for the job at Just Food was Ann Weick. Ann is the founder of the Just Food program. She couldn't just go on eating her dinner. She, at the time, was the Dean of the School of Social Welfare at KU. She saw a huge need and the difficulty of getting food to individuals and agencies in Douglas County.
And she decided to do something about it.
Ann recently brought all of her files and emails to go through from the start of the Just Food program. I've had quite a few opportunities to sit down with others who know Ann, and I had the opportunity to sit down with Ann last week.
On one of the first meeting agenda items of the first official meeting that took place, Ann wrote:
-Is ultimate goal of Just Food to create a central food bank to store food, providing nutritional programs and provide other related services?
-Will it be necessary to develop a larger statement of mission in order to attract/satisfy funders and more fully represent our vision?
-If community education about local hunger is part of our vision, would it be helpful to create a "Hunger Forum" for Lawrence, with opportunity for small group discussions?
-How can we better publicize the presence and purpose of Just Food, for example through website or other communication tools.
I'm an innovator. I love having ideas and making them happen. But, I get just as much satisfaction out of taking someone else's great ideas and bringing them to fruition. I want to talk this week about those four things that Ann wrote about in one of the first meetings, and how we're doing what we can to address those.
But today, I want to talk about the name, Just Food.
When I came to Lawrence, I'll readily admit that I didn't like the name. I felt as though it boxed us in to do things that were JUST (only) food. Things like the diaper drive would be off of our mission. Partnering with the Lawrence Humane Society to provide animal food to folks who need that for their animals is off mission. Nutrition classes would be a stretch because we did JUST (only) food.
I sat down with Ann and asked her about the name change. Free State Food Bank or Wheat State Food Bank sounded good to me. It's marketable.
Ann told me that it was my decision to make, but asked if she could tell me the Just Food story. She told me how it started, and then told me about her moment when she couldn't go on eating her dinner.
"Jeremy, food is a justice issue. It's JUST that people have food," Ann told me emphatically.
It was as if a new world had been opened to me at that moment. Our name wasn't about only doing food. Our name was about justice. It was about doing the right thing. It's JUST that people have FOOD. Just Food.
"After all," Ann said, "it can't be JUST (only) food..."
One of the things that has consistently bothered me about the scope of social services in the United States has been the unwillingness of agencies to work with one another to accomplish common goals. Everyone has their own agendas, motives, staff, resources...and social service agencies have become hoarders. But it's worse than the TV show. Because it's not just our stuff that we're hoarding. We're hoarding volunteers (your time), money (your hard-earned cash) and all in the name of helping people.
One of the things that I told our team when I arrived in Lawrence is that we will not be hoarders. We will give...so much that it doesn't make sense. We will leverage influence & resources to make sure that other people have enough, even if we have to suffer because of it.
It is no surprise that for many communities, including Lawrence, working together with other agencies is often difficult. Everyone has their own logo, brand, resources, ideas, etc. Everyone wants the same thing, but has different ways of getting there. So, we operate as silos, intermixing when the opportunities present itself, and the amount of waste and duplication in the system is astronomical.
Enter Just Food.
Last October, we did the Late Night in the Phog food drive. Lawrence & Douglas County was so incredibly generous (as usual) and over 2,000 pounds of food was donated. For those that don't know, we have a client services division as a part of the Just Food umbrella that, in June, served 7,047 people. (It encompasses a food pantry, mobile food pantry, daily market: where clients can come and get fresh bread and produce, and two federal commodity distribution programs.)
It would have been nice to take that 2,000 pounds of food to feed the hungry people that walk through our doors in droves. But we didn't.
We had a meeting, and the first meeting was attended last October by about 15 Douglas County agencies. I laid out the vision for what Just Food's partner services division (food distribution to partners) would be: no hoarding allowed. We will relentlessly and selflessly work our tails off to raise resources to give to Douglas County food distribution agencies free of charge. We could absolutely use those resources here. But this isn't a competition. And we are all in this together. Together, we win. Together, we lose. Together, we succeed. Together, we fail. Besides, this was the idea from the beginning.
And as a teaser, next week, I will sit down with our founder, Ann Weick, and share with you her reasons for starting Just Food. I can't wait to share that with you.
But for now...since May of this year, we have distributed more than 30,000 pounds of food to now 40 (and growing) partner agencies...FREE OF CHARGE TO THEM. This food includes produce that our friends at the Farmers Market donate, as well as the selfless giving of Mr. Voigt from Voigt Farms, the Master Gardeners, and many other farmers and gardeners. This also includes food that we have purchased at deep discounts, and food that has been donated that we have transported, sorted, stored & packed. That being said, we have distributed in 2 1/2 months nearly $50,000 worth of food to these agencies at no cost to them.
Many would say that we're crazy, and we are. But we are incredibly passionate about helping agencies with huge hearts, but a limited pocketbook make ends meet to continue to feed the hungry that come to them each and every day.
Tomorrow I'll go into more detail about what the role of Just Food as a food bank is. I encourage you to follow along the way. We are making a difference together!
...non existent. I was at a meeting and chuckled when someone said we sprinkle magic dust on people because what's happening here is so unique and special.
And it's true. What's happened at this organization is incredibly special. It started back in the early 2000's with an idea that Douglas County needed a food bank. I will share the rest of the details of how we started next week in a series of posts. Believe me, you don't want to miss it.
