Mendocino County’s Growing Hunger Problem: Life Boats & Safety Nets
by Jamie Lee, July 7, 2010
For need of food, the person was lost. For want of a person, a community was lost. For lack of care by a community, the soul of a nation ceased to exist
Why throughout history it is always the woman.
Who steps up when someone is hungry, destitute or has no where else to turn?
Who suffers the most when the man just leaves and the children are hungry, wet and crying?
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Over and over her words stumbled out from pursed lips, “I’m not supposed to be here. This is not the life I had planned it to be!”
In fact, she didn’t seem at all like the ‘type’. Attractive, tall and lean with auburn hair in clean kept braids. Shoes, belt and purse correctly accessorized.
No she was not one’s vision of a ‘typical’ person in need of a meal, standing in the Ukiah Community Food Bank line. Yet upon closer view one could see the lines of a depressed, confused soul in her forward slumping shoulders and dark circled eyes. .
More and more are showing up now” says Dayle Reed, the Manager of the Ukiah Community Center and Food Bank (‘We never turn anyone away’). “Before we would see singles” she continued, “but now we are seeing whole families coming in for client assistance.” (She refers to her customers as ‘clients’ as not to demean in anyway the person in need of food assistance.)
As her two young boys played hide and seek, using her body and skirt for the game, she was in no mood to play. Today, like yesterday and the day before, she was solely trying to figure out how she could feed her family. Today was a good day, the UCC Food Bank was open and could provide a full meal for her and her children. Tomorrow was a weekend and she did not know what would happen.
“One day at a time,” I overheard her say to herself as I walked by..
“Is there anything I could do to help?,” I gently stopped and asked.
“He just left” she said dryly, without any hint of emotion.
“My Man, he got laid off from his timber job a couple of months ago, got frustrated after being turned down with the few job openings he could find.” “All he’s known is the timber business.”
She continued on, seeming to feel some relief to speak out about her new sudden turn in life. “Then he parked himself on the couch for a couple of weeks, drank his stupid beers, then one day last week he just left. Did not even kiss the boys goodbye. Nothing!”
“The next day,” she went on, “I found out that he had drained our bank account and left us nothing” she uttered flatly in a tone of frustrated disbelief and anger.
“I’m not supposed to be here” she repeated again.
The Sobering Facts
The Federal government announced last week that food stamps were now being distributed to over 40 million Americans making up close to 13% of this country’s population, a 14% increase from 2009 numbers. Half of those receiving food stamps are children. The Federal government food stamp sponsorship will cost taxpayers an estimated $60 billion this year up from the $48 Billion spent this year, a 22% increase and cost are projected to only increase from here.
On January 23, 2010 the New York Times reported in an article titled “Debt Burden Now Rests on US Shoulders,” in that the Chinese government, who had purchased 44% of our debt in 2007, had only bought 4% of United States debt in 2009, while our debt load increased a whopping $1.3 Trillion. Which means the United States Treasury bought back 80% of its own debt it issued. (The article did not bother to ask who bought the debt but in the ‘new normal’ economy, the answer is we did! You, me and our children’s children’s children.
On a related note, the Federal government, which has no obligation like States do to balance its books each year, announced a record debt service of $13.4 trillion dollars, with unfunded future liabilities of $40 trillion dollars, when Social Security and Medicare, et.al are added in. No ink needed these days, just strokes on a keyboard with no plans for the End Game.
Unemployment numbers in California just reported were 12.2% up from 9.6% the previous month. When including real unemployment, like those out of work for over a year, working part time to get by or taking a lesser paying job , undocumented workers, et al., the number is closer to 25% of California population. (According to the Federal government unemployment reporting measurements, if everyone in this country was unemployed for more than one year or working part time, the government reported unemployment numbers would be ZERO. Also, the inflation watch Consumer Price Index (CPI) excludes reporting of food and energy costs in its numbers as well!)
The USDA said this past March that raw food prices had increased the greatest amount since 1984 and will be impacting retail food prices over the next several months. This was before the disaster in the Gulf, which represents almost 50% of our fish food supply.
This year was also the first year in which the Baby Boomer Generation began to stop paying into SSN and began receiving benefits. (In 1996, the oversight government Financial Accounting Safety Board (FASB) declared that corporations and municipalities could ‘tap’ the cash sitting in pension accounts and leave IOU notes in return. Many of these under and unfunded pensions will never recover full cash value, the Federal Office of Budget and Management declared in 2009)
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Closer to home, the biggest contributors to local food banks have come from corporate grocery store chains, but now, due to ‘greater efficiency,’ they are holding onto their past prime produce, milk and eggs and cutting back greatly on donations to the food banks to squeeze out another dollar or two.
