Occupy Your Local Food Bank

Artwork by: Bob Gillespie, www.root13design.com

By: Grainne Rhuad

The world is being occupied.  Have you noticed?  Since the revolution began in Tunisia it’s been all over the news.  One riot after another fueled by dissatisfied people.  Contrary to what was promised by 1960’s icon Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution is in fact being televised.

The way in which it is being televised however is misleading.  Watching events unfold in the middle east, the Mediterranean, Europe and most recently in the U.S. it is becoming clear that the mainstream broadcast media has no intention of covering what is really happening on the ground.  It may be due to the fact that what is happening is as diverse as the people showing up to protest.

There are just now many ways in which to show support to those taking to the streets.  One of the biggest disparities that have occurred to me is the separation between those who show up for “Occupy this or that” and those who truly cannot afford to take the time off to protest.

People have families to support still.  It’s one of the reasons that the 99% are so upset.  The inability to provide for themselves and their dependants.  It’s not a time to be flippant with whatever work you happen to have.

The occupy movement has been smallish in the community I live in.  The largest turnout was somewhere around 50 and I found myself uninspired by the spectacle.  It’s not surprising that it is receiving next to no coverage because as you walk up to people to talk to them about their “occupation” they avoid eye contact.

What did get me inspired was an invitation I received from someone on Facebook to join the “Occupy Your Local Food Bank”.   This was something solid and concrete I could get behind.  Also it is something I believe in wholeheartedly.  Feeding the hungry and doing it on a local level.

What I learned when preparing for this event last Saturday was at the same time sad and galvanizing. It turned out to not be as easy as one might think to find a food pantry to donate to.

While just like many other communities, we have canned food drives around the holidays and sponsored by the Boy Scouts, local schools and stores. These drives aim to collect and distribute right away.  They usually partner with a particular agency like Untied Way or Church to distribute to a list of people already decided upon.  We do not have an actual pantry that is set up for those in need to drop into and pick up items.

The closest thing we have to this is the Salvation Army, which runs a food program wherein it shares hot cooked meals and will accept some canned goods to distribute from time to time.  Another agency which came close was Community Action Agency which mostly distributes vouchers for food rather than actual food.

What has been happening over the past several years is the community has found it for some reason more effective to accept cash donations and use that cash to provide coupons and vouchers for things like food or overnight hotel stays for homeless families.  This is not a bad thing; it’s just how things have been done.

However with the changing society we live in, cash donations are getting harder and harder to make.  People very often don’t have extra cash to give, however they may find it easier to pick up an extra can of soup or jar of peanut butter.  What is essential in these changing times is finding a way to make it easy for people to share.

For this we need easy and safe drop off points for food banks.  So here are some tips I came up with after my frustrating weekend.

  1. Find out if your community has an already established food bank.  Sounds simple enough but I am embarrassed to admit I did not know we didn’t have one.
  2. Visit or call the Boy Scouts of America office. Every year the Boy Scouts of America participates in “Scouting for Food”.  They know how to organize a food drive and they know who to donate to.  They are also very friendly and helpful.
  3. Identify your area’s Interfaith Council.  Most areas have an Interfaith Council that helps churches of all faiths, mosques and synagogue to coordinate how to serve the community and educate on the similarities and differences of their religions.  These Interfaith Councils also know which churches are organizing to help with food, clothing and shelter and when. Also, if you are already a member of a church put a call in to your leadership, if they don’t know how to donate food, this is something that can and probably should be organized.
  4. When in doubt contact the Salvation Army.  The Salvation Army has been feeding and clothing the poor and homeless since before the turn of the 20th century in America.  It is their ideal to care for the personal needs of people before they can think about anything spiritual.  They are good at this and will know where to direct you.
  5. If you live in a small community that does not have any of the above organize it yourself.  Usually a school or a small store or post office in rural communities will allow you to set up a food collection area.  All that is needed is a place to collect things and word of mouth and the hungry will find you.

What is most important to the 99% is the ability to live a certain quality of life.  I don’t think anyone who is protesting expects to be a Rockefeller, what they do expect is to not have to worry about food, housing and medical care.  To have the ability to watch their children grow and go to college.

One thing we can all help with is making sure the basic needs of one another are met.  We can make sure our neighbors are fed and nourished.  As Pete Seeger sang, “If we could consider each other, a neighbor a friend or a brother, it could be a wonderful wonderful world, it could be a wonderful world.”

 To see  more artwork by Bob Gillespie visit his site @ www.root13design.com