But, as many of you know, in February of 2011, we were on the verge of closing. We had exhausted all of our funds, and so we appealed to the community. And man. Lawrence, Douglas County, did you...Step. Up. Bigtime.
I came to Just Food last July. Anyone that knows me, knows that I'm pretty high energy. I came in to a bunch of tired folks. They were excited, but tired. The first few conversations I had with the team & volunteers, I told them that I was on their side. I wasn't going to come in a change a bunch of stuff about how things were being operated...but I was going to be their biggest cheerleader, and tell their story everywhere I went.
Encouragement does something for people, you know?
William James said, "the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." Some of my day when I'm in the office is going around talking to our volunteers. I know their names. I hear their stories. And I tell them how we absolutely could NOT do what we do without them. They are the backbone of this organization. And then I tell them the same thing I told our team the first day I came to Lawrence. I will be your biggest cheerleader, and I will tell your story everywhere I go.
Some of the most valued treasurers are the ones that oftentimes get overlooked by others. We search and dig and search and dig for that treasure in people. People matter. We've said it this entire week. We live that here. And we have some incredible gems.
How has this organization turned around? What is the difference in the culture?
Everyone around us needed to know that they were the utmost importance to our success. We won together. We lost together.
It's amazing what speaking positively will do. It's amazing what a smile will do. It's amazing what taking time for people will do. It's amazing what asking how people's days are going will do. It's amazing what happens when people feel like they are really a part of something. They own it. They have driven a stake in the ground. Just Food and its success is not just dependent upon the staff...it's dependent upon ALL of us.
We all work hard. We all play hard. We all celebrate our wins and we all mourn our losses. We take care of each other and we care about each other.
And amidst all of that there's something where dead things come alive in people. Where a job stops being a job and it starts being fun. Where people stop becoming annoying and a hindrance and start becoming a team, by which you couldn't do anything without them.
That is the Just Food story. That is the Just Food way.
We live in a fast paced world. Lawrence is a fast paced town. Time is of the utmost importance in our lives. A recent survey done asking what people needed more of, a majority of people said more time. It could be more time to spend on the earth and live, or it could be just more time in the day to get things done.
But what do a majority of us want more time to do? The things we're not taking time to do now. We're so busy with our jobs, meetings, programs that we don't take time for the things that matter.
The real question isn't what we spend our time doing, but are we spending our time on things that matter?
We've already talked about how people matter here at Just Food. They do. Every single one of them. And the single greatest gift we can give them is our time.
I had a gentleman come into my office on Tuesday of this week who was beyond frustrated with the system. He had been shuffled around, place after place. He came in at 2:20pm.
Here's how my day was stacked Tuesday. I had meetings the following times that were scheduled: 9:00-10:00am, 10:30-11:45am, 1:30-2:00pm, 3:00-4:00pm, 4:30-5:30pm
I could have our staff police my office and be militant about not letting people in. After all, I'm a director of a non-profit organization, and I don't have time for those conversations. I have other important things to do, right?
And it is right there that the arrogance of our time shows through. What is more important than taking time for someone who needs help? What part of my job description doesn't say HELP PEOPLE? What part of being a human being doesn't suggest that we shouldn't take time for those who need help?
We had a nice 30 minute visit. He got signed up for three food programs, even though I had to beg him to let us help him, because he was too proud to ask for help and didn't want to take help away from people who "really needed it." We called the VA office together to confirm his appointment for the following day, because he was having trouble getting through.
Did I have time to do that? Not really. I had a million other things to do. But I made time. Why? Because people matter.
We create spaces & time for people at Just Food. Because they matter.
This is just one story of many. I am just one part of the puzzle that exists that make this such an awesome place to be. Our volunteers & one other staff member bend over backwards for people. We frequently inconvenience ourselves so that it's easier for others...donors, clients & citizens in the community. Why? Because people notice. Everyone wants to feel significant. And when we make time for them, they do.
Tomorrow, I'm going to share another commitment that we make to people that will probably answer the question that I got asked recently by someone via email.
"How his this organization changed so much in a year? Last year, you were on the verge of closing. Now you're thriving and so in the community. What happened?"
I'm going to share my reasons and give you a few reasons from volunteers too.
Speaking of questions, if you have any that you'd like to ask, [shoot me an email.] Hopefully by now, readers of this blog know that we'll be open, authentic & transparent.
Make some time for people this week. It will make a big difference.
: http://mailto: email@example.com
We see quite a few people each month. I love stat day because we get to see numbers that go behind the stories we so often become so used to hearing around here. In May alone, more than 6,800 clients received food assistance by walking through the door of Just Food. This doesn't count the thousands of other people served by our partner agencies. But suffice to say, we see a lot of people.
Another commitment that we have around here is to treat every person as though they have something to offer.
In most non-profit organizations, donors are treated differently than, say, people who utilize the services. I think this is tragic. Our clients (as we've already discussed) sometimes become our donors. And they do because we don't look down on them for being in the position that they're in.
Everyone has something to offer. It might not be much. But it's something. A dollar for us is a big deal. It can help us provide five meals for hungry Douglas County residents. Every time people say their time or money doesn't matter, I quickly correct them and tell them that they have something to offer.
