Canned Food Drives and What Families in Need REALLY Need

My daughter is a Dutch Broista and today, Valentine’s Day, she made the following announcement:

It’s Dutch Luv day! If you bring three cans of food to any Dutch Bros location you get a free coffee!!

According to “Household Food Security in the United States in 2012,” a report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, in September 2013 (Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Mark Nord, and Anita Singh, ERR-155), 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least part of the year during 2012, with 5.7 percent of them experiencing very low food security “- meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food

Food Insecurity Graphic

So, almost 6 of every 100 households in the USA wasn’t able to ensure that every family member had enough food to eath throughout the year in 2012. Almost 9 of every 100 households were not able to meet the healthy, nutritional needs of their family members, even if they had enough food to eat. In summary, nearly 15 out of every 100 households accessed or needed to access emergency food distribution sites in 2012.

The 2013 Point-In-Time Count of Homelessness in Multnomah County report presented to Portland Housing Bureau, 211info, and Multnomah County by Kristina Smock Consulting in June 2013 reported:

On a single night in January, more than 2,869 people in Multnomah County were homeless. They were families with children, veterans, women fleeing domestic violence, unaccompanied youth and disabled adults, men and women of every age.

I’m uncertain if those families and households who are experiencing homelessness are accurately represented in the USDA report of households which are food insecure. I’m sure the effort was made to include them, but I’m almost equally sure that families and people who are shelter insecure aren’t necessarily answering census questionnaires.

What I know from personal experience of having needed and received food boxes is this: the type and quality of food donated for food banks to provide families in need has diminished over the past 25 years and that despite the rising food insecurity and need to access resources, many people will not go to food banks because the food provided does not actually meet the needs of the people it’s supposed to be helping.

I think it’s great that companies and corporations run canned food drives in an effort to increase donations of food to help their local communities out. Offering access to free or reduced cost access to their services and products seems like a really great idea. However, my observation and experience has been that the people who need or want the free or reduced access can be the same people who experience food insecurities and may be “recycling” unused items received from food boxes they have received.

Foods like dried and canned beans are good protein sources, but I know a lot of people don’t know how to prepare dried beans and may not have recipes or know how to best serve these foods to their families in ways that they will eat them. So bags and cans of beans are often recycled or stack up from their lack of knowledge and inability to use what’s been donated.

Canned foods like corn, green beans, carrots, and peas are inexpensive on the grocery store shelves and because of this are often donated in overabundance to food pantries. I honestly wonder, though, how many of the households donating these canned goods actually use these as staple foods in their weekly menu planning – especially the canned peas and carrots.

I’ve had canned ravioli and sphaghetti-like foods in food boxes, as well as boxed things like Hamburger and Tuna Helper. These kinds of food are extremely high in sodium and added sugars, not to mention the fact that these items are supposed to be used WITH hamburger and tuna fish, which often are not included in the food box.

Other unhealthy and unpalatable canned food items include fruits in heavy and light syrup instead of natural juices, nut butters and jellies full of preservatives and additives. Cheap bags and boxes of white rice and pastas made from overly processed, blanched grains, then enriched with chemical nutrients are a frequent staple of food boxes as well. Ramen noodles are the cheapest and worst contributions to food banks. The noodles are high fat, high sodium, and low in nutrients.

Sometimes “juices” are donated. Often these aren’t actual juices but colored sugar water flavored with up to 10% juice. Occasionally “treats” are included like candy, chips, and baked goods or baking mixes for baked goods.

What I find truly disheartening about this is the amount of “fat shaming” and “poverty blaming” that criticizes families who are requesting or needing assistance with housing and food for being obese and unhealthy, yet the foods being donated to them are the very foods which contribute to obesity and poor health.

If you are going to donate food to help the families and households in need please keep in mind the following:

1) Easily used protein: Canned tuna, salmon, and chicken are at a premium for families who may be without the use of a stove to cook on and space to store food. These are foods which are more expensive and least accessible by families dependent on food donations and supplemental nutrition programs.

2) Whole grain and multi-grain products: There is some debate regarding the impacts of grains on health. However, the fact is that most families use grains as a staple in their diets, especially those families most at risk of hunger. Whole grain and multi-grain products are less refined and processed and contain higher nutritional values. They are also more expensive and often out of the budgets of families who may need to access donated food.

