Let Them Eat...Whatever's In These Dented Cans From The Back Of My Pantry

Don't you just love food palaces? Round these parts in Philly, we have several new Wegmans stores to choose from, and of course Whole Foods. A new Whole Foods opened not far from where I live that includes a little bar - you can have a beer or glass of wine and a little something to eat if you find the experience of shopping for your whole foods wholly exhausting and need to partake of serious refreshment. The big chain grocery stores have even stepped up their games to stay in competition. In downtown Philly, there is Di Bruno Brothers, a gourmand's shopping paradise, not to mention Reading Terminal Market, the Italian Market, and who knows how many other little gourmet shops throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding environs.

When you're pushing a cart around at, say, Wegmans - or any other food palace - loading up the goodies, and finally wheeling your way to the checkout, you probably aren't thinking to yourself, "where do those employees shop for their food?" At least one Wegmans employee in this area, it turns out, shops at a local food bank.

The food bank in question, The Lord's Pantry in Downingtown, has won honors and praise for its operation. Unlike many pantries that just hand people a bag of food, people who come to the Lord's Pantry can come in, look around, shop and choose what they need and want. It is a place with dignity. And they help people figure out what other benefits and assistance they might be eligible for, and how to apply for it. Here's some frightening data from the article:

In 2006, the Lord's Pantry served just 1,200 people; in 2009, 15,336. Last month, an all-time high of 60 families showed up on a single day. To be eligible, a family of four can earn up to $33,075 a year, individuals $16,245.

It should be noted that the food pantry is located in a upscale community where the median income is $82,979.

The day after this article appeared in my paper, another ran explaining how anger against the poor was on the rise, and how the percentage of people who think the poor have become "too dependent" on government assistance has increased from 69% to 72% in the last few years. This has happened, mind you, at the same time that my state legislature is cutting aid to the poorest elderly and disabled.

A previously undisclosed detail of Pennsylvania's brutal budget deal calls for slashing the state's already modest $27 to $42 monthly SSI supplement by 20 percent to 25 percent. Individuals will lose $5 a month, couples $10.

How much does it cost to take paratransit to a grocery store, to buy the groceries you can't afford? Why, $10. Please remember these cuts are being proposed for people who are getting about $600 a month. I invite you to make out your monthly budget with that figure. No, wait, make that $590. Because we do not want you becoming too dependent upon government assistance.

I know in these past few weeks that everyone has been emptying their pocketbooks for the disaster in Haiti and surely the need is great there. It is great to see the outpouring of support and sympathy. Hopefully we can channel a little of that love and sympathy for the needy right next door - sometimes literally - too, and stop blaming them for their need. A lot of those people using The Lord's Pantry in Downingtown used to donate to it not so long ago.

I like to give to Philabundance. I like that their vision of hunger relief includes fresh produce and dignity, not dented expired mystery cans from the back of someone's pantry. I am grateful I have some extra to share.

And yet even the have-nots recognize that others may be worse off.

"If we're having a good month, I don't come," Borden says. "I leave it for someone else who needs it."

If only the "haves" in the state legislature had half as much empathy and sense.

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What's the margin of error on the comparison between 69% and 72% for that Pew poll item? I am horrified enough by seven in ten, regardless, but if measurement error within each poll is the usual 2%, I'm not worried about this as an indication of *increase*.

Nice to hear about a food bank with a little dignity. Every experience I've had with a food bank highlights how desperate you have to be to go there, since the food is either moldy or leftovers of some test product that no one buys.

Thanks for this article. I'd like to know more about the Wegman's employee. I don't live in Wegman's territory anymore, but I wish I did- they had good food at reasonable prices and had a reputation for treating their employees very well (great benefits, scholarships for students, etc.) The Wegman's I know would be very concerned about their employees being unable to afford food. I don't want to be a corporate apologist, but I think they're a bit unfairly maligned here.

Whole Foods does donate quite a bit to the food bank where I volunteer, but I have a feeling their employees might have some complaints about how they're treated (re: health care).

Jess, I don't know anymore than what was in the article - the fact that one of the people using the food bank was wearing a Wegmans uniform. The food bank is located in an affluent area where the cost of living is relatively high, so even with Wegmans nice benfits package, I imagine it would still be pretty hard to make ends meet on a Wegmans salary if one had kids and any significant medical expenses.

