My food bank experience

My cousin Leah over at The Goats Lunch Pail has been writing about food banks. In my reply yesterday, I realized that I had enough material to make a post of my own.

A couple of years ago, I was going through a hard time and was broke enough that I had to call on the services of the food bank here in Edmonton. I called the food bank and was told where and when I could pick up my food and was told that if I refused anything they gave me, I would not be allowed to access the food bank again for three months. Okay, I get that beggars can't be choosers.

I informed the person on the phone that I had food allergies and what they were and could they not include things I was allergic to. She said they would do their best, but, they were very busy and she couldn't guarantee anything. Fine, I get that. Will there be flour? Well, sometimes we get flour, but, we don't know.

Now, as long as I have flour, powdered milk & oil, I can make bread (well yeast & baking powder & sugar, but you get the idea). I can live on pasta and peanut butter sandwiches - I have done it. All I needed was the flour, to make bread, I had everything else still. It is amazing how much you can do on a bread and water diet, but, that is not the point of this post.

So, I make my way to the pick up point and it's a good thing I had a friend drive me, because they gave me so much food, I would never have been able to carry it on the bus. In fact, it took the two of us to carry it all and he was not a weak man. there was enough food there that it would have lasted me a good three months! I was astounded.

Of course, when we were bagging the food, I did notice that there was a lot there I could not eat. I didn't realize the extent of it until I got home. They had managed to give me everything on my food allergies list! There were four or five huge green peppers, even if I were not allergic to them, they would not have lasted long enough for one person to eat. What a waste. There were cans of foods preserved with MSG, mushroom soup, pasta & sauce packages with MSG - none of which I can eat. Now, remember I said I couldn't give any of this back, or I would not be able to use the food bank. I hate to see food go to waste, so, I gave all the things I was allergic to to the friend that drove me and in turn, they gave me stuff I could eat that were staples and would last longer than a few days.

Included in the stuff from the food bank were boxes of cookies, yeah, great nutritional value there and gum, not just one package, but a whole sleeve, five packages of Juicy Fruit! They had bagged salad that was to expire the next day and a whole head of cauliflower that looked like it was ready to expire as well. The cereal box was damaged outside, but, the bag inside kept it dry. They did have tins of tuna and a jar of no-name peanut butter, but that was the only protein that wasn't loaded with MSG. I think there was some fruit, like grapes, but it was awhile ago, so I don't exactly remember everything they gave me. They did manage to give me two cups each of flour, powdered milk and minute rice. These had all been bagged by their staff from larger bags. It kind of creeps me out, I know in my head that they would have followed proper procedures and been gloved and whatnot, but still, these are volunteers.

Needless to say, I was rather disappointed over all. One would think for a food bank that has been around as long as this one has, that they would have been able to avoid at least one of my allergies. My allergies are thankfully mild, others could have fatal reactions.

The fact that there were no staples is in part due I suppose to not having any donated, but as Leah points out in her post, do people even know what to do with these things anymore. The bean/lentil/chickpea mix I was given was canned (with MSG), but, even so, would most people even consider this to be a meal? I wonder if the bulk staples (like dried beans) that are donated wind up at the many soup kitchens, I certainly hope so, because there maybe someone knows what to do with them.

Good Afternoon all.


Leah J.Utas said...

The Edmonton Food Bank seems a bit strict, and a bit odd. They have to distribute what they get, I suppose, but gum? And two cups of flour really isn't much, but better than nothing I guess.
Thanks for the shout out.

Reb said...

I suppose they have had people abuse the system. Yes, 2 cups of flour, you can make baking powder biscuits - if you have butter. Of course real milk is better, but powdered will work.

the Bag Lady said...

I do remember you saying something about the odd-ness of some of the things you received, and the allergy-thing. One can only hope you won't have to use the food bank again, eh? :)

Hilary said...

I think that a lot of people are unsure of what to donate. I used to help out at my kids' elementary school in numerous ways. As the holiday season approached and the school held an open house/concert night, they always asked that families to bring in at least one item for the food bank. The boxes filled up and some of the things were indeed perplexing to see.

I'm pretty sure that items like gum and cookies are donated with the thought that "kids need a treat too." I also believe that most donations are given with kind, caring hearts. I would imagine that the unusual choices originated with the volunteer. She wasn't listening or wasn't concerned. I also figure they deal with a LOT of people, many who might be difficult sorts.

Anyway, eventually the school gave a long list of items from which we could select suitable choices to donate. That solved the problem of people bringing in perishables and food items with limited uses.

Reb said...

Amen to that Sis.

Hilary, you are correct, there are drives all the time in the city, they do specify canned goods or non-perishable items. I think the perishables come from grocers, rather than them being thrown out which is great.
The Gum may have been a promotional thing from Wrigleys?

Crabby McSlacker said...

I can certainly understand that people would want to donate all kinds of stuff, and that what might be inappropriate for one recipient would be incredibly helpful for another.

But given that, why isn't the system more flexible? Seems like they've got a lot of weird arbitrary rules designed to ensure that nobody gets what they need and the maximum amount of stuff goes to waste!

Reb said...

Crabby, it certainly seems that way from the one visit I had to have. I don't know if that is usual, or if they just aren't set up for allergies. I can only hope that they have improved.

Dawn said...

I almost get the feeling that someone wasn't listening and your "not these items, please" turned into "these items, please"!