3) Fresh & frozen foods can be donated directly to the food banks and provide better nutrition than canned and boxed items. Extra lean ground beef, lean cuts of pork, stew meat, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lean roasts and steaks are foods that food insecure families can’t afford for themselves. Find out if the local food distribution centers have freezers to store these items.Other refrigerated items like eggs, Greek yogurt, and soy, almond, & whole milks are beneficial. Fresh fruits and vegetables which aren’t overripe and badly bruised or nearing spoilage are helpful.

4) Non-food products which cannot be purchase using SNAP benefits, are more expensive, and helpful in performing daily activities like working, seeking employment, and feeling comfortable in pulbic are needed: Feminine and personal hygeine products like tampons, and pads; razors for women and men; toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue, and moist wipes; body wash, shampoo & conditioner, anti-perspirant, toothpaste & toothbrushes; infant supplies like diapers, baby wipes. Household cleaning supplies are also needed.

One of the most disheartening and difficult things for any person, especially a parent or grandparent to do is go to an agency of strangers and admit that we are unable to provide for our family’s needs and wellbeing, to fill out an in depth questionnaire questioning our income sources, bills, and the events and choices which led to us needing to ask for the assistance, and then to receive assistance which isn’t helpful to meeting our needs then face the reports, opinions, and comments in various media from multiple souces which criticize, shame, and blame us for being poor, obese, and needing assistance in the first place. It’s dehumanizing, depressing, and humiliating.

What if those of us who can afford to donate the kinds of healthy foods we are committed to serving our own loved ones committed to donating that same kind of love and nurture to those in need? What if we stopped trying to decide if people are worthy of helping and just decide that helping others in need was worthwhile regardless of why they may be in need? What if we served people instead of statistics and populations?

Discover more truths about hunger at The Oregon Food Bank


10 Last Minute Valentine’s Gifts from the Dollar Store, Lanark County Food Bank,

Abuse Recovery Ministries & Services

I know that not everyone identifies as a Christian and I understand that, often, women who have experienced different kinds of abuse, especially those who are married and attend Christian churches or are members of certain Christian denominations, may have very tragic and distorted histories with the way the Bible has been taught and how they may have been treated or admonished to stay in relationship with their abusers. As a matter of fact, this has frequently been a way where women who have been physically, sexually, mentally, and emotionally victimized by their abusers may also have experienced a form of abuse known as spiritual abuse.

In our modern society where so many people of faith hold firm positions on matters such as marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body, even if she is pregnant and the expression of these positions is done in loud and vociferous ways with messages of hate and hell, spiritual abuse can happen indirectly, causing those who have suffered at the hands of human men and women who do not have a connection to a faith community, the Bible, God, or Christ and wind up taking paths and making choices which are at odds with biblical principles and values to experience spiritual abuse through the witnessing of vitriol and hate messages publicly displayed and declared as spiritual truth.

Although I consider myself a Christian, I am uneasy with my faith much of the time and am still working through my understanding and beliefs about who God is and His character. Some might even consider me a heretic and misguided because I have doubts about doctrine and teachings regarding hell, condemnation, and God’s views on wickedness and sin. This means that I have a tendency to be somewhat cynical and suspicious when encountering many ministries which are in place to assist people who are often marginalized and treated as victims in our society.

The thing that I’ve been realizing though, as I learn more about myself and my responses to how I’ve been abused in my past, long before anything that was experienced in the almost 18 year toxically codependent relationship which has had a lot of similarities to Domestic Violence relationships in its outcomes, and how I’ve become the person I have been, is that I never had a healthy picture of parents or adults, therefore I also never developed a healthy picture of who God is and what His character is like. I’m not alone in this.

As children, we form our first sense of self and identity from the adults and caregivers in our lives. We also come to understand God, His character, His will, and His role in our lives from these early, foundational relationships and how they are formed. This informs our continued development of personal and individual identity. When we grow up without a healthy picture of God and other people, especially caregivers and people in authority in our lives, we wind up without healthy and constructive pictures of what healthy and constructive adult relationships look like. This then becomes foundational and instrumental tothe kinds of relationships we develop and maintain.