Being low income disqualifies you from doing a lot of things. You don't have resources to go to Chiefs games, country concerts, or out to eat much. But it doesn't disqualify you from having something to offer. It might be an hour. It matters. It might be a quarter. It matters.
Why is all of this important? There are people who feel so insignificant that what they have isn't enough. And the only reason they feel that what they have isn't enough is because that's what they're told. They will give. Selflessly. Generously...if they're only given permission to.
Again, I don't speak for everyone. But the majority of people we see around here, this is their story. They will give and blow us away doing it.
I had someone come up to me yesterday and thank me for being a voice for them. Why am I being a voice for people that you'll probably never meet? Because they matter. They have something to offer.
So, what do you have? It might seem small. It might not seem like it would help. But, it matters.
We can provide 5 meals for a dollar. Five meals. That we didn't have before. For just ONE dollar. Tell the family that gets those five meals that your dollar didn't matter.
Our heartbeat is volunteers. We couldn't do it without them. What would Just Food be without volunteers? Nothing.
They matter. And so do you.
Click here to give. Great things can be done with small things if everyone does something. Your gift matters.
Tomorrow: We will make time for people.
I remember growing up and being told to do something and I remember saying "I'll try..." And the people in my life who have pushed me and helped me to become who I am today said, "don't try. Just do it."
This week, I want to roll out some commitments that we make to the clients & agencies that come in to us. These aren't statements that are suggesting we will do these things...these are firm commitments that we are making to people. They are a part of our core & who we are as an organization. It's important for you to know them.
We will treat each person with dignity and respect.
In the business of providing food to people who are without, it's easy to simply excuse common courtesy, because something is better than nothing, right?
I have heard people in positions who provide food to individuals say, "we'll give out anything. Beggars can't be choosers."
We don't give out anything. As a matter of fact, we won't give out anything that we wouldn't eat ourselves. We don't give out expired food. It is a part of our process to check expiration dates before we put it on our shelves or give it out to our partner agencies. Sometimes, we miss things. But it's not intentional.
It's amazing the number of people who call us and then get upset when we tell them we won't take their green beans that expired in 2005. Or the number of people who order pizza, leave it sitting in their house or office overnight and then call us to come & get it and get angry when we tell them we won't take it.
We treat people with dignity and respect here. We realize there are many different reasons why people are in the positions they are in. Some because of tragic circumstances. Some because of their own choices. That's not our place to judge. It's our place to make sure they have food on their tables. But their circumstances or choices don't give us any reason to be rude, disrespectful or degrade them in any way, shape or form.
People matter. All people matter. Red, yellow, black, white, rich, poor, home owner, home renter, homeless, employed, unemployed. They are people. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
If I ever find myself in need of services (and my belief is that we are all a lot closer than we might think), I would hope someone with a voice would be speaking up on my behalf saying that I'm not undeserving of nutritious food. That I deserve more than three day old pizza and expired green beans that may or may not make me sick.
Tomorrow: we will treat each person as though they have something to offer
Meet Barbara Pitner. We call her Barb.
Barbara is a retired occupational therapist. She worked for many years with veterans and helped them rehab and get their lives back on track.
I cannot even begin to fathom where we would be without her help. She, for many months, was the rock that held things in place for our warehouse.
Last summer was brutal at Just Food. The warehouse was hot. It hovered around 140 degrees most days. We tried to get Gator Cool fans, contemplated window units, and spent lots of time on the phone trying to figure out how to get the warehouse cooler. Barb was there through it all. She was volunteering 3-4 days a week. Then, we had some transition in the latter part of the summer last year with volunteers and staffing.
We found ourselves without a warehouse manager, and a go to person to make sure that things happened. Barb quietly told us in a meeting that she would volunteer everyday. And she did. She got there before 8, and didn't leave until after 5 most days. What I was certain couldn't be done by one person was. She was a rockstar last summer. We couldn't have made it through that month and a half without her.
Barb could be doing anything with her time. But she's here. Nearly everyday. When we have gaps, and she manages to hear about them (we try not to tell her so she doesn't show up here on her days off), she shows up.
But, the most special moment that I think I've observed with Barb is last Christmas. Her kids were coming into town from both out of state & out of the country. She started volunteering the Wednesday before Christmas at 7am. One daughters flight got in that night around 7 and then the other daughter around 11. Barb left the food bank from a full day of volunteering at 6, picked up daughter up from the airport, and then brought her daughter to Just Food. They both volunteered until we closed, after 9pm.
In that time, her daughter just raved about how much Barb talked about how much she loved this place. Barb had been telling her daughter all of these wonderful stories about all of these great people that volunteered at Just Food. I was proud that night. I can't say that I was a proud papa, because Barb is a few years older than I am...but I was so pleased to see that our volunteers care enough about this place that we consider family to share this family with their family. It was quite a humbling experience.
Barb's faithful, reliable, and loves to help people. When asked why she continues to come here as much as she does, she says that she loves to do it and that she cares about making sure people have food.
Barbara's one of my heroes, too.
If you would like to become a part of the Just Food volunteer family, click here.
By the way, I would encourage you to come by at some point and meet some of these folks who make a difference in the lives of thousands of people each month. Come say thank you. They richly deserve it!
