Well, you know the saying. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." I've been a squeaky wheel for much of my adult life. Sometimes not enough. Sometimes, perhaps, too much. (Well, too much for some that is.) Reading and commenting on a local blog this morning reminded me to share my experience I recently had when I took to task addressing some issues I've had with the local food bank. It all started when I wrote to the head of the Linn Benton Food Bank (LBFB), housed at Community Services Consortium. My issues were: 1) Expired food items being handed out. 2) Differing amounts of food distributed, meaning the South Food Bank hands out more than the North Food Bank. And 3) Lack of fresh produce and healthy foods being distributed.
After playing phone tag, I finally connected with him earlier this week. I certainly learned some things. I now know, basically, how the system runs. But first, I will share what he had to say about my concerns.
Expired food items being distributed. My concern was about salad dressings, yogurts, mayonnaise and soy milk, which often have expired by the time they are distributed. Sometimes as long as a year. I was told that baby foods are really the only food items that are held in strict compliance in terms of expiration dates. They will not distribute any baby food product that has expired. I was relieved to hear that. As far as the rest of the products, they aren't so strict about those. Canned foods last for years after their expire date. The only thing that really suffers after the expire date is nutritional value. I wasn't aware of that. I asked him about the items mentioned above and he said he would look into that further. Apparently, a few weeks or a month or two beyond the expire date was ok. While I disagreed with this, I conceded that industry standards make this claim. I learned that the Oregon Food Bank relies on "food industry standards" when distributing food and dealing with expiration issues. When I asked him to further explain what he meant by "food industry standards" he couldn't. He was simply not sure. (Which today I think, "You head the Linn Benton Food Bank. I think you may want to know more about this." I certainly would if I were in his position.)
Differing amounts of food being distributed between the North and South Food Banks. This is, mostly, a space issue. The South Food Bank has at least 3 times the amount of space as does the North Food Bank. I was told LBFB is now looking into a grant to either provide more space or more refrigeration for the North Food Bank to allow for more food distribution. I said both would be best, although given they have two refrigerators and limited shelving, I said I believed additional shelving space would be a better use of grant dollars.
Lack of fresh healthy foods and produce. This is when I learned how the food is distributed. It's all delivered from the Oregon Food Bank to a central warehouse out in Tangent. From there, it's delivered to local area food banks. 1-2x per month (can't recall), each food bank is given a 5 page sheet detailing the available foods for distribution. Each food bank then determines which foods are wanted and needed for distribution. I was told that there is always fresh produce to be delivered and therefore, the North Food Bank is simply choosing not to receive it. He said he was addressing this to make sure fresh produce will become the norm rather than the exception. As far as fresh healthy foods instead of the heavily processed canned foods, sugar-laden peanut butters, trans-fat laden margarines and those "beef patties", which are made with all sorts of strange-sounding chemicals, well you know the saying. You get what you get. This issue wasn't really addressed. But read on for what can, possibly, be done about it.
One last thing for those of you who visit food banks. If there is a food item you wish to have, you may request it with the volunteers at the food bank. I wasn't aware of that. It was good to know food bank clientele do have some say in the foods they receive. Speak up! Start asking for healthier foods. Organic foods. Whole grain products.
I also heard the obvious news. Donations are way down as is funding. Empty shelf space has become more frequent, something I've seen on the local news. More people are in need of food help. I think it would be a wonderful idea if we had more garden space here in town instead of retail space that was used for the growing of food for those in need. It could be run by volunteers, including those who need to rely on food banks. A plot of land with greenhouses and usable land to grow food year-round.
While I'm still bothered by the fact that expired items are allowed to be distributed (primarily because of the health and nutritional aspect, but also because I believe it perpetuates this lack of worth mentality towards those with less income/financial means), I feel good that my letter was not only read, but taken seriously and acted upon. Changes are being made, the issues looked into.
For all you squeaky types, keep on squeakin'!