Now that I am transitioning from toxic codependency with a person whose personal identity and sense of personhood is as damaged and distorted as my own has been, it is important that I learn what healthy, functional, and constructive looks like in order for me to learn how be be healthy, functional, and constructive. I need to learn what it looks like spiritually regarding God and His character, because that is the filter which guides and informs my own personal sense of identity.

Being in a Her Journey group through Abuse Recovery Ministries and Services is teaching me this. There may be some doctrinal issues that may arise which I am uncomfortable with. However, the purpose of this group is not to discuss or debate doctrine or theology. It’s purpose is to rebuild a healthy, constructive, and functional picture of God, His character, and how He views and loves His children, specifically those who have been abused and who have deveolped a distorted sense of self and a distorted understanding of God’s person, character, and will.

This class and group may not be for everyone, or it may not be within every person’s comfort zone. However, whether you are a Christian or not, whether you believe in a diety or many dieties or none at all, coming into the room and experiencing first hand the love, acceptance, and constructive teaching about the fact that we are meant to be loved and are intended for a life and a purpose other than to serve as another person’s physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and/or spiritual punching bag and garbage receptacle for all their bad moods and problems, is a good thing to hear and learn about.

There are twelve classes covering many topics including boundaries and other things which may not seem to be spiritual in their focus, but have critical spiritual components. These classes are free and can be taken as often as needed. There is a camaraderie from engaging with other women who are going through their own journeys of healing and growth.

If you have a different spiritual background and perspective from Christianity, the principles of God’s character and the kind of life He wants someone coming out of abuse to grow in are still valid and valuable teachings which can have concrete life application. Take what you need, what serves you, and leave the rest behind.

Changing Perceptions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term, Domestic Violence?

Is it Sleeping with the Enemy with Julia Roberts?

or the JLo movie, Enough?

Is it sensationalized headlines in local and national news media?

USA Today: Domestic Violence On the Job: Prepare for the Worst in Your Workplace

Portland’s 2013 homicide list: Domestic disputes, fights outside bars, gang shootings

What comes to mind when you hear the terms: Batterer, Abuser, Perpertrator? Is it all the various actors and actresses portraying soulless, remorseless, sociopathic, and psychopathic killers without a conscience? Is it the Pimp, the Drug Lord, the Alcoholic/Addict?

Who do you see when you think of a DV victim? Do you see the mousy, brow-beaten, kowtowing figure of a modern hausfrau? Does she look like someone you know?

What are your feelings about these images and notions of the kind of people who are involved in Domestic Violence? He’s bad? He’s evil? She’s weak? She brings it on herself? They’re both nuts, they deserve each other? What’s WRONG with them?

What if I were to tell you that these are some of the contributing factors to me staying and returning to my almost 18 year toxic and dysfunctional relationship? What if there are others, like myself and my relational partner, who don’t fit into these dirty, neat little boxes? What if, when we have tried to reach out, because our stories didn’t look or sound like these, we were dismissed, scoffed at, and scorned? What if we saw some of the things that fit, but they didn’t quite fit, and there were other things going on, like mental and physical illnesses, which we didn’t realize or understand are often part of the larger picture around Domestic Violence? What if we only thought we could get help if there was an actual crime?

What if these movies, headlines, and notions are true, but incomplete representations of what abuse means, what it is, what it looks like, and how it impacts the lives of the people experiencing in, whichever side they may be on?

I had an amazing conversation yesterday with Davonna Livingston, author of “Voices Behind the Razorwire” and founder of Changing Perceptions, “an organization dedicated to working with anyone who has been affected by abuse.”

Changing Perceptions is a nonprofit organization that utilizes peer-based support and a writing curriculum to provide measurable outcomes for victims of abuse and neglect. The program focuses on helping victims of abuse regain their feelings of control by encouraging them to stop thinking of themselves as victims and to begin to live their lives as survivors.
This transformation begins with having their experience validated and given a purpose.

I’m meeting with her in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually feeing excited, like something really big is about to happen from this. We’ll see.

In the meantime, if you or anyone you know hase experienced abuse or neglect, as a child or as an adult, consider exploring and sharing this resource as a tool for healing.