Meet Terry. We call her Terry.
Terry is a hero of mine, too. She's a retired Office Manager for Union Pacific Railroad, and she also had her own cleaning business. Terry is the heartbeat of the office. She shares a brain with Carol, another volunteer, who you will meet soon.
Terry came to Just Food about a year and a half ago. Her first order of business...she boldly stood before an advisory board and told them they needed to have a golf tournament fundraiser. Like any good delegators, they told her to make it happen.
And make it happen she did. We cleared $13,000 last year with Terry's golf tournament that she put together. She's in the planning stages with a team to make another successful one happen this year. (Shameless plug: if you want to learn more about it or donate to it, please click here)
Terry makes sure we stay on true north. She's the mother of the flock. She has the gift of hospitality and she wants to make sure everyone has what they need at all times. I can't tell you how timely she is. It's the simple things. I'll be working away, and Terry will somehow slip in and a coke will appear on my desk. Or she'll return a phone call with "hi, sweetie, this is Terry from Just Food," and someone who has never been spoken to with such love & compassion will be beside themselves. It's the times when something happens in our midst that should tug at our heartstrings, and Terry responds...and we realize we would too if we weren't so busy and our focus was off on everything else but putting food in people's hands.
Terry is almost too invested sometimes in Just Food. She works 40+ hours per week. She's recently taken some time off with her husband to go to Branson (we joked with her that all old people go on vacation there!). She checked in almost daily to see how things were going. She cares about this place. She loves this place. And we're so much better because she's a part of our team.
Who is a part of the Just Food family? Imperfect misfits. We care about each other, take care of each other and it is a beautiful thing.
If you'd like to learn about volunteering, click here. We'll get you hooked up to become a part of the Just Food family.
Meet Charles. We call him CC. He's a hero of mine.
A union carpenter, he has dedicated his life to helping people. CC would tell you that he's not perfect, and wishes he could take some things back, but this guy is the real deal.
He's a full time volunteer. Yes, full time. When he gets a big job doing some carpentry, we miss him when he's gone for a few days to get some money to help his family. Other than those times (which are few and far between in this economy), he is here. All. The. Time.
I remember getting on a forklift to do some things in the warehouse, when we were without a warehouse manager last year. CC was barking directions, and I said, "why aren't you certified to drive a forklift?"
"No one's every told me I was, boss," he replied.
As a forklift trainer, I went over everything that he already knew, and gave him a forklift certification. He's been driving ever since and doing a wonderful job.
CC is a worker. He works hard. He works efficiently.
I remember at Thanksgiving, our warehouse manager and I were at the warehouse prepping it for people to make holiday baskets for 6 hours. We were there until midnight. At Christmas-time, CC stuck around. He took 15 minutes to do what it took us 6 hours to figure out.
Just Food isn't for people who are perfect. CC started volunteering for ECKAN more than 5 years ago when he lost work. Remember last week when I said that low income people are generous? This is a perfect example of that. Here's a guy that could do anything with his free time, and instead of taking, he gives back.
CC brought in BBQ yesterday. Brisket, sausage & potato salad. He says frequently that without this family, he couldn't help his other one.
I am grateful to be able to work with people like this. They are heroes. Without them, we couldn't do what we do.
To become a part of our incredible organization, visit www.justfoodks.org to find out how you can donate your money, volunteer your time, and lend your voice to people who need it.
I'll admit it. I'm surrounded by a lot of old(er) people. And I love it.
One of disadvantages (I say this tongue in cheek, really) to being young and leading a non profit is that most everyone your age is not a full time or professional volunteer.
In Arkansas, I knew a lot of people that were way out of my league. An "energy mover" - he found ways to move oil. Someone who was THE warehouse manager for DuPont. An Account Executive for a well known fortune 500 company. Someone who worked in corporate JC Penny's as a manager/director. I was supposed to "lead" these volunteers. I was supposed to tell them what to do. Are you kidding me? Not only did they have (about) 50 years on me, I was in no position to tell them what to do everyday.
I'm still not. At Just Food, we have a retired Budget Manager for KU, a former Office Manager for the railroad, a union carpenter, retired occupational therapist, a retired employment practices manager from the state, retired SRS worker, postal worker, professor, and the list goes on and on of the great people we have here.
Really, people want a place to belong. What we get to do everyday is putting food in people's mouths. But just as wonderful is the opportunity to connect with people. We have a pretty loose work environment here. Connecting is just as important as productivity. Why? Because a happy workplace is a productive one. We rely heavily on volunteers. We have two full time staff. The real heroes are the ones that are here every day and don't get paid for it.
Why are they here? I've asked myself and them that question. We've heard things like "I can be myself here," and "my spouse says he likes me better after I've been here." We've heard, "this is the best job I've ever had," which is ironic because they aren't getting paid. People tell us, "this feels like a family."
And it's true. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It is a family. It's one big huge family. We don't all see eye to eye. But you don't always have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand.
We encourage each other. We work hard. We play hard. We win together. We lose together. We celebrate together. We take care of each other. We have each others backs. We know that we're much better together than we are apart. There's more people being added to this community of volunteers all the time. And we're never going to stop adding people to this huge family. But this week, I want to take an opportunity to share with you some of the names and faces of my heroes that I get to work with each day. I hope you enjoy getting to meet them just as much as I've enjoyed getting to know them.
