Quickly, I also wanted to alert people about this opportunity to purchase discounted foods, including meat. Perfect for the holidays! This is a quality program that helps those struggling a little bit, stretching every dollar to make them count–find a location near you.
The holiday rush is upon us, and thus I take this opportunity to wish you and yours the best during this season, my favorite time of year. I’m partial to Thanksgiving, but really all of October though December is alright by me.
Not alright is tremendous demand food banks are seeing this year, up much more than usual, even though the time around the holidays is when demand historically peaks. We did a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation a week or so ago and discovered Arizona food banks had moved 72% more food this year than at this time last year, but despite that increased distribution, they were only meeting about half of the total demand. Scary stuff really, when you consider so many affected are children.
My CEO passed this on to me earlier today, which also helps frame the issue succinctly:
36.5 million Americans currently take part in the Food Stamp Program, now officially called the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That’s up by more than 10 million in just two years. This program gives those on low incomes a monthly average of US $101 per person, or $227 per household, to spend on food. Meanwhile, the USDA has also revealed the highest level of American food need ever recorded, with 17 million households, or 14.6%, struggling to put food on the table at times last year. Across the Atlantic, 43 million Europeans are currently at risk of food insecurity (8.6% of the total EU population).
Locally, Fresh & Easy grocery stores–another favorite of mine–reported that for the third quarter of 2009, sales for the 13-week period ended November 28, climbed 37.4%, following some SNAP benefits being extended. Costco recently announced it would accept SNAP benefits too, which is just another indication of how lucrative this market segment is… amazing to think of it as a desirable population for a retailer to reach, but there you have it.
Not all is bad though, I don’t want to bring people down, because this time of year does bring out some spirit, maybe even you could say the best in people. Now how to harness that and distribute it equitably year-round? Couldn’t tell you, I’m not a scientist, I don’t even like driving by Holiday Inn Expresses, but here are some recent stories from around Arizona that should put a smile on your face:
- Soup kitchen volunteers form bonds with Phoenix’s homeless, poor
- Winterhaven’s Festival of Lights begins soon – side note, anyone who’s ever been in Tucson during December will know what this is all about, truly something awesome to behold!
- Church spread good will: Parishioners pay it forward
- ‘Big, generous hearts’
Finally, I’ll mention that if you’re struggling to find a gift for someone, hate malls, or just don’t have the time to be shopping all the time, consider a gift to AAFB in someone’s name. It’s a very honorable thing to do, and there’s a pretty sweet tax credit in it for you too! So long as you qualify, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah… but you get the idea! Your funds help feed your neighbor who might be down on their luck, and also helps fund advocacy that might help your neighbor not be so hungry in the first place, hopefully in the not so distant future. Remember, hunger is a fixable problem in this country if we want to fix it.
It’s officially November, which officially means Thanksgiving turkey and football. I happen to love both those things, culminating with the 8-legged turkey they used to give out to Barry Sanders every year during the Thanksgiving day football game after he ran for 170 yards or something. While I never believed in the existance of an 8-legged turkey, I can tell you that I wanted to believe in them more than the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. Just seemed like a pretty damned cool idea to me, what can I say? You gotta believe in something, right?
So sticking with the theme, wouldn’t you like to help out your neighbor with the gift of turkey? Food banks around Arizona are happy to receive turkey donations for those who might have to go without. Check out this select list of drop-off points and turkey drives that are just waiting for your participation! If you know of some others not mentioned here, feel free to send ’em my way and we’ll get the word out! And if you’ve got a good Barry Sanders or John Madden story, share that as well.
I was really excited when friend and AAFB board member David Schwake sent me this article on his unique way of keeping kids fed at his elementary school. David is the Food Service Director for the Litchfield Elementary School District in Litchfield Park, a suburb west of Phoenix. The district serves a large portion of households at or near poverty (defined in 2009 as a family of four living on $22,050… ouch) and David has seen the negative impacts of hunger at his school: attendance problems, discipline issues, trouble concentrating, apathy toward learning, and so on. Something needed to be done, and a few years ago, David jumped into action.
I’ll let the article speak for itself–go ahead, read it now!–but damn if this isn’t an inexpensive, worthy idea that is generating positive results. I’ve also been fortunate to be David’s guest at the school, allowing me a first-hand view of all the activity, how the program works, and how the kids really respond to it… and respond they do! It’s downright encouraging to see a bunch of 5th graders so eager to work together on a school activity. You can’t help but realize they’re learning skills that will take them far in life, hands-on stuff, skills that a textbook–or I guess PC nowadays–just can’t convey in this way.
Amazingly, David tells me he’s done countless presentations, tours, demonstrations, you name it, to other principals, superintendents and school administrators, and while everyone seems impressed, very few have taken the next step to actually implement their own program, even though David has offered to help every step of the way. Why isn’t every school in Arizona doing this? There’s not even the excuse of there being no money in the budget. If you’re wondering the same thing and interested in possibly doing something like this at the school you work at, or the school your children attend, feel free to drop me a line.
