If the sole purpose of a food bank is to temporarily satisfy hunger, then a drive-thru line waiting for their hand out of a box of food would serve just fine. If the greatest need that a food bank meets is to distribute food, then send us the “Harvest Food Box” and we will diligently hand them out, Mr. President.
A food bank exists to provide more than food, however. A food bank does more than temporarily satisfy hunger. A food bank exists to provide a safe place where folks of all different colors and religions and professions and backgrounds can come together to listen to stories, share new recipes, taste fresh foods, and choose foods that best benefit their life and health. It is a marketplace of fresh, healthy foods displayed as they would be at a local corner grocery market, where customers can grab a cart and freely circle the open market floor to find their family favorites. It is a place where people meet up with friends and stop to chat for a moment. It is a place where, at a time when many other things in life aren’t going so easily, people are greeted with smiles and positive thoughts. In a word, it is a place of dignity.
The tenets of the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise referred to as “Food Stamps”, operate under the same goals: that giving a person an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card loaded with a pre-determined monthly amount of money to be able to freely shop at their local grocery store provides that person with, not only money to purchase food, but the freedom to choose which foods are best for their situations. Can a person make poor choices? Yes. Can they learn from their poor choices to make better choices next time? Absolutely.
A customer here at Community FoodBank once told us that the first month after her SNAP benefits were approved and she received her EBT card, she confessed that she “splurged.” After skimping on food for so long, she spent her entire month allotment on lobster – which she devoured in three days. It didn’t take her long to come to the realization that she had no money left for the other 27 days of the month. Ah, the power of choice. The power to choose wisely or foolishly. And the power to learn from mistakes. The next month, she carefully and frugally stretched her EBT on the best choices for her. Now that is a lesson that a food box cannot teach.
Lastly, there is dignity. How much dignity is there in receiving a box of shelf-stable food pre-designed by a government official? I’m not talking about wild-caught salmon and non-GMO, gluten-free crackers made with ancient seeds. The box will contain non-commercial, non-organic, generic brand, GMO foods that may or may not fit with a person’s health requirements, like food allergies or diseases. It just reinforces how people already feel. Less than. Not good enough. Unworthy.
The power of dignity is boundless. And it is explosive. One person can ignite the entire family to a new level of meaning and hope. And with hope, all things are possible.
For more information about the effects of the proposed FY 2019 federal budget, see the California Association of Food Banks article here.
Maria Lynn Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer of Community Food Bank of San Benito County.