September 12, 2008

Staving off hunger while working toward health

Today the AARP Bulletin concludes a disturbing five-part series on the food crisis: from farms to food banks to food stamps, a scary confluence of factors are bringing hundreds of millions of people around the world to the threshold of hunger. It's an issue that we've looked at closely on this blog before. The effects of this global crisis are finally being felt (and, more slowly, noticed by the media) here in America.

Indeed, Bread for the City provided critical food supplies to over 10% more clients last year than the year before. That rise made us concerned. But concern is now creeping into alarm: our pantries are reporting that -- just in the last two months -- their lines have now grown to be 50-75% longer than anything we've seen before.

And yet, Bread for the City is meeting the rising demand. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the hard work of our partners like the Capital Area Food Bank, and the savvy know-how of staff like Ted Pringle, we have managed to feed far more people without reducing the amount of food we provide.

Now, the AARP article – though insightful – went briefly wrong (and I regret that my first blog post here must also issue a correction): the story quotes one of our clients talking about her own struggle to make ends meet ("Right now I'm getting by—but just barely... More and more I'm managing to make one meal stretch into two.") and notes that she did not receive some of the items that she was used to, including meat, juice and certain canned vegetables. And it's true that we are cutting back on the red meat, and moving away from certain juices and canned goods. But these are positive shifts, rather than cutbacks.

As was reported recently on the front page of the Washington Post, Bread for the City is working hard to supply a more healthful, nutritious set of foods to our clients. Instead of red meat, we're now providing chicken and fish with our bags; and we're providing fruits and vegetables canned in their own juices, rather than syrups and additives. High sodium and trans fats are out, whole grains and fruits canned in their own juices are in. And most exciting of all: as of the beginning of this month, we are now including fresh produce with every bag.

To be sure, these menu changes were only the first steps. Now we are working to communicate with our clients about the importance of nutrition and the opportunities to make tastier and more nutritious meals of less familiar foods. Though the AARP Bulletin series as a whole is to be commended, this contextual error unintentionally obscured something remarkable: even in the face of crunches up and down the line, Bread for the City is managing to meet increased demand while also providing healthier food to those who are most in need.

How are we doing it? It's partially due to our deeply engaged and generous donors, partially due to our staff, who know how to make limited resources go a long way in the right direction. To be honest I'm still not sure myself how they make it happen – but I'm thrilled to be learning about it, and excited to share what I learn here on the blog.


Greg Bloom is new to Bread for the City, and will be working to spread word about everything that’s going on here. You can contact him (please do!) at gbloom [at] breadforthecity [dot] org

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