Imagine a community without hunger

By Jennifer Jones and Carolyn Pryor

Thousands of pounds of food are generously being donated and collected this month at more than 137 drop-off sites as part of the Hancock County Food Drive.

New this year are 13 “paper can” sites where customers donate a $1 and know that four meals (yes, four) will be purchased for that price from Good Shepherd Food Bank, one of our suppliers.

March is the perfect time for the Food Drive. Demand is up as winter expenses are high and bank accounts are low, especially for those whose income is primarily seasonal. Charitable donations slow down in late water. Farms and gardens aren’t producing. Hunger, however, knows no season. It doesn’t discriminate based on age. It’s blind to skin color, religion, sexuality and country of birth.

Some people appreciate the food pantry’s community-spirited work, others have misunderstandings and are skeptical. We’d like to debunk a few myths and share some ideas about larger community issues that relate to food insecurity.

Myth: Food pantry clients are alcoholics, drug addicts and people “working” the system.

Reality: The majority of our clients are hardworking, lower and middle-income neighbors who have landed in a tough situation. However, we don’t discriminate against anyone, including those with substance abuse issues.

A family’s financial situation can change rapidly. One family member with special needs, caring for elderly relatives, a divorce, a disability, a lay-off or death of a family member can move a family from meeting their monthly needs to requiring support to put daily food on the table.

Food pantry clients also spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on housing and heat. Add in the cost of a car required for commuting to work, childcare and health care. If the camel’s back isn’t broken yet, paying child support or student loan debt might be the final straw. The reality is that many jobs in the community don’t actually pay a living wage.

Myth: People who go to the food pantry want processed or junk food, not healthy food.

Reality: Like you, food pantry clients want access to quality food that is fresh and not full of preservatives. They appreciate whole grain bread, cereal and pasta, good cuts of meat, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, eggs and yogurt. You should see how quickly a box of fresh tomatoes or apples gets snapped up. Some appreciate and need foods that are sugar-, gluten- or dairy-free.

Food is the most important, least expensive, preventative health care measure. Children and adults with healthy diets are better able to control diabetes and build strong bones and teeth. Employees are less likely to miss work, enjoy greater productivity, contribute more to our communities.

Despite what the Trump administration’s budget director said two weeks ago about there being no “demonstrable evidence” that providing free breakfast to poor kids makes a difference in their educational results, we know that’s political baloney. Just ask any teacher if there’s an educational performance difference for kids who are food insecure.

Myth: Because they get assistance, people shouldn’t have a choice in what they receive.

Reality: Just because someone is experiencing poverty, is down on their luck, in transition or having a hard time making ends meet, they shouldn’t be deprived of their human dignity. We believe all pantry clients should have the same access to basic foods the rest of us have. To that end, the pantry promotes healthy food choices and menu planning.

Myth: People go to the food pantry to get free food so they can buy cigarettes and alcohol.

Reality: Yes, some people are making trade-offs with a limited budget that may include tobacco and alcohol purchases. But what we see most commonly is folks paying for medicine and buying less food. They drive unsafe, uninsured cars. They do without things that most of us take for granted, like new clothes and boots. If you doubt this, please volunteer for a few shifts when the pantry is open – you may see things in a new way.

Every year, we displace more of our population through a diminishing supply of safe, affordable housing. People either can’t find housing, or they’re paying too much for it. Some clients are driven to the pantry in part because they’re paying $1,500 per month, plus utilities, because that’s what’s available. This isn’t new. But Island Housing Trust and others working on this really need greater support in developing new solutions. This issue affects our entire community and economy.

There are many great reasons for year-round bus service on MDI and Trenton. People would have more employment options, fewer expenses related to cars and better access to food pantries.

In the future, online food pantry shopping would allow people who are sick, homebound or lacking transportation to have access to food. We know we are not reaching all those in need. With a larger facility, the food pantry could have greater storage capacity for bulk purchases and donations of nonperishable foods.

Our dream at the Bar Harbor Food Pantry is that food insecurity will end and we’ll go out of business. Until that dream becomes a reality, we sincerely thank the kind-hearted people, organizations and businesses who give generously and work hard to help so many children, seniors, families and neighbors have nourishing food to eat, every day, every week, year-round.

Jennifer Jones is executive director of the Bar Harbor Food Pantry. Caroline Pryor is a food pantry and Serendipity volunteer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.