Emergency Funding for Head Start: Angel Donors Invest in Children

Last week I wrote about the Head Start program and how the shut down had already begun affecting the ability of several Head Start Programs to be able to serve the children and families enrolled in their local programs.  Several Head Start programs were on the same fiscal year funding cycle as our Federal government, therefore, at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, there was no money available for them to pay their staff, purchase their supplies, or pay their bills during the shut down and families had to find other places for their children to go.

The good news is that some private people who have an understanding of the importance of the work that Head Start does for children, families, and communities, have stepped up and donated $10 million in emergency funding to the National Head Start Association. I received the following in an email forwarded from the director of our local Head Start Program:

Philanthropists Keep Head Start Open During Government Shutdown; Laura and John Arnold provide up to $10 million in emergency funding to help children and families.

This is amazing news and such a wonderful gesture. However, it’s a finger in a few holes in a wall with large cracks forming and the overwhelming pressure is building up behind it. That ten million helps approximately 7,000 kids in six states for the current fiscal year, which just ended or will end at the end of October. Program years where the funding had already been approved and supposedly allocated to be distributed to the programs for the 2012 – 2013 Fiscal Year, which ended right as the 2013 – 2014 academic year was beginning. The 2013 – 2014 Fiscal Year that Senate, Congress, and POTUS cannot or will not agree on, was supposed to start on October 1st for some programs. The rest of the programs are supposed to start November 1st.

At the end of the first week of the government shutdown, seven Head Start programs in six states (AL, CT, FL, GA, SC and MS) were closed, leaving 7,195 of our nation’s most vulnerable children without access to Head Start. More than 11,000 additional children risk losing access to comprehensive Head Start services if the shutdown continues through October. If the government does not reopen by November 1, additional Head Start programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. Territory stand to lose access to Head Start funding.

Something that bothers me about the article is the fact that we are still counting on our government to fix their problems and do the right thing by all of it’s citizens. With each new administration, each new election, each new war, recession, and economic downturn, politicians who may once have had good intentions, vision, and ideals, fail their constituents and fall into the self-perpetuating engine of political posturing, self-promotion, and catering to whoever has the most resources to make the biggest noise. Now, once again, we, the people, are arguing in social media about whose fault it is, vilifying each other for still believing or trusting one party or the other, when our children are not being supported with the educational services they need in order to become the hope for the future they truly are.

“The entire Head Start community and the at-risk children we serve are tremendously grateful to the Arnolds for their compassion and generosity,” Vinci said. “The bottom line, however, is that angel investors like the Arnolds cannot possibly offer a sustainable solution to the funding crisis threatening thousands of our poorest children. Our elected officials simply must find a fiscal solution that protects, preserves and promotes the promise that quality early learning opportunities like Head Start offer to nearly one million at-risk children each year.”

Why don’t the people with these kind of resources: the shareholders, the stock owners, the corporate heads and their CFO’s pool the money they try to hide from the IRS and create a non-profit educational foundation that manages investments and funds the education of their future workforce? Create financial foundations to be the core funding for teaching Americans how to fish and provide the supplies with which to do so?

The checks and balances of our democratic system have ground our government to a halt because the government has outgrown the original and intended purpose. All of the services and programs the government administers serve real needs and some version of these programs are definitely needed by those who receive the services. However, government bureaucracies are not creative, innovative, or inventive. They are administrative. Creative solutions, innovative ideas, and inventive concepts come from those who have something at stake besides the electoral or popular vote. They come from people who have the incentive to survive, grow, and thrive. Invest in the people who are most in need of finding a solution and stop limiting them by saying government is the only way to get our citizens’ needs met.

The most effective programs and solutions have proven time and again to be from a synergy of people with the resources making them available to the people who have experienced the problem first hand. So, let’s get the people and companies with the money, together with the program administrators, the families who’ve been in the program, and the educators who have made Head Start the stellar program it has been over the past fifty years, and create something new whose funding is not attached to bi-partisian bickering and temper tantrums. I think it could work.

I think the same thing could work for programs like SNAP, TANF, ERDC, and so many others. What do you think?

