The box you see in the picture looks like a “Little Free Library”, but it is a free mini food bank. It is in front of a private home and regularly stocked by the residents, neighbors and volunteers. Whenever I pass by, I drop off some packs of Yumbini. Lest you think this is on a disadvantaged street corner, I assure you it is not. It is a typical upscale California neighborhood where the house next door is for sale for $1.9 million. We should all be alarmed and upset that in the middle of the wealthiest area of the richest nation on earth, people still do not have enough money to buy food.
Once when I was dropping off some Yumbini, I met the woman who lives in the house with the mini food bank. She said that no matter what kind of food is put in the box, it is gone very quickly. From her home, she sometimes sees people taking things from the box. It is many different kinds of people she said. But the most frequent “customers” are older people. This really made me feel sad. Maybe you, like me, had imagined that the people subsisting off donated food from a roadside box would be the ones we sometimes see, tragically, in rags, collapsed on the sidewalk. But we do not consider that it is also our elders, our retired carpenters, teachers, waiters, grocery clerks. The people who helped us as children. Maybe even our parents, or grandparents – living on a fixed income that doesn’t go far enough.
This is a national disgrace. Here are some simple things you can do to help:
- Support your local food bank. If you are a private person, I’m sorry but the food bank really does not want your old pasta and expired canned goods. I found it strange at first too, but really what they need is CASH. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. The food bank can buy food much more cheaply than you or I can. With cash, they can buy nutritious food in bulk at wholesale prices, without the added time and labor of collecting and sorting food donations. So, please donate money if you can. On the other hand, if you are a food company with multiple cases of food to donate, then please contact your local food bank. Food should never be thrown away unless it is unsafe.
- Don’t waste food. Most food waste happens at restaurants and at home. Wasted food is food that is unavailable for people who need it. If you eat out and the portions are too big, ask for a to-go box. Eat the leftovers the next day or give them to a needy person. And manage the food you buy for home to minimize waste. We all have stories about the fruit or leftovers that got moldy in the back of the refrigerator. But these unfortunate incidents can be eliminated by making eating leftovers a priority, and keeping a close eye on perishable produce.
- VOTE. Promote government and policies that promote nutrition and food security as well as education and equitable pay.
- Sign up, or help others sign up for food assistance programs. Help others get the help they need from SNAP, WIC and meal programs for the elderly.
- Reward companies offering healthy foods. Buy healthy food for yourself and your family. The more people buy healthy food, the more food companies and restaurants will offer them. As demand grows, the marketplace will change and become better for all of us!