And, if you're wanting to inquire about volunteering to be a part of this incredible organization, we're always taking volunteers. Click here to sign up to volunteer!
One of the wonderful readers of wellcommons brought up a great point in the comments of my last article. They said: Helping others is fine. But I'm tired of constantly helping the perpetually, through their own choice, poor, unemployed, homeless, etc. Why should I feel distraught at the adult young man who chooses to live a life of drugs and pandering? Why am I to be obligated to help those who choose to sit on the street begging whilst reading a book while their children play nearby - year after year? Lord knows all, almost anyway, of us need help at one time or another. I have. But those who choose to live their lives "in need" well, imho, not so much.
I am glad that the question was asked, because my planned topic for today was discussing whether or not low income people are intolerant.
I've bounced this idea off of several people, and the immediate next question has been: intolerant of who or what?
That's a great question.
Again, I don't speak for all low income people. I don't pretend to have a leg up on anyone else who gets the opportunity to work with these folks on a daily basis. I am merely stating my observations and opinions. I will say that the majority of low income people are as I have described: hard working, grateful, generous, they don't feel entitled, and they are not intolerant. But a few are. And those people are who everyone seems to focus on with making a stereotype for low income people. That is why I have encouraged folks to get to know these people. Know their names. Their stories. Their situations. Because you'll have a deeply rooted respect & appreciation for them once you do.
Are low income people intolerant of people who have more than they do?
I haven't found this to be the case. I think that the reason why people who are not classified as low income feel that low income people are often jealous and intolerant of people with more is because that is how we are. We see people with fancy cars, and big houses and who live extravagant lives and a small part of us wants that. Again, as I said yesterday. Perhaps it's not the low income people who are intolerant of people with more resources...maybe it's us.
Are low income people intolerant of people who give to help them survive?
Absolutely not. I wish you could come and hear the stories that we discuss weekly in our team meetings. They are eternally grateful. They share the excitement of finding a job with us, and the sadness of not getting any call backs. They routinely come in and say, "you made this place for us?" after we moved into our new facility. And they are constantly giving back through whatever means they have. "They" aren't intolerant of "you" - "they" know they couldn't make it without "you."
All of this is a precursor to what I really wanted to say.
Low income people are often intolerant of their own lives.
I debated in high school. And our primary modus operandi was to make sure that we convinced judges when we were on the affirmative team that our plan would make things better than they were in the status quo.
Can we just put ourselves in the shoes (the absolute best we can) of a single mom with two kids? (This is a real person, by the way. I just say the best we can, because unless we've really been a single mom with two kids, in this situation, we can't possibly know how this feels.)
This mother in this story got her GED, because she got pregnant at a young age and dropped out of high school. She lost all support from her family and was isolated from many people because she didn't make decisions that were befitting of where everyone thought she was supposed to go. Rather than go to college, she started working to support herself, because the father was nowhere to be found, and her parents told her that they weren't going to help her. Fast forward.
She has two children, ages 9 and 5. They are both elementary school age. This mom works two jobs, one at Walmart full time making $8.75 as a checker, and the other at a gas station 3 nights a week and on Saturday for a full shift.
Walmart pays her for 40 hours. After taxes, (no insurance deducted), she brings home $1,240 a month. For her part time job, she brings home $684 monthly.
Her total income for the month is $1,924. Mind you, she's working two jobs. Now, let's do some simple budgeting with necessities. These are monthly costs.
Rent: For the sake of this conversation, let's just say she gets a 2BR/1BA in a decent part of town. $800
Electric: We are on levelized billing here, and a call to Westar for a 1,000 square foot place as described above would run from $50-$100. Let's split the difference. $75
Gas: We want to get on levelized billing here as well, because we don't want the $300 bill in the winter. It's going to run you about the same. $75
Water: You have yourself and two kids. This isn't watering the yard, or anything but the necessities. $75
Cell Phone: You could make the argument for only a home phone, but if I were going to be leaving my 9 year old at home while I worked my second job to take care of my 5 year old, you'd better believe I'd have a cell phone. I also have internet on this phone and texting. Internet because it's the only email address I have access to (when am I going to find time to go to the library?) $80
Debt: Most all people have debt of some kind. Let's say for the sake of this conversation that this low income person is working with a debt consolidation company to fix their credit and get back on their feet. The alternative is to just not pay. $120
Car Insurance: They only have liability, but because of a few previous tickets, it's kind of high. $100
Renters Insurance: Let's say they have this, because without it, in the event of a disaster, they have nothing. Smart girl. $49
Fuel: You have to get to and from those jobs. Gas is hovering between $3 and $4 a gallon. You have a car that gets 20 mpg and it's 15 years old. Hoping and praying nothing happens. $200
This brings our total monthly expenses to $1,574. After paying these, we have $350 leftover for everything else. What is everything else?
Food (has to get stuff that's easy to make, because she's only home three nights per week) Household items (laundry detergent, even the cheap stuff is expensive) Incidentals (how many times can you honestly tell your child they can't have something that's $1 at the store?) Accidents that may take place (car deductible has to be met, trip to the ER, etc.) Supplies for kids and school, field trips, etc.
