The Oil Spill is Spilling into My Food Pantry
Thank you big oil companies for once again proving your dedication to a healthy environment and the well-being of the world’s people. No really, I mean that (insert angry sarcasm here) …
I’m sure by this point most of you have heard about BP’s big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but have you heard about how it is ALREADY affecting Louisiana’s economy? Only nine days after this disaster began, I already have people signing up for my food pantry in anticipation of losing their jobs.
As an example, a man in his late ’40s with a 15-year-old son came to the Center today seeking help. He signed up, shared his story with me and declared that this will be, “worse than the Alaska Valdiz spill,” commenting that the oil will soon come inshore and ruin the fishing industry completely for years to come. “It’s gonna destroy clams, shrimp, catfish, you name it, we’ll be lucky to have two weeks of the season left,” he said.
Flash forward: “Remember shrimp?” “Oh yeah, that stuff used to be good … “
This particular person came in anticipation of what is to come. He didn’t even want any food from the pantry after signing up because he still had some groceries at home. It was purely a preemptive move, and a wise one. If he’s right, and I suspect that he is, then my food pantry is going to be swarming with fishermen out of work for the next year, probably longer. Cause if ya didn’t know, oil spills take a long time to clean up …
We are having a party!
We are hosting a “Food for Our Neighbors” benefit to fund our food pantry here at the Community Center of St Bernard. If you are in New Orleans please swing by to enjoy the free food and music at the Circle Bar, located on Lee Circle (1032 St Charles Ave), on Saturday April 17th. In addition, you will have the chance to win tickets to the Audubon Zoo or Aquarium, restaurant gift certificates, and many more prizes through a raffle we are putting on during the party. Music by the Jazzholes will start at 6pm.Please come by and help us raise some money so we can buy more food to give it to people who really need it.
‘Food for Our Neighbors’ Benefit
Saturday, April 17th
No cover, free food & music, throw us some bones and maybe win some cool stuff
It isn’t easy turning hungry people away from our food pantry. Unfortunately, I have to do it sometimes. This less than favorable task used to be rare, very rare. These days, I’m going to have to do it a lot more.
In the past, the main reason for turning someone away was simple. A person would come to the Center seeking food, but their income was just a little too high. That’s right, if someone makes even one dollar over the Federal income guidelines (130% below the poverty level) then I have to tell them they cannot get food.
Telling hungry families to leave empty-handed is my least favorite part of this job. Yesterday, I had to tell a mother in front of her child that she could no longer use the food pantry. The woman’s daughter was about seven or eight years old. She had a sweet face and she looked a little confused by what I was saying. Perhaps she could just sense the distress I was seeing on her mother’s face as I told her this would be the last time she could receive food.
Well, these were only two of the people that I had to turn away yesterday. As the day went on, I had to tell more and more families they could not receive food from our pantry. Why? Because these clients do not have American identification.
Since January of this year, the number of Hispanic clients that our pantry serves has been rapidly rising. Last month, almost 25% of the people we served classified themselves as Hispanic. This is HUGE. So, what does this mean for me, for the pantry and for the people who are part of this population?
For me, it means that my high school and college Spanish have certainly been put to the test. It also means that my job has gotten a little tougher since I’m the only person at the Center who speaks Spanish, badly (with the exception of the Development Director who is a very busy woman).
For the pantry, it means that our days have been more hectic. The process has slowed since we are short on people who can handle Spanish-speaking clients. Our Hispanic and non-Hispanic clients alike have noticed the hold-up and it appears they are not happy about it. Furthermore, the food distribution has been more disorderly, as first time Spanish-speaking clients (like all clients) are not certain what to do, and, well, we’re not sure how to tell them about the proper procedures.
But, these are all minor bumps that myself and my staff will get by and figure out as time goes on. For the Hispanic population who do not have American identification it means this: They will virtually have no place to turn for food. Mothers and fathers will struggle to find ways to feed their families, and I cannot say for sure that they will figure out a solution.
Say what you will about immigration, we all have our own opinions, but when you’re looking at a seven-year-old girl and wondering whether she will have food to eat next week, all the arguments seem to fly out the window.
So, what’s next?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Our Center has reached out to several Hispanic organizations in the Greater New Orleans area, but there does not seem to be help on the way. What we need is funding to buy separate food for these families because we are prohibited from giving USDA products to people without United States-issued Identification. We need help explaining this to our Hispanic population clearly, as well as places to send these clients for help with their needs. I’m not sure how this story will end, but I know that currently, it is breaking my heart. I will keep our readers posted as the story continues …
“I have mixed feelings about the building, sometimes I wish they would just tear it down.”
Before the levees broke, Debbie lived in an area of St Bernard called The Village Square. Fortunately, she evacuated before Hurricane Katrina struck. If she had stayed, she would have suffered the 10-20 feet of water and major fire damage that occurred in her apartment complex. Despite losing her home, Debbie decided to move back to St Bernard. She lives in a different apartment now and spends most of her days volunteering at our Community Center, helping people check in at the food pantry.
