I spent a couple of hours the other day volunteering at the Food Bank located at my church on Beacon Hill. My job was to take people’s photo identification cards, write down their names, record how many were in their family, including the number of children, and make a note of their zip code. In two hours 170 people or family units came through the basement doors, representing a total of some 700 people. In an average month, the Food Bank, which is open twice a week, serves just under 5,000 people.
Here are a couple things I noticed. We didn’t have much in the way of protein-rich foods to offer. In fact, about all we had in that category were breaded, frozen fish sticks (five to bag). The fish sticks were gone after the first hour. We did have some nice vegetables from someone’s pea patch garden. Those too were mostly gone after the first hour. We have five-pound tins of crushed tomatoes, if you could carry them. And we had gallon bags of mustard, for which we had few takers.
What we did have was lots of carbs and sugars. We had boxes of mac and cheese (some protein there). We had piles of baked goods, laced with sugar and cinnamon. We had chocolates. We had, believe it or not, cases of ice cream. And there were racks of soda (Pepsi, not Coke). And we had lots of bread. Each person could take three loaves of bread. Well, it’s better than nothing.
I got a new feel for why poverty and obesity so often seem to go together. As the current debate over health care rages, many including Michael Pollan, are noting that quite a few of our health problems in the U.S. can be traced to nearly epidemic obesity. There’s diabetes, high-blood pressure, and heart disease, as well as hip, knee, and joint issues. Same story in Canada.
I also noticed, at the Food Bank, how many of the folks who came did not speak English. There were a host of Asians, speaking various languages. There were some, but not many, Hispanics. And there were quite a few Russians and Moldavians. “Russian?” I asked one woman. “No, Ukrainian!” she corrected me with her little English but nonetheless evident national pride. Many came from the zip code we were in, but some came from as far away as Olympia, and many were from Renton.
As people filed by I tried to figure out what they would actually taking home with them and how it would work to try to make a meal, or several days of meals, for a family out of what we had to offer. Pepsi ice-cream floats, anyone? Oh, and we did have oatmeal. That was good.
As I worked, I fielded a call from a Starbucks employee. She said the company wanted to make a donation. Great! We could expect coffee, regular as well as instant, in two weeks. My co-workers told me what happened on the rare days that they had eggs or chicken to give out. A frenzy! Clients were all over their cell phones, calling friends and family to get there asap. They texted pictures: protein alert.
I recalled that Marie Antoinette, before her unfortunate incident, had famously said of the starving masses, “Let them eat cake.” Apparently, that’s still the plan.
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