One thing that doesn’t happen when you start a blog is people telling you how much time you really need to spend to make it something special. On that note, coming off a crazy busy month or two, here’s a my first post in 45-some-odd-days with whole bunch of stuff you should know about:
- Food stamp enrollment (now known as SNAP: Supplimental Nutrition Assistance Program, fancy!) is up all over the country, but it’s up over 36% in Arizona since this time last year, making us one of ten states with an increase greater than 30%. SNAP benefits benefit us all–did you know much they help the local economies in which they’re spent? $1.25 of economic activity is generated for every $1 of SNAP spent, helping grocers,’ producers’ and distributers’ bottom lines and abilities to hire more employees. ABC 15 did a nice story on this, featuring AAFB CEO Ginny Hildebrand and St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.
- The New York Times Magazine did a neat story on the California Association of Food Bank’s Farm-to-Family program, which used AAFB’s Arizona Statewide Gleaning Project as a template. Cool stuff, and in many ways, the future of food banking. Related, sites like Ample Harvest help connect local gardiners with local food banks.
- Not about food banking at all, but this thought provoking article looks at how much crazy $$$ we’re spending in Afghanistan and wonders what the U.S. would look like if we had instead spent this internally on nation-building, of which a tiny bit would have no doubt been earmarked for issues related to domestic hunger. As things stand currently, 1 in 6 U.S. children struggle with hunger and recently released Census numbers show median household incomes are down and poverty is on the rise (PDF).
- AAFB celebrated its 25th anniversary on Wednesday, September 30 with a lunchtime and evening receptions inviting friends and colleagues from past and present to celebrate past successes while also learning about what our future holds. Pics are up on the AAFB Facebook. AAFB unveiled its new logo courtesy of The Darkly Agency. Good times were had by all. Be on the lookout for more 25th anniversary fun over the next several months.
- I’ve mentioned Peter Norback and his One-Can-A-Week activities before, but I can’t remember if I shared his blog with you or not… if not, here it is! Follow his weekly adventures, and start your own collection in your neighborhood!
- That’s all for now. The holidays are fast approaching and no doubt you will see lots of food drives and other festivities involving your local food bank. I invite you to participate!
I may have linked to an article before about Peter Norback, a Tucsonan inspired by President Barack Obama’s calls for community service, who decided to organize a weekly canned food donation in his neighborhood. The concept was incredibly simple: each week, each house was asked to put out a single can of food and Norback would pick it up and see that it found its way to Tucson’s Community Food Bank.
Before long the media had picked up on the story, one neighborhood become several, others were inspired to do the same in their neighborhoods, and the rest was history. Norback received a grant to help get the word out about his operation and even got play in the USA Today. Well now Peter has his own blog where you can follow all of his awesome adventures, so of course I wanted you to be aware of it and maybe even inspire someone out there to follow in his footsteps. Check out Peter’s blog here.
I’ll also note that Peter is apparently quite the inventor and fan of golden retrievers. From his blog, you can learn more about and purchase a Top Tag Pet ID–“the first USB complete-care pet ID tag. It was invented and is owned by Peter Norback and Bill Roach. Protect your pet and support Peter’s One Can A Week efforts at the same time.” That struck me for a couple reasons; one because I grew up with a golden retriver named Phred (yes, Phred… I was weird) who looks just like the one in the photo, and secondly I subscribe to a USB newsletter noted for mentioning every last wacky USB product ever created, but somehow they missed out on this…
I was struck by an article in today’s Arizona Republic about homeowners in limbo and the questionable worthiness of the federal loan remodification program. Rather than weigh in on the pros or cons of the program, or even the article itself, start reading the comments at the bottom. While these comments don’t represent a pinnacle of quality debate, and in fact are oftentimes nothing more than virtual mob rule, for this particular article I found them to be an interesting commentary on reactions to the grind.
The current housing market is interesting because it is largely a by-product of unemployment, which also happens to directly affect the demand on food banks. People lose their home, have their credit ruined, lose their job… chances are they aren’t enjoying fine dining either. Many people caught in the housing bubble are younger too, meaning they’ve got kids depending on them to eat, and as we all know, poor child nutrition affects school performance, attitude, etc. But I digress…
What’s interesting to me about these reader comments is the fragmentation of thought and a lack of compassion. Sure, you’ve got opinions on party lines, people distrusting the government, recognition that some subjects in the article are victims of their own poor decision making, realization that the economy has put most of us in a bind–all to be expected. I understand that it’s easy enough to get on your high horse posting anonymously on the internet, but there’s something very bitter and defensive about many of these comments. I simply don’t see people pulling together, encouraging one another, or even just talking about lessons learned. We’ve become very paranoid of our neighbors, proactively resentful that we might have to help another, and a lack of understanding that we as a society either get through these tough times together or we don’t. We’ve got to get past the blame.
No doubt this tough economy is a grind, it’s not fun, it’s downright hard labor for many. But when the gut reaction of so many is contempt, it does make me question not only how long it’s going to take us to get out of this mess but whether we will at all. Individuals cannot do it alone. Neighborhoods cannot do it alone. We’ve got to bite the bullet and pull each other up collectively as a society, as a country. Who knows, this might be America’s last stand. I wonder if some type of restorative justice would be appropriate, where those who have negatively impacted our society and the economy via greed or what-have-you–be it individuals, corporations, those who have been bailed out, etc.–can be honest, can be judged, and can ultimately be forgiven so that we can collectively move on. Seems to me it would help everyone get things off their chest and maybe just maybe, get them to open up and extend a helping hand, and ultimately change cultural behaviors for the better.