Food Banks Experiencing Shortages
Today on my way to or from the gym I heard a story on NPR about a food bank in San Antonio that was experiencing a sharp decline in donations and an increase in people needing/wanting the food bank’s services. I tried to look up the specific story via Google and I wasn’t surprised when I found several stories from many different food banks around the country basically saying the same thing. Here’s one of them about Kalamazoo, Michigan from the Iowa City Press-Citizen:
Again, it doesn’t seem to matter where the story is taking place because the general factors behind the shortages are more or less the same across the board, just to different degrees (i.e. the drought is more of a factor in Texas than Michigan).
Here are the general factors:
– More people are unemployed and underemployed, creating a larger pool of potential recipients. I think last I heard 40 million people were on food stamps here in the United States, so there’s a lot of people hurting out there one way or another.
– High unemployment and a poor economy also means there are fewer potential donors out there. It’s hard to open up your wallet when you’re worried about putting food on your own table and a lot of people have enough trouble keeping their own heads above water.
– Government spending is getting slashed and USDA commodity programs make up a large part of food bank inventories. I’m cool with government spending getting slashed and subsidies ending, but it kind of sucks that other things aren’t getting cut before this. I don’t know how deep the cuts are, but I get the impression that even though the money/food is still coming in, it’s noticeable that there’s less. State and local governments are often in worse shape than the federal government. For more on that, check out the article I wrote about Scranton and their woes.
– The drought is starting to be a factor. Farmers in a good portion of the country aren’t exactly having a bumper crop this year, so there’s less to go around. It’s already being predicted that due to weak crop projections, food prices will be up at least a few percent next year (see: Food Prices Expected To Rise Next Year Due to Drought). What farmers will be producing will command higher prices, so it will be that much harder for food banks to acquire. Demand for virtually everything they produce at higher prices gives the farmer a little less incentive to donate as well.
I’m not going to pass judgment on all of the people that use these services – they’re great for good people experiencing hard times and I’m glad something like the food bank is there for them. Then there’s the people who chronically use these kinds of services as their lifeblood and they’re not going to be happy when they get less next year. I can see a lot more general discontent coming from our underclasses within the next year. I’m not going to suggest that we’ll have food riots like in the Middle East last year or the streets of inner-city America will look like Somalia or anything, but I think it’s likely that we’ll see hunger and malnutrition becoming bigger problems and those with fewer resources will certainly feel the pinch. Unfortunately, the good folks who need a helping hand will get less and the people that abuse the system will get angry when the gravy train stops flowing. I think of some people in my own life that are dependent on other people’s generosity and the taxpayers’ forced generosity and can only imagine how they’re going to react when things get a little tougher next year.
I’m reminded of a video clip from Argentina that Fernando “Ferfal” Aguirre discussed in his book “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” about his experiences in Argentina’s 2001 economic collapse, involving a young girl named Barbarita:
A translation and a bit of an analysis can be found on Ferfal’s blog. In short, Argentinians believed that they lived in a land of abundance (just like us), but the fact that there were starving children amongst them really shook the national conscious. I highly recommend his book:
Ok, so now on to what to do about it…
– If you can, be generous with those in your community that need it. This is something that I’ll admit I fall short in sometimes. I could stand to give more.
– Help people empower themselves to take some control over this aspect of their lives. Teach people how to garden, share some of the things you know about cooking from scratch, get involved in community gardens/agricultural projects and so on. Talk to people about improving their food security by keeping a deep pantry and storing non-perishables that they typically eat. I think a little bit of evangelism on this sort of thing can go along ways. Share sites like this that deal with these issues with people – get them thinking, talking and making plans.
– Some of the people using these services are no different than you or I and just under hard times. It can happen to anyone. Keep preparing.
– Recognize that more people are going to get desperate and take appropriate security measures.
There are some cool charities out there that are dealing with this kind of thing that I’ll share. Check out the Urban Farming Guys in Kansas City who are teaching inner-city youths how to do things like grow vegetables and raise livestock in the middle of one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the country. What they’re doing is very remarkable. Then there’s Dinner Garden, a charity that provides families with seeds and a ton of information on how to grow a garden. If you’re in need or know someone who could benefit from their program, get in touch with them. If you can swing a donation to either one, that would be cool too. A little bit can have a meaningful impact with either one.