Are you starting to see how bleak things could look in a hurry? $350 a month to feed yourself and two children? That in and of itself is difficult.
What are you going to go for when you head down to Checkers? The fresh produce? Nope. The 99 cent macaroni and cheese that is high in saturated fats. You can make more meals that way.
Now, put yourself in the position of this young lady. Is she lazy? Nope. She's working 65 hours a week. Is she irresponsible? She has to pay someone to come watch her kids, which gives her less overhead. Risk vs. reward. What is more important? Safety or putting a roof over their heads? I'd hate to have to make that call.
Do you think this mother sits in her bed at night before her eyes close and thinks to herself, "I love my life!" Probably not. Do you think she likes that she always has to tell her kids no? That her kids have to be at home in the evenings by themselves? That her kids don't get to go on field trips because she can't afford them? That she has no time to herself to take care of herself and recharge? That her kids have to hear about everyone else going on vacation and they get to go to the lake once a month on a Sunday?
That can't feel good. It affects you. We've heard their stories, cried tears with them and this. This is the face of food insecurity. This is the face of those who are in need. "They" aren't intolerant of "us." They are intolerant of their own circumstances. They'd do anything to get out of the rut that they are in. And, with a little help from their friends (you and me), they can.
You'd help someone like this, wouldn't you? I know that most of you would. Because they are working hard. They are trying to get back on their feet. They aren't just a leech on the system.
But let's be honest. Most of us wouldn't help this single mom with two kids. Why? Because we wouldn't care enough to know her story. We'd lump her in with the rest of our stereotypes that we just learned or acquired from somewhere else. And she, even though she's doing everything she can to not be what we think she is, would be just like everyone else in our book.
That, my friends, is why I have been writing this series. Because stories like this one are the stories I get to be a part of each and every day.
Let me give a disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of, or for all people who are low income. I am simply, from someone and an organization who lives and breathes helping people each day, telling my perspective.
Do we serve lines upon lines of people each month full of people who feel entitled to their community "cheese" - do they feel like they deserve the charities of the generosity of other people?
I get asked that question a lot, sadly.
I was at a speaking engagement one time and this gentlemen stood up and said, "I've never given anything to anyone who didn't work for it. I didn't work my *ss off my entire life so that someone else could just sit with their hand out taking what I've worked my entire life for. That's not fair."
Do we really have to talk about whether or not someone is entitled to eat? Do we really have to talk about whether or not someone is entitled to have a roof over their heads? Do we have to talk about whether or not a child is entitled to an education?
"Well, they deserve this. They made bad choices. They shouldn't have gotten pregnant. They shouldn't have used that drug. They shouldn't have said that to their boss. They shouldn't have mismanaged their money and they should have had a budget."
Look at us. You know what, so have we. I have. You have. We've made some of those choices. They just didn't cost us our jobs, or our livelihoods. They very easily could have. The cookie doesn't crumble the same way for everyone. Life happens.
Maybe we feel entitled to our lives of comfort and extravagant living. Maybe it's not the low income people who have the entitlement problem. Maybe it's us.
We take for granted that we have food, and a roof over our heads, and an opportunity for education and success. Some of us got very lucky to have those things. We were one bad choice away from having the rug pulled out from underneath us.
These folks don't need us to bash them on community forums. They need our support. Maybe you'll never be one that gives them money, or food, or shelter. But can I ask a favor of you? Learn their story. Know their names. Things aren't often as they seem.
There are multitudes of stories that we have heard about people who have gotten out of their "rut" because someone helped them. In our team meeting this morning, we talked about the number of clients who have come in this week saying, "this is the last time I'm going to have to come in, because I start a new job next week. Now, I can start giving to you guys to help feed people."
I'm glad that people thought these folks felt entitled to assistance. Because now, they're the ones giving back to make it sustainable.
I realize that gratefulness and generosity can potentially be seen as synonymous with one another, and they are...but they aren't the same thing.
You can be grateful without being generous, and you can be generous without being grateful.
It really boiled down to two things for me when I looked at this question: 1. Do low income people have the resources to be generous? 2. Why would they be generous if they themselves were in need?
So, do low income people have the resources to be generous? The short answer is no. They don't. Not in our book, anyway. We have a really twisted view of the word "resources." What was your first thought? Money? Food? In their vocabulary, resources means time & in many cases affection. They may not ever be able to write a check to Just Food for $100, but they can give our volunteers hugs and they can come and give their time to volunteer.
We have between 8-10 people in each volunteer orientation session that we do once per week. Lately, more than half of the people in those sessions have been clients. Not only do they come to orientation, but they've been volunteering a few hours each day as they have time. And by the way, many of these folks are either working at least one job, and in their "free" time are taking care of kids & grandkids.
Do they have the resources to be generous? Here's what we're learning. They give what they have. They don't give what they can. They give what they have.
Along those lines, why would someone have motivation to be generous if they themselves are in need? It's all about reciprocity. If you were the recipient of someone else's generosity, my inclination is that you may have a tendency to be a little more generous. Giving and receiving is an interesting process if you think about it. One can't exist for a short time, but not survive without the other. They are mutually exclusive events, but interconnected in a profound way.
