Art of the Cart 9–What is a food bank to do?



By Susan Brockway

I pose this question before I even begin, because unlike one or two years ago, things are not as easy, and need a quick solution.  I am a board member of a Feeding America member food bank.  My fellow board members, staff, volunteers and I are constantly looking for ways to bring more food into the pipeline.  We have increased our distribution by 1 million pounds in one year and will most likely see another increase this year.  Some would say “great job”.  I say this is a recipe for trouble and that we need to pay close attention to the trends. 
It is expected that we will see an increase of approximately 40% in the number of agencies and individuals needing food from community food banks.  Is anyone but me questioning why this is a dangerous trend?  While we certainly are working hard at  meeting the needs of growing numbers of families, food banks and agencies were never meant to take the place of retailers, gardens, co-ops and markets in supplying food. 
Some would say that food banks have been forced to become a retailer of sorts, making food choices and purchasing food to keep up with the increasing demand.  When people and organizations who have traditionally been food bank donors are forced by the economy to be food bank recipients, what are  we to do?
Please tell me you are not satisfied with the status quo.  Let’s open some dialogue about why most states are struggling to provide an easier venue for individuals to apply and qualify for food stamps? We are a food rich nation, how are we managing this asset? 

Susan Brockway is Sr. Community Relations Manager at Tyson Foods, deeply involved in the company’s hunger relief efforts.  She is also Board President of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

photo Creative Commons, Mike Licht

Art of the Cart–8

By Susan Brockway

Pass the mashed potatoes and yes….I will have another piece of turkey. 
Do these words sound familiar?  For some of us they certainly ring true, but for millions this Thanksgiving, it was not the same old song.  I was at home on Thanksgiving and watched countless stories about people having less, doing more with less, and more importantly……spending time with friends, neighbors, meal sites and family so everyone would have someone and somewhere to go. 
I bring this up today because one of the stories I watched focused on a family who had been unemployed and lost everything last year, but this year made it back on their feet and invited four people; total strangers, into their home for dinner.  Four turned into over thirty and without a Federal Bailout Program and a trip to the local grocery on a private jet, they were able to change the lives of some families who would have gone without or simply been alone. 
The power of food and how it brings us together regardless of our socioeconomic status, cultural background or religious beliefs is powerful.  We can live without a car, do with less clothing in our closets and even sleep more than one or two to a room to make things work.  We cannot however, live without food. 
More importantly, none of us should be deprived of the spiritual nutrition that comes with knowing our children will not go to bed hungry and our grandparents will not have to make a choice between food or medication.
There is no federal bailout for the over 200 food banks who supply thousands of agencies across the country who in turn serve millions who simply cannot make ends meets any longer.   Unlike that conference held at a resort, food is not an option.  It is a silly thing called a requirement.  I trust that we all remember pulling the lever in November and casting a vote for some kind of change.  Our responsibility did not end in November, it continues with our voices today.  I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to invest a few billion in a Nutritional Stimulus Package.  I am fairly certain the results would be something all Americans could be proud of. 
And I would like the family who invited 4 and ended up with 30 to be on the oversight committee.  Agree or disagree, but please use your voice to make a difference.

Art of the Cart 7

We have less than one month until we will elect our next President.  While this seemed quite far away two years ago when they began campaigning, several things have changed in our world, yet one things remains constant: the need to provide more food for those who simply do not have the needed nutritional resources. 
Since politics is such a “sticky wicket” as I am inclined to mention on occasion, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the power each of us has in the decision to feed our friends, neighbors and family members who are in need.
While it is easy to complain about a party’s position regarding the war, financial upheaval and a number of other critical areas where big government has dropped the ball, I would pose this question to all candidates: What is your position on food, and exactly how many meals do you think a person needs each day to survive, to thrive, to grow…………?   When they look at you with a what is likely to be a mouthful of rhetoric, take a deep breath and remember that the answer is quite easy: More than what millions of Americans are getting today. 
I would suggest we take one billion dollars and feed a few million people that cannot make ends meet, not because of what they have done or didn’t do.  But because they simply do not have the resources. 
I am amazed that a financial crisis which moves 700 billion dollars to purchase bad financial paper can bring a grown men to tears, while the thought of a family living on one meal a day–with that meal at risk–barely causes a facial nod. 
So what can we do in this situation?  Get out and vote.  Call the campaign office of the person you are considering for this honored office and ask what their position is on food.  Simple……..don’t take “no” for an answer.  Instead, think of the more than 35 million people in the United States who are food insecure.  It is an argument we cannot afford to lose.

