This pantry, at times, provides a cart full of groceries to as many as 100 families in a week, many more at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this week is a little slow -- hopefully a good thing because people aren't as desperate for food. They contacted me today and said a lot of the lettuce could go to other pantries to be used before it starts to wilt. So tomorrow I'll go pick up lettuce and get it to places that can use it quickly. That is, after all, what we're all about. And pantries are great about working together to make available food as effective as possible.
Produce is one of the hardest things to get to people in need, and it's such an important part of our diets. Those of us with plenty of money and choices and cooking facilities and conveniently pre-cut carrots and melons and torn lettuce STILL don't eat enough vegetables. How can we get healthier food to poor folks? Especially highly perishable soft fruits and vegetables?
The Oregon Food Bank is working hard on this issue. All of the partner agencies that receive food from the OFB have to buy it. It's cheaper than buying retail, but there's still money involved, and the pantries rely on donations to get the funds to provide the "free" food to anybody who needs it. Oregon is so generous this way. So the OFB has decided that all fresh produce they receive will be FREE to all partner agencies. And they're working more aggressively to acquire more fresh fruits and vegetables.
The model for emergency food supplies has changed. Sure, there's still a place for dry beans & rice, canned soup & fruit, and a frozen chicken, but as we've learned more about the importance of fresh, whole foods, we need to adapt what we provide to others as well.
Next time you're thinking of donating to an emergency pantry, you might try calling them first, instead of throwing a few cans in a bag to drop off at church. Find out when they're open, and show up with some bags of apples or carrots. Tomatoes! Strawberries! This is the season of growth and abundance and marvelous fresh fruit. Let's spread the joy!