A vast majority of our clients here are so incredibly generous. Let me share a few stories with you:
One of our clients is a retired social worker who fell on bad health. Each time she comes in she tells us that if she ever has any money left over at the end of the month, she is going to donate it. A few weeks ago, she came in with a crisp, clean $20 bill. I don't think there was a dry eye in my office. She gave so someone like her could receive.
We frequently have clients who donate food to us - they'll bring in food that they didn't eat out of their bags and boxes. They don't bring that food in and ask us for some food in return for their donation. They just bring it in so others can have more.
Speaking of food donations: one of highest served neighborhood that we serve was the most generous for our Stamp Out Hunger food drive that we partnered with the National Association of Letter Carriers. How do we know? The food we give out here is off brand...and the kind you can't buy at any store. We had a lot of it come back from people. I guarantee you that some of them cleaned out their cupboards so that their neighbors could have food.
One of our clients has been so appreciative of what a volunteer did for them. She went out, presumably spent money she didn't have on buying a bracelet for this volunteer.
If I could describe the generosity of the people we see on a daily basis, I would say that it is...irrational. It doesn't make sense. People can't give what they don't have, but what they do have, they give.
I've often said that amazing things could be done with small things if everyone does something. I get to be a part of amazing things everyday because many of our clients do small things so someone else can have something.
Tomorrow's topic will be rather controversial: are low income people entitled to help? Hope you will join me for that conversation, and sound off on this one!
I was at a meeting recently and I overheard someone say something negative about low income people. This person hadn't yet met me, but I could tell that they were going to be a difficult one to change their perception.
With a crowd of people around, this person said, "those people (speaking of those who are in need of services) are just a bunch of mooches. They take, and take, and take, and take. They don't ever have to give anything."
When my life is over, I hope that people will say about me that I stood up for people who haven't learned how to use their voice yet.
After this person finished, I told them there was a kernel of truth in the last thing he said. "You're right," I said confidently. "They don't have to give anything...but they want to, and they do."
"What do they give? I have to work my (tail) off just so they can live."
There was something so beautiful about what was just said. So I let this almost awkward silence happen.
"If they were here, there's no doubt in my mind they would say thank you. I'm Jeremy Farmer, your guest speaker and the Executive Director of Just Food."
Most people don't have anything to give, because they're able to live because of what you do, and what we do. I will tell some stories about the relentless and irrational generosity of some of the folks we see tomorrow, but many have nothing to give but their gratitude.
We have two full time team members here, and the rest of our team is made up of volunteers. Last week, we had our mobile food pantry where we distributed close to 9 tons of food to 200 families in just over 90 minutes. In our weekly team meeting, we have storytime, and we celebrate the great things that are happening. We remarked how many times we were thanked by people receiving food, by adults and children alike.
You could stand in our lobby for ten minutes and hear beautiful noise as doors are opening and closing, conversation is happening, pens are filling out paperwork, and people are picking the wonderful produce and bread that we get donated. Inevitably, you'd hear 29 out of 30 people say "thank you." Some with tears in their eyes, some who are just really grateful.
It gives me pause and makes me wonder: when was the last time I thanked someone for the food I had in front of me? We get frustrated when Chili's doesn't have our food out before the people who came in and were seated after us.
I'm making it a point and following the example of the generosity of the people we get to see each day. I'm going to take time, stop and say thanks. After all, it's the very least that I can do.
Lawrence Referral Network (LRN) is a local Lawrence non-profit business referral group which meets on Tuesdays at the Clinton Pkwy Hy-Vee Conference Room at 11:30am. Sixty percent of the dues collected from the members of LRN are given to local charities and non-profit organizations a couple times a year.
This week at their meeting, LRN will be donating $150 to Just Food, the food bank in Douglas County.
“We are grateful for partnerships like the Lawrence Referral Network who understanding the importance of giving back to the community. Being able to use this money during a time in which donations seem to be down is much appreciated,” Jeremy Farmer, Chief Executive Officer of Just Food says.
It is sometimes difficult to believe that hunger exists in Douglas County. Most people think of hunger in terms of famine and mass starvation – terrible tragedies, but not something that affects people each and every day in our community.
Hunger in our community is often more subtle. It’s a child who stuffs their pockets during lunch at school so they have food to eat at home in the evening. It’s a parent who is – ironically – overweight, because sugar and carbohydrate-laden foods are often the least expensive at the grocery store. It’s a senior citizen who goes without food in order to buy medicine, further jeopardizing their already fragile health.
The reality is that there are hungry people in Douglas County. Just Food provides food assistance to nearly 8,000 people each month through its four programs: food pantry, mobile food pantry, commodity distribution and partner organizations. More than 40% of those are children and senior citizens.
LRN’s contribution on May 22 will go to help provide 750 meals for malnourished families in Douglas County.
About Just Food – Just Food, the food bank in Douglas County, serves 8,000 residents each month through its food pantry, mobile food pantry, federal commodity distribution and partner organization program. For more information, visit http://www.justfoodks.org or call 785-856-7030.
I recently read this article and it caused me to write what I believe to be a rather important article to clarify some perception based things in relationship to those who are low-income in Douglas County.
I will be writing a series of articles this week and would love to engage those of you who are interested in a dialogue about the importance of shaping community perception around things that are positive instead of the negative conversation that seems to pervade the language of our culture.