Art of the Cart–6

By Susan Brockway

My position at Tyson allows me the privilege of working with food banks, agencies and hunger advocates all over the United States. My company has a major focus on hunger relief, but we are only one company.  There are hundreds just like mine who also see the need to provide time, talent and treasure.  Yet it is still not enough.
A day does not go by that I do not talk to three or four groups who collectively are trying to feed millions of individuals and families who are accessing services.  And the number of those at risk continues to rise.  At some locations, there is an increase of more than 70% over last year, with more funding cuts, less dollars available for operations and simply less food. 
I have also had the honor of working directly for agencies who provide services for the homeless and hungry, and am now a proud board member of a food bank in Arkansas.   My food bank suffers from the same condition of many agencies and groups who work tirelessly to advocate and provide services.  I would like to title this condition, IAMNOTWORHTYITIS.  I have given this quite a bit of thought and I know it will draw some healthy conversation, so I am going to knock this one out of the park and get people thinking.  
Through my various careers, I’ve attended a number of public presentations for CDBG dollars, other state and federal dollars being administered in communities; I’ve worked with FEMA, HUD and private foundations.   I would like to wag a finger at all of us in the hunger relief community for the way we approach the need for resources. 
In my role as a community relations manager, if I’m working for economic development, I have no difficulty getting people with money to a cocktail party, dinner or a networking event in the middle of the day and during the evenings.  I  am on both sides of the line as a corporate funder and a non-profit advocate so I have seen how successful business groups are in “selling their message”, obtaining millions of dollars in grants, revenues from local municipalities and foundations. 
On the other hand, as advocates for those in crisis of not eating, we can’t seem to step up to the plate and sell the mission and need for more money, food and programs.  Hunger is not sexy.  It is not as easy to get four executives to a peanut butter and jelly lunch at a Boys and Girls Club, so they can tour a facility and understand the need for more dollars to feed OUR children; not children in another country…….children that live in our neighborhoods.  I have no difficulty however getting four people on a golf cart to discuss business partnerships and how  it is important to work together to make the community better when economic development is concerned.   Easy sell, easy day, and great networking.
In my non-profit work, I am also guilty of not raising the roof and using every resource available, which includes board members, customers and agencies of my own food bank, and simply not standing for the status quo. 
Simply stated, we have resources that are underused and the comments usually go towards “that won’t work”.  Well, what we are doing is not working either, so what do we have to lose?  I want to hear from board members, agencies and others; let’s start to work together and move some resources towards those we are helping.  To get in the game, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and stand up.  Are you willing?  I think you are, so let’s start today.

Art of the Cart–5

By Sue Brockway

After a recent trip to buy groceries, I came out with 3 bags and minus $82.00.  My goal was to make meals for one week with no processed or junk food.  I had $22.00 in vegetables and fruit, $19.00 in protein, $12.00 in dairy, $16.00 in grains and pasta, and the balance in household supplies and taxes added on. 
When I got home, I looked at what I had purchased and realized I could probably get 21 meals and 5 snacks out of the bags……but no more.  So how does a family of 2,3 or 4  do the same?  They do not. 
My garden is not yet yielding so I have to look towards purchased food for 3-4 more weeks.  Processed foods would have been cheaper, but the nutritional content on a number of items were not as good, leaving many with a choice of either healthier options or those that are more cost effective. 
Families are under siege with rising costs, and I am not sure those who legislate ever have to make these kinds of choices when they shop for a week’s worth of groceries.   I have an idea: Continue the Food Stamp Challenge— ask our representatives and congressional leaders to shop for a week with a budget of food stamps and see what they come up with.  I know of number of our leaders are trying to make sense of the budget and how to get more food into the hands of those who simply cannot make ends meets.  There are also some who most likely do not ever consider those types of choices. 
How do we get the message out, how do we help families eat better and with more nutritional choices?  Let’s talk about the options……agree to disagree but please use your voice to make a difference. 

On another note, we will be traveling across Iowa cooking for RAGBRAI to reduce childhood hunger beginning Saturday.  Please check out the RAGBRAI spot on our website and see daily pictures, video and blog entries throughout the route.  Visit us in Missouri Valley, Underwood, Kimballton, Grand Junction, Ames, Green Mountain, Toledo, Belle Plaine, North Liberty, Mount Vernon and LeClaire.  See you there!