For some (perhaps more than any of us realizes), relying on food banks to provide food, or supplement what is provided by a dwindling income, is a necessary evil. I say evil because of the stigma that surrounds those who require these services. Though most of us would say we have nothing but sympathy and support for those who have fallen on hard times, the general message is still that there is no small amount of shame that surrounds asking for charity.
Because they are completely reliant on donations, food banks have no control over the quantity or quality of food they are able to hand out. Often, they do not have enough to meet the needs of every person seeking help. And even if they are able to give food to everyone, the amount a person receives from food banks is not enough to live from. Nor can they consider any nutritional, dietary, or cultural needs.
Are Food Banks Doing A Disservice?
Furthermore, how can we know that food banks are not doing a disservice? Really? How will those requiring their services learn to be self-sufficient? How can food banks be assured that those taking advantage of their services are really living in poverty and not just taking advantage of them? Are they doing any good?
Consider the story of Joanna:
“She’s a 31-year-old British single mom who earns just above the minimum wage managing a thrift store. She can’t afford to buy enough food for herself and her teenage daughter, so most mornings she watches her daughter eat from the kitchen doorway, drinking a cup of tea with three sugars. She drinks 20 cups of tea, and eats one meal, per day. She’s lost 49 pounds in the last three months.” To read more of Joanna’s story, check out this piece published by Huffington Post.
Poverty Is A Women’s Issue
In America, 1 in 3 women—that is 42 million—live in poverty. Women are poorer than men in all racial and ethnic groups and in every country internationally. While the average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, that number is lower for black and Latina women. I am a woman. I care about women’s issues. Poverty and hunger are hugely underrepresented women’s issues.
The reality is that food banks will be accessed by 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 people who are struggling to feed themselves or their families. While they may struggle to meet the public demand, while they may be unable to regulate the kind of food they get, while they may not have the resources to control who gets food, they are doing a service for millions of people who would be otherwise unable to provide for their families. For more information on the good work food banks can do, try this article reporting on their impact.
Rather than doing away with food banks, maybe we would do better to do away with our own crummy attitudes. If more were willing to donate quality food, more families in need could be receiving it. And maybe, if more of us were willing to give, it would communicate the idea that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Women like Lydia, potentially too ashamed to visit a food bank because they do not want to humiliate their kids, would be getting the extra help they need to take care of their families and themselves. In general, people are more likely to make do with what they have, drinking 20 cups of tea a day, than to ask for help. That is on us.
And as for those who are worried that the increase in support of food banks will create an increased sense of entitlement and dependency, I would be more than happy to re-address this issue when millions of people are not starving weekly out of pride.
As millions get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, planning lavish spreads, there are millions more who will not have a table much less a spread. This is why Katelyn Roth’s article responding to questions about the validity of food banks’ service is so timely. Katelyn lives in Pittsburgh, KS., where she is pursuing her Masters in Poetry and is also teaching freshman composition classes. She writes on a variety of topics relating to women empowerment, psychology, healthy relationships and anything that supports the mental health of women. Her recent posts was on “Dog, Not Diamond Is Her Best Friend,” and “Sex Trafficking: Today’s Slavery.”
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