Ginger good point about the poll, on both counts - margin of error and the horridness of 7 in 10 blaming the poor.

I don't honestly understand what people who think the poor have become "too dependent" want to happen, since they also seem to be strongly opposed to programs that involve job training or creating jobs. Do a majority of Americans really want to return to the conditions of Dickens' London, with beggars literally starving to death in the street?

Size, I think they do! Witness the number of people who are so, so angry with the poor for having cell phones, which might come in handy if you're trying to get or keep a job. They'd rather the poor be further marginalized and kept from contributing than take the chance that one of them, somewhere, might get something they haven't "earned."

Without constantly spouting the bit about how anyone can achieve anything they want if they just work hard enough or smart enough is essential to keeping an extremely unequal class system in place. I doubt that most americans truly want to see anyone dying in the streets; people here are extremely charitable when tradgedy strikes. It is difficult to escape a constant propaganda campaign without absorbing some of the messages though.

The illusion of a meritocracy is the only thing that can keep the current state of affairs going. The actual level of injustice becomes apparent when our economic circumstances are seen for what they are (often chance). The propaganda about the rich and poor both truly earning what they get in life is pushed hard by the vast majority of the media in the country for that reason. Caring about accumulating wealth and possessions (rather than about other people) is also pushed hard by just about every form of major media; it alienates and depolitisizes people in the same way that the line about 'free market' meritocracy does. Things like violent labor rights struggles happen when people do not simply accept their lot in the economy, or care about the state of affairs of people less fortunate. Controlling the mind of the general population is extremely important when use of force is impractical. The owners and makers of mainstream media and politicians all belong to an economic class that the vast majority of americans never will, I am not sure why any of them would say something to undermine their own authority in society. It is working out super for them so far.

I also think other people's poverty makes people uncomfortable. And many people's response to things that make them uncomfortable is "I don't want to look!"

And that then turns into "it should be hidden so I don't see it by accident." It's the same belief that's behind some of the foot-dragging about disabled access: if people in wheelchairs can get into the mall and the bus and the movie theater, they will go to the mall and wait in line for movies like everyone else, and then the squeamish able-bodied person will be reminded that disabilities exist.

This depresses me more than I have words for.

There is a definite attitude in America that if you're poor it's because you're not good enough, and you don't DESERVE help, which is tremendously Victorian if you think about it. Also a much *easier* option than having to actually, you know, think about causes of poverty or understand the workings of the poverty trap.

It used to be (in my experience, anyway -- may be different in other people's experience) that people who had actually experienced poverty themselves were a bit more understanding of the situation.* These last few years, though, I've been seeing even people who are in the poverty trap themselves condemning people in poverty for not getting themselves out of that situation and being "too dependent", even while they themselves are relying on charity to bail them out. This, I don't get.

*A closely related phenomenon, which I noticed when I collected for a food bank as a teen, was that people who have experienced poverty and hunger ALWAYS gave more generously and sensibly than people who had plenty and had probably never missed a meal involuntarily.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 17 Feb 2010 #permalink

There's a new food distribution site here in South Dakota that just opened. I believe it is through a church organization and they announced that you don't have to "prove" that you need the food in order to receive it. I see the inherent problems with this, but I am completely on board with it.

So what if someone gambled or drank their money away? They're still hungry. Period.

I don't give as much to the food pantry as I should, but one of my firm rules is that I never, ever, give food that is expired (or going to expire tomorrow). We had a quite heated discussion about it at work, where one of my co-workers insisted that there was nothing wrong with donating expired canned food, since she would eat it anyway. I felt like, if I won't eat it because it's expired, why would anyone else? Just because you need the food pantry doesn't mean that you should have to put up with expired food.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

I'm with you JustaTech. In fact, I mostly just give money to the food bank. They can get bulk deals and have said they prefer cash, so that's what I give them.

However, someone in my neighborhood organizes a can drive every holiday season. I use that as the reminder to update our emergency food stores. I give away what I have (which still has a long time left before expiring) and buy new. I figure it is a win-win. The food bank gets some extra food, and I won't be eating 10 year old cans of soup if there is an earthquake.

Oh, and they'll take diapers that are in an open pack. So that is how I get rid of the diapers left over when my kid graduates a size.

I think people like to believe that they got to where they are by hard work, and that they couldn't end up poor. The truth is that there is a lot of luck in just about every success story, and any one can end up poor.