Donations by individuals, families and local businesses make up most of the food contribution for keeping these community critical operations providing for those who need to eat but with increasing unemployment and job loss, the critical safety nets and life boats for those in need are draining food banks emergency supplies.
The first food bank was St. Mary's Food Bank, started in 1967 in Phoenix, Arizona. America's Second Harvest represents a network of over 200 food banks across the US While some food banks operate in Canada and Europe, food banks are much more predominant and important in the U.S. in providing efficient resources to support emergency food relief efforts than in other countries. Ukiah (UCC) Food Bank. 888 State Street. 707-463-3410.
With a big smile and a bigger heart, Dayle runs the three ring service at the North End of State Street in downtown Ukiah. She is paid peanuts and readily and often dispenses the glue necessary to pull together logistically each week enough food, volunteers, contributions and storage to feed thousands and thousands of nowhere else to go people in need of food in central Ukiah.
Excitedly Dayle tells of having begun a new ‘Adopt a Food Bank Program’ as she looks towards more local businesses and citizens to support feeding the hungry. Creativity being the necessity of no one else to turn to.
Generally, food banks and soup kitchens are last resort stops for people who have no other options and are hungry. UCC Food Bank in Ukiah set a new record, again, for clients served last month when it assisted over 210 people in one week (up from in the 80s just two years ago.)
Last month saw a record number of people receiving bags of groceries. 3,800 people needed food help last month blowing away the previous record of 3,000 served grocery bags of food.
Donations can be made directly MWF from 8-2:30. Needs: Volunteers, food donations, $$$.
Plowshares 1346 State Street Ukiah
(across from the airport) 707-462-8582
Mary Buckley helped found Ploughshares (“That no one in our community goes hungry.”) eleven years ago after a near death car accident left her in her hospital bed pondering the meaning of her life. Once healthy, she helped volunteer to organize a task to create food kitchen and community services area in downtown Ukiah. Eleven years on she continues to help serve 180 quality meals a day or 400 meals a week to those in food need, Monday through Friday.
Her right hand woman is Rhonda, who everyday, with random dropped off food and a new staff of volunteer cooks , must take all that is donated and succeeds in making very presentable, healthy meals to her clients. Next to the long driveway entering the property this year they planted their first organic garden along with compost bins to help supplement the Ploughshare’s food supplies.
Ploughshares can receive donated food Monday thru Friday.
Boonville/Anderson Valley Food Bank (707) 895-3887
Lynn (‘I’m just a volunteer’) and Jill (‘been doing this for over a decade’) help offer food in downtown Booneville once a month to the needy behind the Methodist Church every third Tuesday morning of the month.
The food bank program help feed over 65 families each month with grocery bags of eggs, milk canned and dry goods as well as local produce when in season. Need is based on income and if qualified, can receive a generous helping of basic canned goods and donated produce from the community.
Donations can be made at the Methodist Church around the back on the third Tuesday of each month at 9am or call the Grateful Gleaners at 707-895-2772 to help pick up excess food. Need: Food. Volunteers.
Ft. Bragg Food Bank 910 N. Franklin 707-964-9404
Nancy Severy, The Executive Director of the central distributor for all Mendocino Food Banks cannot help but laugh in the irony of actually being able to well use her college education and previous work experience to help coordinate and distribute food in Fort Bragg and throughout Mendocino County.
“Low Pay, Great Satisfaction” she says is her job title description. “And I would not give up my job for anything else. I love what I am able to do here and the caring people I get to work with.”
The Fort Bragg Food Bank receives food from the USDA and FEMA and helps distribute each week to the Food Banks from Willits to Elk, from Booneville to Ukiah.
With a ‘can do’ Spirit and a mischievous grin, she can see the day when the Fort Bragg Food Bank will take donated jars and hold ‘canning’ classes during he Harvest months of Fall. ‘We can handle a lot more food’ she states, ‘the problem is that we aren’t getting as much food donated as we can handle.”
“We get calls all the time about people with extra food, but we have no one available to go and get the food and bring it downtown, so that’s a hole that we need to fill.”
Need: Gleaners to help pick up excess food, Donated Food. Volunteers.
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Gleaning: The act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system.
The history of gleaning goes back to biblical days. The Holiness Code instructed farmers to leave corners of their fields for the ‘poor and strangers’. In the time of King Richard of England, a pro gleaning law was passed so that peasants had “rights’ to the excess leavings and left over foods of lands of the ruling Aristocracy.
Jean-Francios Millet in 1857 made famous a painting entitled ‘The Gleaners’ (of three women gleaning a harvested wheat field) which hangs in the Musee d ‘Orsay in Paris.
