I’m hard at work on my next novel. You’ll meet a psychotherapist with a fear of flying, cult members, and a woman with strange dreams. One character visits a food bank. It’s a brief scene, one page or maybe two, tops. Easy enough. Nonetheless, the scene matters.
I spent hours trolling the Web for information. The back of my brain always insists, Get it right, Jadi. Then I remembered I actually know several people who work at non-profits… and I’d never visited a food bank. So, in the interests of research (and a wonderful excuse to see what a friend does all day) I made an appointment to interview Beverlee Hughes, Executive Director of Food For Lane County [FFLC] in Eugene, Oregon.
I thought I knew about the reality of hunger. Uwe and I travel to out of the way places, and God knows we’ve seen poverty and malnutrition in countries and regions all around the globe. But the visit to FFLC brings it back home.
- Fact: 20% of the U.S. population lives in poverty
- Fact: 46 million Americans are on food stamps
- Fact: The number of people needing services has tripled in a decade
- Fact: 1 in every 5 people in Oregon is eligible for food assistance
- Fact: Oregon State has highest rate of childhood hunger in the country (29.0%)
- Fact: 30% of children in Oregon are food insecure *
- Fact: 39% of Lane County residents are eligible for emergency food assistance
- Fact: In some Lane County schools, 95% of all children are eligible for free or reduced cost lunches
What do you do with these facts? If you’re Beverlee, you get to work. She and her staff of 58 achieve an astonishing range of goals:
- Emergency & Mobile food pantries (distributing just under 8 million lbs. of food/year)
- Emergency Meal sites & shelters
- 3 Child Nutrition Programs
- Food Rescue Express & Fresh Alliance (distributing 1 million lbs. of food/year)
- 2 gardens & a 6-acre farm that grow food & build self-esteem. FFLC hires at-risk kids and through internships teaches them teamwork, punctuality, customer services, etc. Daily lunches at the gardens teach people what freshly harvested produce tastes like.
- Extra Helping, food for low-income housing sites
- Rural deliveries
- Delivery of once-a-month food boxes for low-income seniors
- A farm stand outside PTA meetings where parents can pick up food as they leave
- The Dining Room, the food bank’s sit-down restaurant in downtown Eugene, offering free 4-5 course meals. They serve up to 300 meals a night.
- Shopping Matters, classes to teach people on limited budgets how to shop for food
- Cooking Matters, free cooking & nutrition classes to begin in January 2014
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.
* Food insecurity—the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
Photo Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
23 thoughts on “A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1”
I’ve seen the homeless and hungry in Vancouver. We have the same here in Arizona with the warm weather so many months. So glad your novel brought you to thoughts of social justice. What in inspiration for other writers. Our skills should take us to task for making a difference. Thank you for doing this. You also reminded me, as I’ve just tacked the final chapter on my memoir of working in remote and at times impoverished communities in Alaska–that it’s time to start blogging about that writing/work. You are an inspiration! – Renee
Renee: You honor me. Thank you!
You bring up something I have been pondering a lot, and that is my voice. Do I have a message? Do I want or need a platform? Can I get my ideas across without beating others over the head, while remaining open to opposing voices and viewpoints?
The next thing you remind me of is that the posts that feel the riskiest to me – the ones I really worry about even writing to begin with – are (without exception!!) the ones that my readers like the best.
It is a reminder that as artists/writers/witnesses of the human drama, perhaps our biggest task is to be as nakedly honest as we can. Please let me know when and where your memoirs are published. Or better yet, let your readers know where we can pre-order.
People like you are the reason I spend the time crafting blog posts. Thanks again for commenting here and elsewhere. All the best, Jadi
Very sad statistics. It’s good that you bring them to light!
I was stunned. Food For Lane County has a number of hand-outs listing the facts and there are plenty of state and government websites. But… I was stunned by the scale of the problem. When I entered the food bank its sheer size was the first thing I noticed and the information and details just kind of snowballed from there (and that’s just for Oregon!) Thanks for your comment and it’s great to hear that readers appreciate and care about the posts.
When we moved back to Canada, my son suggested that instead of donating overseas, we start with Canada. It’s here too. Sadly. Your “fear of flying” character looks interesting. 🙂
Are you talking about a problem with hunger and homelessness in Canada in general, or on Vancouver Island? Somehow I always figure the prosperous neighbors to the north have figured it out better. Canada’s known for its broader social net.
My fear of flying character strands himself in Stuttgart (and gives me an excuse to write a little bit about life here!)
Oh Victoria and Vancouver are full of homeless. Warmest part of Canada in the winter. But we have poverty everywhere.
Of course: geography really does matter. You see many homeless people all up and down the West Coast. Upstate NY for example is not a place to be homeless in the winter! What I see more of when I am back for visits from Europe is the increased number of families living on the streets and the campsites of the homeless everywhere.
The facts are astonishing…
Thanks for commenting Amy, and, Yes. I couldn’t agree more. It is hard to wrap your brain around them.
We’ve had a item on the news today about the waste a supermarket has admitted throwing away in the first six months of the year (just under 30,000 tonnes) and we have record numbers of people visiting food banks since April. It really is obscene the amount we throw away when it could and should be given to those who need it.
It’s made us think about how much food we throw away and I’m pleased that it’s not that much. As a society we need to do more.
Pete, your comment brings up an aspect I didn’t even get around to addressing in these posts. Thank you for reminding readers of the waste of food. 30,000 tonnes, just 1 supermarket, in half a year?
That’s great that your household is careful about waste. The only time in the last few years that I had to throw away food is the 2 weeks leading up to publishing my first novel. Not only did I forget to eat: I forgot what food I even had in the fridge. Didn’t matter if it was cooked or not — I blanked on all of it. Thankfully, that has passed. I really appreciate your weighing in on this topic. Please, let me know what part of the country you are in!
I’m from across the pond in UK’land. This is definitely a global problem, certainly a Western problem.
Hunger statistics are always astonishing to me – the local community dining room in our fairly prosperous town here serves over 4500 meals to the hungry every month!
Wow… Since I know your town (but will not mention here as I don’t know if you wish that information to remain private), I am truly startled to hear this. It’s as Beverlee Hughes commented: in the richest country in the world, hunger is a problem that has little or no profile. Thanks Jen for contributing to the conversation. It makes me glad that I posted this.
A very thought-provoking post, plus it’s so interesting to read of your process for your next book. I look forward to reading it!
Hi Cindi, glad you found it thought-provoking. It began as a few questions about how food banks operate, and became a topic I wanted to address in my blog. It’s all mixed in my mind with the facts that it’s autumn and harvesting season, and getting colder, and approaching Thanksgiving. This became the appropriate moment to publish these posts. (I’ll keep you informed as to when my book is finished, too.)
i love the poem, love that you did the research firsthand, and look forward to the book –
Hi Beth, one of the best things about doing research for a book or character is the cool stuff I discover. One of the worst things about doing research is the hours frittered away surfing the Net rather than actually getting anything done! My day at FFLC was a winner. I learn much I could use for my book — and I was inspired to write this blog post.