Food Banks: Help Up Or Handout?

Necessary Evil

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?

food banks
Poverty is pervasive

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.

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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.

food banks and poverty
Check you attitude and help!

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.

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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.


blog contributor
Katelyn Roth

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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52 thoughts on “Food Banks: Help Up Or Handout?

  1. […] in, rent is dropping as fewer people can afford to rent or even get a mortgage, more people are accessing food banks, spending habits are changing as people become more frugal and many other measures to live within a […]

  2. […] women and children.” This has always been the sad reality of the world we live in where the most vulnerable to poverty, homelessness and/or abuse are children, seniors and women – quite possibly in that order. In […]

  3. I actually think that Food Banks and the WIC program do more bang for their buck than many of the incentive and social service programs out there. I particularly worry about kids being hungry on the weekends and during the summer when school is out.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I honestly never thought of that aspect of it. Thank you for raising it.

  4. After I had my twins, I had to apply for WIC because we had little income and no health insurance and three more mouths to feed. Plus, special formula, which was $25/can. I remember feeling so self-conscious when going to the grocery store and paying with the checks. It shouldn’t be like that. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you still need help.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Shann, I totally get you on that! The cost of the special formula alone is enough to break a limited budget! My granddaughter was a preemie like your babies and she too needed special formula and it is expensive. Mothers/families ought not to feel ashamed or guilty for needing help. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. 🙂

  5. There was a food bank, well, a church really that handed out food on my block in Brooklyn. The majority of the people on line were either elderly or appeared to have some sort of psychiatric issues. I think the banks provide a valuable service to communities. I don’t think anyone would willingly choose poverty and poor quality food handouts unless they needed it to survive. Food equity is a huge human rights issue. Too many people are hungry in this country.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I would go further and say too many people in this world are going hungry and they are the most vulnerable. At the same time, too much food is being wasted, thrown out by the few who have so much that they don’t know what to do with it. Thank yo so much Sojourner for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  6. Every few months we go through our cupboards and find some items to donate to our local food bank. We do more especially around Christmas and Thanksgiving 🙂

    1. Ms Claudette

      And we salute you for doing your part! 🙂

  7. I support our local food bank but I also make sure to help my close friends or family who are in need

    1. Ms Claudette

      I am glad you make that point! There was a point in my journey that I came pretty close to hunger and homelessness and no one close to me asked me whether I was okay. However, they were busy “feeding” others and boasting about it. Kindness really beings at home – literally and virtually.

  8. I am surprised that there are people in America who are hungry. The sad thing is, those who are not really hungry take advantage of the food banks. Instead of providing more for the hungry, the “not” hungry get them.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, that is something that was making me really angry but some of our visitors reminded me that Karma will deal with them. So I leave them to their fate. 🙂

  9. I’ve always worked to support local food banks. In fact, I entered a recipe contest to benefit them and I won so they received $1000! 🙂

    1. Ms Claudette

      OMG, that’s amazing Liz!!! Woot, woot! 🙂

  10. Powerfully said, it makes sense that poverty would be higher in women, but I guess I never thought about it in such a tangible way. We have a food bank down the street, and this is a great push to help meet some needs there. Thank you for featuring this post.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I am glad to hear that this post motivated you to help even more and “enlightened” you about the real lives or some real women. 🙂 Thanks on all count.

  11. bowen1960

    It is sad that in a modern 1st world society we have people who need to rely on food banks to feed their family. As a society we should be better than this.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, a sad reality. 🙁 Thank you for commenting and most certainly for doing your part to help change this.

  12. The advocacy of food banks is a great service to humanity. Those who support this kind of worthy cause will reap their rewards hundredfold 🙂

    1. Ms Claudette

      Reward is probably the last thing on the minds of those who help but yes you are correct, Karma will be kind to them! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  13. postgradandpostcards

    I support food banks!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Thank you for doing your part and for dropping by! 🙂

  14. I think food banks are a wonderful thing to help those that have fallen on hard times and if there are those that are taking advantage, I believe it will catch up with them. We try to volunteer as much as possible and give when we can.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, it most certainly will catch up with them! Thank you so much for doing your part! 🙂

  15. we support our food bank at our church. During the holiday our church takes care of 80-100 families! This is so important for communities!

    1. Ms Claudette

      I love that! Many churches really do a lot to help those chanllenged in this and many other ways! Thank you for doing your part. 🙂

  16. I don’t had an idea about food banks, but now I understand what it is.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Well I am so glad that we were able to help you learn about something new. 🙂

  17. We have volunteered at our local foodbank for 5 years. We see a little bit of both. It’s worth it to us if it can help just one struggling family <3

    1. Ms Claudette

      On behalf of the many struggling families – we thank you, again. 🙂

  18. Elizabeth O.

    This makes so much sense. Food banks are already doing the job for us all we need to do is to donate. To be honest, this is the first time I realized how women experience poverty.

    1. Ms Claudette

      We live and we learn, don’t we? And yes, all we need to do is give, as much and as often as we can. Thank you so much for stopping by. 🙂

  19. I feel it’s about making sure people have what they need. If some take advantage so be it if most are receiving things they need.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, I agree that is some are taking advantage so be it but it still p**** me off! 🙂

  20. Bless your heart and to those who help our community for starvation.

    1. Ms Claudette

      And yours as well for blessing those who are able to help in a practical way. Namaste. 🙂

  21. platypus6

    I think there are always some who will take advantage. If they are helping some people, that is what’s important to me.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, you are correct that if people are being helped that’s more important. However, we ought not to turn a blind eye to greed of those who are merely abusing the system – “boxing the bread” out of the mouth of a child who needs the food.

  22. I have used food banks in the past as my family did not qualify for food stamps when my husband was out of work.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Food banks are there for all of us and for exactly that reason and more. By the Grace of God go I – that’s one of my favourite quotes. 🙂

  23. that makes me so sad that she has one meal a day and has lost 49 pounds from lack of food

    1. Ms Claudette

      And what is even more sad is that there are many like her! 🙁

  24. Yes there are some that take advantage-but most desperately need the food banks. I donate via those ticket at the supermarket checkouts and by placing food items in the baskets outside.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Thank you very much for doing your part – not that you need to hear that from me.. 🙂 If more of us helped however we can, it would make such a difference. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  25. I believe that food banks are a vital source of support for many impoverished adults and children and would not class it as a handout but as means of survival.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Could not agree with you more Ana! 🙂

  26. I think Food banks are an awesome way to help out. Here in our local parish we try to buy an item or 10 of canned, tinned and dry foods for our food bank. Its better that way, than whatever is left over from our kitchen cupboards which more times than not is out of date.

    I empathize with what you say about the stigma oz I have seen people go hungry than go to a local church…also “Religion” issues arise…What a shame! To me to feed my family nothing would stand in my way…Neither stigma nor religion…
    Thanks for spreading this awareness Claudette!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Just to clarify, this article was written by Katelyn and not me. Any way we can help is useful and I agree, nothing ought to stand in the way of feeding your family and yourself. However, we do need to appreciate that not everyone is in the same mental/emotional space that we might be in. Thanks so much for joining in the conversation on such a thought-provoking topic. 🙂

  27. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)

    Sadly I know some people who took food from food banks and didn’t really need the help, but I also know people who they’ve REALLY helped.

    1. Ms Claudette

      That is just despicable! I don’t like labels but that is just despicable behaviour!!! I have been close to very hungry and thought about going to a food bank but as there was still butter and flour in my pantry, I did not. I made dumplings instead. How can you do that, use a service when you don’t need it?! Robin that angers me. Thanks for sharing and visiting. 🙂

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