Even though Village Square is barely standing now, existing as two blocks of abandoned, broken down apartments, something slightly odd will be happening there next month - a reality TV show. The whole area will be blocked off and a helicopter will fly in, dropping 10 volunteers (actors) who will have to survive for 10 weeks on nothing but their wits and hard work. I asked Debbie how she feels about the show happening where she used to live and she replied with mixed feelings. She’s very excited that Hollywood will be so close to home, but the history associated with Village Square is too much for her to handle sometimes. That aside, will she sit in her new apartment watching 10 strangers form a pseudo-society in a post-apocalyptic version of her former backyard? Definitely.
April FOOD Day
I really get excited when people use technology to aid in the fight against hunger. Last year, two bloggers decided they wanted to help and started a project called April Food Day. On April 1st they asked bloggers across the world to write about hunger. Last year, 150 bloggers participated and this year they are trying to double it. This project is especially effective because it does a great job at spreading awareness. Even though bloggers may have small audiences, their followers are loyal and genuinely interested in what he/she has to say. When bloggers appeal to their readership, I believe there is a higher potential for action than if a large news organization ran a story.
Thanks for starting April Food Day! I look forward to reading your posts.
(tip via Feeding America)
The St Bernard Parish chapter of Curves has chosen our Community Center as the recipient of their annual food drive!
Last Thanksgiving, St. Bernard Curves collected a large amount of food for our Thanksgiving basket giveaway. They are a great example of a business giving back to their community. Thanks guys!
Curves is located at 1515 E. Judge Perez Drive - if you’re in St Bernard, stop by and make a donation!
Nola-Eats at the Alt Media Expo!
Big shout out to Leslie from Louisiana’s well-known cuisine blog Nola-Eats. She’s presenting at the Alternative Media Expo next month where she will be running a food drive for us during the convention.
Leslie is originally from St Bernard Parish, where our food pantry is located, and she came by for a tour last month. We’re very happy to have her help!
The Alternative Media Expo is on Saturday April 17, from 12 - 6, at the Contemporary Arts Center.
Health Care, Medicaid, and the Hungry
When talking (arguing) about health care reform, please take a moment to think about the people who visit food pantries and what kind of health care they need. Since all of our clients are already struggling with food insecurity, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine them paying off high medical bills, which many of them have. What about Medicaid, you ask? Only 33% of our clients receive Medicaid, which leaves 67% uncovered.
For some of our clients, the major reason they have to go to a food pantry is because of their medical bills. Just last week, a couple in this situation signed up to receive food. The husband didn’t have a job when he came back after the storm, and without an employer to provide health insurance, he was left with huge medical bills - forcing him and his family to visit our food pantry so his family can afford these bills, along with the cost of living.
Here at the Community Center, we are able to provide very limited health care through St Anna’s Medical Mission (pictured), which provides free blood pressure testing, cholesterol testing and basic medical advice to our clients. It’s a start, but it isn’t enough.
(inspired by Vicki Escarra’s article on Huffington Post)
The Hunger-Obesity Paradox
Great article in the New York Times about the Hunger-Obesity paradox. When I first started working at our food pantry, I was surprised at how many obese clients came to get food. My first reaction was, “These people are obviously getting enough food, what are they doing at a food pantry taking food away from others that might actually need it?” I quickly found out that my first reaction was completely wrong (not to mention judgmental).
The people who are the most obese are often the most food insecure. There are a couple of different reasons for this, including the higher price of healthy food and the scarcity of healthy food options in low-income neighborhoods.
“When you’re just trying to get your calorie intake, you’re going to get what fills your belly,” said Mr. Berg, the author of “All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?” “And that may make you heavier even as you’re really struggling to secure enough food.”
Here at the Community Center of St Bernard, 13% of our clients’ families include someone with diabetes. To try and combat this issue, we invite representatives from St Bernard Health Center’s Healthy Living Team to teach our clients how to prepare healthy meals using the foods they typically receive from our food pantry.
(via feeding america)
We Can End This
One of the biggest hinders to the issue of hunger in America is awareness and one of the best ways to overcome that is through this giant hub of communication we call the internet. An organization that is doing a great job at tackling the issue of hunger by using social media and the internet is WeCanEndThis.com. The We Can End This campaign is a year long initiative to really start the conversation about hunger in America and produce some tangible results. Their first project is a virtual canned food drive on their website. Anyone can go onto their website and donate a digital can of food to the state of their choice and then on March 18, the 10 states with the most digital cans will win a truckload of food. If Louisiana wins our food bank will receive a truckload of food, some of which will be given to our food pantry with the end result of us giving out more food to needy Louisianans! Food that we desperately need right now since all of the holiday food donations are drying up. Currently Louisiana isn’t doing so hot, so if your from the Big Easy or anywhere in Louisiana, please donate a can to our state!
I’m very excited for initiatives like We Can End This and I look forward to seeing the other projects their campaign produces throughout the year.