Accessing Social Services: Where do the rules come from? Follow the money.

Agencies and organizations that provide assistance to families in need, at any level, will always have a list of Rules, Rights, and Responsibilities. A lot of the time it’s about two, double-sided pages long, and is a form which is provided as part of the initial application process. Usually there are two copies, one which the “client/applicant” signs and submits with the application and a copy for the client/applicant to retain. Signing and submitting this form states that the client/applicant has read, understood, AND agrees to abide by the terms and conditions set fort in that document. I believe that one of the biggest reasons for stress, tension, and conflict between the client/applicant and the agency personnel is the fact that a majority of people fail to read and understand these documents before signing and turning them in. Then, when they unintentionally violate the rules or fail to follow through on the responsibilities, they complain that their rights are being denied.

Where do these rules come from?

Generally speaking the rules come from the source of the funding. Private sector organizations, called private, non-profits, are organizations which provide services for which those receiving the services do not pay or pay a minimal amount. Free and low-cost services still require financing. The employees of the organizations have to earn a living wage, the building has to be maintained, supplies have to be paid for, as well as the actual services which the client receives. Somebody, somewhere is paying for that. Business 101: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!

The most common analogy I can think of is commercial television. Prior to digitization, cable, and satellite, it was possible (and still is, although it isn’t well known or easy to understand how to access) for people to plug in their television, attach an antenna, and watch “free” television programming. However, that programming isn’t really “free.” Somebody is paying the costs associated with airing the programming: the salaries of the employees who handle all the behind the scenes support for putting the programming together, the “talent,” (the faces and voices the public wants to see and hear), and provide profit for the shareholders of the various companies involved in program development. This is where the dreaded commercials come in. Companies which have products they wish to market and sell to the same public who is watching the programming, pay for commercial time during shows which likely are watched by their target audience. So, these companies purchase advertising slots, during the shows in which to tell the viewers about their products and try t convince them to purchase the products.

Social service agencies receive their funding from various sources; usually a mixture of government funding at the federal, state, and local levels in combination with money they have received from corporations and foundations who have approved grant applications, and donations received from corporations and individuals who have contributed money to the program’s cause. Government funding comes from collections of taxes and fees which have been associated with specific laws and regulations put into effect by our democratic process. All public money comes with layers and layers of political and legal language specifying how the money which has been collected from the citizens can be used in service to the citizens. As a result of people trying to legislate and regulate real and perceived abuses of public funds, an overwhelming number of regulatory rules have been attached to every penny of public money.

If the organiztion which has received public funds to run specific programs fails to be in complete compliance with all of those rules and they are audited, the organization can be fined and have its funding removed. Therefore, the rules the organization has to abide by, get written into the the rules which the clients have to adhere to. A clients failure to understand and follow the rules, if not caught and appropriately corrected and resolved by the program administrators, can result in the loss of services to all of the clients in the program because the funding could be yanked for non-compliance.

This is also true for funds which come from corporations and foundations. Money that comes from these sources are like scholarships which have to be applied for at regular intervals. Every application period has multiple private, non-profits competing for the money to fund their programs. Grant proposals are written which detail every aspect of the program they are trying to get funding for. The grant proposals talk about the target population for whom the services are being established. It identifies the need and where that need comes from. The grant writers have to explain step by step what the mission, goals, and expected outcomes are and how these things are expected to be achieved, including what the program rules and expectations will be for those who are receiving the services. If the grant is approved, chosen over all the other grant proposals received, the funding is provided with the expectation that all of the details of program development and administration will be adhered to. These are then written into the rules, responsibilities, and expectations the client/recipients are required to agree to. Failure to comply and adhere to the terms of the grant can end the possibility of that grant continuing to be funded and result in the loss of services.

When we request services from any agency or organization, we must understand that these services are not free. Someone is paying for them. As part of that understanding we have to accept that what we aren’t paying for in money, we are paying for with our time, our attitude, and our performance in adhering to the program requirements and meeting our agreed upon responsibilities. If we fail to comply with the terms and conditions of the program, because we didn’t take the time to read and understand the rules and responsibilities of participating in the program, then we have likely given up some of the rights associated with them as well. Our willful ignorance of these things can and will result in loss of services which we need and could potentially result in loss of services to other families and the inability of the agency to continue to provide those services to the community.

