Last night at the meeting with some folks from church (yes I am one of those areligious folks who goes to church but let’s stay on point), someone raised the issue of the “problem of people stealing food” from the donations baskets designed to go to the food pantry. The issue was raised as one of both the security of the food donations (folks intended to donate to the food pantry in the church across the street) but also the security of the church since apparently, down-and-out people were walking in off the street during service and taking things.
Is there a problem here? For sure there is a big problem. At least 2 big problems, in fact. Here they are.
1. People are in such need that they are willing to sift through the donation basket at a church to meet their needs. Enough said.
2. We are blinded by our bias when we assume that the people in need are not our friends, neighbors and church-fellows but are instead “poor folks” as traditionally conceived in class terms (we could talk about the stereotype of low-class but let’s stay on point). I’d bet my own next meal on the fact that the people needing that food are not strangers walking in off the street. Instead, I wager they are members of our church community trying to weather tough times without the stigma of asking their friends for a handout. In Sweet Charity, her book about emergency food programs, Poppendieck observes that food is the first thing to go for families falling from economic security. Long before folks stop making their rent/mortgage payments, giving up their cars and even passing on cellphones, internet and cable TV they tend to change the way they eat. In many ways our eating habits are the least visible and most flexible of our living habits. If you believe that your economic troubles are only temporary (lasting, for example, until you find another job), you are not likely to sell your house but you can skip fresh fruit and vegetables or go hungry on the last few days of the month. No one will know.
Food insecurity is here, folks. There are loads of very nice middle class houses with very empty fridges all over the United States. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe Brian Williams: http://rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/28/9069519-waiting-for-midnight-hungry-families-on-food-stamps-give-walmart-enormous-spike