In other lands the Russian’s passed the Law of the Spikelets which criminalized gleaning under penalty of death during their great famine of the early 1930’s. A marvelous documentary film called “The Gleaners and I” by Agnes Varda tells an abstract story of those that use life’s ‘away’ culture to feed themselves and others.
A ten year study by the University of Arizona concluded in 2004 the following:
“The new study, from the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, indicates that a shocking 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten.”
Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, has spent the last 10 years measuring food loss, including the last eight under a grant from the US department of agriculture (USDA). Jones started examining practices in farms and orchards, before going onto food production, retail, consumption and waste disposal.
What he found was that not only is edible food discarded that could feed people who need it, but the rate of loss, even partially corrected, could save US consumers and manufacturers tens of billions of dollars each year. Jones says, “these losses also can be framed in terms of environmental degradation and national security.”
The SF Chronicle reported May 22nd that more than six million tons of food products are dumped annually, enough to fill the Staples Center in Los Angeles 35 times over. (Tell that to Mr. Gates, Monsanto, et. al every time they press for more Genetically Modified food to ‘feed a hungry world’!) It’s not hunger, it is about turning waste into sustainable energy.
Tim Bates, co-curator and proprietor of the magical Apple Farm in Philo, recently estimated that locally, in Anderson Valley alone, possibly 50% of edible food was left to compost on farms and orchards in the area that could be used by the local food banks and soup kitchens.
A very successful example of the redistribution of excess food was enacted by Mary Risley of the famous Taunte Maria’s Cooking School in San Francisco. In the early 1990s she decided to see how much perishable food could be redistributed to the Youth Centers, Free Clinics, Food Banks and Soup Kithchen’s in San Francisco and she created Food Runners (‘Relaying food to the needy’).
She most presciently declared ‘There is enough food to feed the World; it is only a matter of redistribution.”
Using only volunteers with no start up money, in 1994 she began to collect edible food that otherwise would have been thrown in the trash and began redistributing the perishable food. Fifteen years later and a staff of over 150 volunteers, she is now redistributing over 11 tons of food per week that otherwise would have gone to the landfill as waste. Food Runners redistributes to places that can feed the most in need like the Larkin Street Youth Center and Haight Ashbury Free Clinic of SF.
Mendocino County Local Food Gleaning Services:
Willits Grateful Gleaners, 707-459-5490 x 555
AV Grateful Gleaners, 707-895-2772
As food cost continue its inevitable rise and the global systems fail to support local needs it will, and is, becoming incumbent on the community to provide for the well being of the exponential increasing of those falling through the cracks and in need.
“Abundance Gardens” are the new slogan for self sufficiently taking back control of our polluted, synthetic food system.
“Plant More in ‘44” was a slogan derived from the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt and others, against the Department of Agriculture and her husband wishes, to call on her countrymen and women to plant Victory Gardens to help the WWII war effort, since the farm’s of Europe were being destroyed by war.
Within one year of her call to ‘do your part’ over 20 million gardens were started in this country (ask a Senior Citizen about it) which ended up producing 40% of all produce to the people of the United States.
Compare that to today’s crisis in that the 2010 consensus did not even include farming as an occupation since it constituted less than 2% of our workforce and where only three multi-nation corporations control 95% of the total seed business with less than two percent of food grown in this country is considered organic.
On another sidebar, the The Rare Seed Bank Store in Petaluma, which took over the 1925 built old Sonoma National Bank last year, is now selling Al Kaffa tomato seeds from Northern Iraq. In their printed brochure they disclosed that farmers from Nothern Iraq were sending them seeds unsolicited. The reason Iraqi farmers were sending heirloom seeds to the Rare Seed Bank was explained, ‘…because the Monsanto Corporation has banned seed saving in Iraq and the farmers wanted to preserve their heirloom tomato seeds.’
It should also be noted that the Rare Seed parent company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds of Missouri, chose the Petaluma location due to 50% of its seed sales coming from the North Counties of California.
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The strength (and weakness) of any community is how well the neediest of their Citizens are being cared for.
It is a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ that the Federal and State subsidizing of our socialized food and needy care systems will terminate, due to our massive debt load and the corresponding ‘austerity’ measures (i.e., take all the money, then tell everyone it is their own faults that the severe cuts must happen), sending millions more into the safety nets and onto the lifeboats of our communities where no other support is available.
Three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food and the policing agencies being cut off at the knees.
“Now is the time for all good Men to come to the aid of their community” to paraphrase an original patriot of yore.
For when is clearly now, and if not us, then who?