The Connundrum of Accessing Social Services: Control, rules, and authority

There are a lot of agencies, organizations, and programs designed to assist people and families that are experiencing subsistence level needs of all kinds. Government administered programs through county, city, and state offices such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrtional Assistance Program or “Food Stamps”), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (Cash Assistance or “Welfare”), Medicaid (OHP/OHP Plus and other health care coverage administered by the state), and ERDC (Employment Related Day Care assistance) are the most common programs thought of, but there are many others. Other programs are administered through community based social service agencies and CDCs (Community Development Corporations) such as Human Solutions, LifeWorks Northwest, and Hacienda CDC are just a few.

It can be quite overwhelming for a family experiencing life crises, especially crises that are economic in nature, to know where to start or how to deal with the complex and seemingly arbitrary rules associated with accessing the services. If family members have been exposed to, grew up in, or have prejudicial attitudes toward those who access government benefits and assistance, it can be even more challenging. For families which have been caught up in generational patterns and cycles of poverty, it can be even worse because of the stigma and prejudices that are so widely prevalent in all forms of media. The degree of stigma, judgment, prejudice, and negative assumptions is very disheartening, demeaning, and undermining of people who genuinely are trying to find a way to dig themselves out of entrenched poverty cycles and for those who find themselves, for the first time in their lives falling into that trench.

Today, I want to address those who find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to ask for help through these programs and agencies.

Asking for help, regardless of the reason for needing the help, is a position most people find themselves in at one point or another in their lives. Everyone makes a mistake, makes a wrong decision, or encounters unexpected events they weren’t prepared for. It’s a fact of life. Some people are educated, trained, equipped, and have the cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and psychological strengths to navigate these things with minimal externally visible effects. Many people are not prepared and may experience any combination of things which combine together in ways that show unmistakable effects, often identified as negative.

If you are someone who is feeling overwhelmed with panic and axiety about your circumstances and who has experienced a lot of hardship and difficulty, reaching out to strangers behind a counter and having to explain your need for their assistance can feel like you are walking into the lion’s den. I’ve been in your situation. I understand what it feels like to fill out packets of forms, then get interviewed and have to explain the answers on the forms. I know, firsthand, the conflicting feelings of defensiveness and desperation, which make you second and third guess every word that comes from your mouth as you watch every eye twitch and body shift of the person you are being interviewed by to determine how they may be judging you and and your words.

I think one of the biggest problems for those of us needing to ask for assistance from these programs is the fact that we are required to disclose every detail and facet of our personal information and provide documentation that we are who we say we are, then justify the fact that we are in a position needing assistance. We often face people who may see tens to hundreds of faces like ours with stories like ours, day in and day out, and our stories and circumstances are not unique in their experience. So, they become numb, jaded, and immune to what we are experiencing emotionally. They appear bored, indifferent, jaded, cynical, matter of fact, and uncaring a lot of the time. There is little to no empathy or compassion displayed and while they may say they understand, they do little to demonstrate that understanding of what we are experiencing.

Somehow, being in the position of requesting assistance, subverts our rights to privacy, autonomy, and independent action. We become accountable to the rules, guidelines, and policies, because they are the rules, guidelines, and policies and these people are the gatekeepers who get to say whether or not we are worthy of being assisted, after we have submitted to full disclosure and full exposure of our most sensitive selves. We become serfs, supplicating ourselves, at the feet of beaurocratic cogs in the system of funding streams, political posturing, and edicts established by highly educated academic theoreticians in think tanks who have little to no direct personal experience with the kind of subsistence and hardship we have gone through which brought us through the doors.

So, people who are feeling the heat of societal stigma, subjected to indifferent and seemingly uncaring administrators, while experiencing stressful and disruptive life-circumstances, who may not be experienced or equipped with effective communication and social skills, are expected to act in rational, compliant ways to make the jobs of those who are processing their requests easier, with little or no expectation that the person they are dealing with is equipped or experienced at interacting with the same level of communication and social skill competency they are expected to have.

Social Work Cartoon: Client, service user, what’s his name?

Do you see the conundrum?