We work with low-income people on a daily basis here at Just Food. But we don't call them "low-income" people. We often, because of the vocabulary that we use put people into an almost caste system, and with that comes all kinds of perceptions, both learned and just inherited.
I want to focus on one today that the article focuses on and then add something else to it:
Are low-income people lazy?
What kid grows up wanting to be so poor that they can't afford to eat? It's not a dream that anyone has. But it's many peoples reality that they face on a daily basis.
One of the assumptions that is made about people who are accessing emergency services is that they are lazy. Why can't they just get off the couch and get a job? Why does my paycheck have to help fund their lazy lifestyle? Why can't they just stop being lazy?
These are fair questions. But these aren't the right questions.
The low-income population has many faces. It has the face of the person who has been on welfare their entire lives. But it also has the face of someone who just lost their job and after living off of their savings account for six months, has nothing left and the pantry is empty and the rent is due. Our assumptions that all people who are low-income are lazy are the wrong perceptions.
Many of our low-income clients work two, three, and four jobs. They leave their eight year old child at home to watch their five year old so they can provide for their family. Living isn't cheap here. Many of our clients are running just to stand still. Despite all of the time they don't have, many of them find time to volunteer here with us at least once per week. Lazy? No. In need of a better opportunity? Yes.
People who are down on life, be it because of a tragic circumstance, or because of their own choices that they made that they wish they wouldn't have don't need to be told how lazy they are. Yelling and pointing fingers only makes them think they deserve nothing less than to stay there.
I will go on the field of life, extend a hand to help and defend the rights and cheer on the people that I see working so hard to get back on their feet. It is often those who are on the sidelines who are the most negative. Most people, they don't need for us to tell them how lazy they are. They need us to believe in them. One means that we have to risk nothing. One could cause us to risk everything.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being."
We try to treat people as family here. We try to know their names, and know their situations. We have compassion on people...we're not above anyone. Most of the people who receive assistance that we see work harder and longer than I do. And they do it without fanfare. Stories don't get written about them and people aren't out on the field of life cheering them on. They hear the jeers of the crowd about how lazy they are and press forward, somehow finding the strength to, with a little help from their friends, make ends meet.
I hope I make it as long as they do to stand at the finish line to give them a high five.
There are currently around 50 million Americans that live with food insecurity. This means that over 15 percent of the population does not know if they will be able to afford their next meal. 60% of those in Douglas County are at risk for hunger. This equates to 68,000 people right here in our own backyard.
On Saturday, May 12, the National Association of Letter Carriers will hold the 20th annual nationwide food drive, the world’s largest one day event of its kind. Last year, Letter Carriers collected over 70 million tons of non-perishable food items that were directly distributed to food pantries and banks across the nation. In Lawrence, over ten tons were collected, which was more than was ever previously collected.
Along with our national partners, the USPS and Campbell’s soup, and our local partner, Just Food, we hope to make this year’s event even more successful. The food that you donate will stay in our community where it can best help those in need. Once collected, the food will be distributed to more than 30 food pantries and feeding programs that are affiliated with Just Food. A complete list of these agencies can be found on the Just Food website at www.justfoodks.org.
We ask that you please leave non-perishable food items in the bag that you will have received during the week near your mailbox where your Letter Carrier will collect them. The collected food will then be distributed throughout the community to those who need it. It’s that simple, that helpful, and that urgent.
Andy Tuttle, President NALC Br. 104 AFL-CIO
Jeremy Farmer, Chief Executive Officer Just Food, the food bank in Douglas County
LAWRENCE, KS – DEC. 13 – SantaCon Lawrence is teaming up with Just Food, the food bank in Douglas County and will sponsor a food drive on Saturday, Dec. 17 at The Sandbar. Donations received through the drive will help Just Food provide food to Douglas County residents through their food pantry, and through the 20 partner organizations’ food pantries and feeding programs.
It is sometimes difficult to believe that hunger exists in Douglas County. Most people think of hunger in terms of famine and mass starvation – terrible tragedies, but not something that affects people each and every day.
Hunger in our community is often more subtle. It’s a child who stuffs their pockets during lunch at school so they have food to eat at home in the evening. It’s a parent who is – ironically – overweight, because sugar and carbohydrate-laden foods are often the least expensive at the grocery store. It’s a senior citizen who goes without food in order to buy medicine, further jeopardizing his or her already fragile health.
The reality is that there are hungry people in Douglas County. Just Food provides food assistance to nearly 5,000 people each month through its four programs: food pantry, mobile food pantry, commodity distribution, and partner organizations. More than 40% of those served are children and senior citizens.
Your contribution on December 17 will help fight hunger and give hope to those who need it. As you head out to SantaCon Lawrence, be sure to grab a few items to show your support. Your generosity makes a difference!
Most Needed Food Items Boxed Meals (Hamburger Helper, Pasta Roni) Canned Meats such as Tuna and Chicken Peanut Butter and Jelly Canned Soup Crackers Canned Pasta (Spaghetti O’s)
Financial Contributions Donate online at www.justfoodfund.org. For every $1 donated, Just Food can provide five meals!
About Just Food – Just Food, the food bank in Douglas County, serves 8,000 residents each month through its food pantry, mobile food pantry, federal commodity distribution and partner organization program. For more information, visit http://www.justfoodks.org or call 785.856.7030.
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