Sunday, January 04, 2009

Feeding the Ozarks

I'll be the first to admit that Aunt Sybil's pumpkin bread recipe deserves blue ribbons. It's pretty simple, really, and includes 2 cups of quick cooking oats that serve to give the bread a certain texture that flour alone can't provide. My mother parted with the recipe this year so I could make several batches for colleagues, neighbors, family, friends. I added all kinds of debris to the batter: dried cranberries, pecans, dates, dried blueberries, cherries from the grocery store bulk bins. I cut the sugar to half, shocked that any one recipe would require so much. My pumpkin bread turned out great. My mother ate a whole loaf (save a sliver) on Christmas Eve night after I had gone to bed.

When I returned to Columbia after Christmas, Molly and I set out to deliver pumpkin bread wrapped in cellophane (tied with a sprig of Frazier fir!) to neighbors. The kids across the street were at their grandparents' before Christmas, and frankly, I didn't want the random assortment of adult houseguests to eat what was intended for the kids, so I waited until after Christmas. The lady who walks the old dog named Brownie got one, too. Across the street, I knocked on the door and handed the loaf directly to Sierra (the middle child) through the cigarette smoke-filled doorway. I put some loaves in mailboxes, one on a stoop.

The next day, Sierra came over asking in her lilting voice, "do you have anymore pumpkin bread?" No, I told her, but I was glad she liked it. Seconds later, the other two kids came over with Sierra's real motive: "My mom wants to know if you have any pumpkin bread!" the oldest girl hollered from the street.

The kids come over periodically to ask for eggs (in the middle of a recipe, every time). They beg for cheese, nuts, fruit, all of which I have given them on occasion (though not when they beg. That's annoying.). I learn my lesson the hard way when they come back, empty handed, asking for more because their mother took what I had given them. "You have to stay in my kitchen to eat this...." I now ask.

Later that evening, the oldest daughter knocked on the door again and asked for "two boxes of macaroni and cheese." No, sorry. "One?" No. The request quite naturally rubbed me the wrong way, prompting me to say out loud to no one as I was closing the door, "Guh. I'm not the Food Bank." But, you see, other neighbors on the street are regularly served by the Central Missouri Food Bank and they eat well: lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, Kashi brand products like oatmeal cookies and cereals. I felt bad about my comment, worse knowing that the kids were probably hungry that night. And I guess my gesture of pumpkin bread wasn't taken at face value, as spreading Christmas cheer, but of simply giving the family some food.

No, I'm not the Food Bank, because the CMFB has an enormous impact on 33 Missouri counties, on thousands of hungry citizens in the Ozarks and Central Dissected Till Plains each month. Every year, the Central Missouri Food Bank donates over 20 million pounds of food to 145 agencies for distribution: soup kitchens, food pantries, rehabilitation centers, shelters for the abused, homeless, and low income senior citizens. In the Ozark Highlands, their influence reaches the Niangua Basin and west towards Pomme de Terre Lake. An estimated 105,000 Missourians in the food bank's target area live below the poverty line. In 2006, agencies served by the CMFB reached 80,000 individuals.

From the CMFB website:
Twenty-five years ago a small group of committed citizens in Columbia, Missouri had a vision to feed the poor. Tom Sawyer, a Columbia College professor, and his Social Work students, area churches and the Human Development Corporation launched the Central Missouri Food Bank (CMFB) in September, 1981. In its first four months of operation, the fledgling organization distributed 18,000 pounds of food. The concept for the food bank was simple: capture good, edible food that grocery stores were discarding and distribute it to various charitable outlets to feed our hungry neighbors. CMFB affiliated with America’s Second Harvest, a national association of food banks, in 1986 and secured a stable food supply. In 1993, the great flood that devastated the Midwest propelled CMFB into a leadership role in disaster relief that continues today. In the same year, another small group of committed citizens, the CMFB board of directors, courageously eliminated the fee attached to food distributed to hunger relief agencies. Today, this food bank is one of only five in the country (out of more than 200) that gives all of its food away for free ensuring the supplies go to where the greatest need is.

In 1984, organizers established the Food Bank Pantry in Columbia, serving working poor and the elderly. In January 2008, the pantry served 7,400 citizens; by October, the number of individuals going to the pantry increased to 9,500. The needs of the food bank inspired a group of 26 doctors of the Columbia Orthopaedic Group to pool together resources over the course of five months this year to help pay off the mortgage to the non-profit's building. The doctors donated $160,000 to the food bank, thus allowing organizers to spend $4,000 more each month on food rather than mortgage payments. This will translate into an additional 80,000 pounds of food each month. According to the 2006 website, in a poll conducted of 1,000 individuals seeking assistance from the food pantry in the course of one month:
* 79% are Female
* 67% are white
* 78% are between the ages of 18 - 54
* 62% have a high school or greater education
* 43% have an average of 1 adult in the household
* 70% have 1 - 2 children living in the household
* 70% make less than $950 per month
* 67% get no paid vacation benefits
* 79% get no paid sick leave
* 59% pay more than $200 per month for housing
* 46% do not own a car
* 65% would grow their own produce if given the training and resources
* 70% pay bills instead of buying food
* 54% go hungry in order to feed their children
* 67% report that in general they do not have enough food.

In the lower Ozarks, the Ozark Food Harvest serves 29 counties in similar fashion to the CMFB. As a member of Second Harvest, they distribute over 5 million pounds of food to 340 agencies who help feed 41,000 people every month. Of course, neither of these food banks that are integral to the health of so many Missourians would exist without the vision and organizational skills of those who simply wanted to help feed the hungry. And I don't know if the mother of the kids across the street even know they exist.


Heather's Dad said...

Medical and Psychological treatment interventions must always bear in mind the risk-benefit concept. Drawing on my experiences as a Texas DPW caseworker (over 45 years ago, back before, but serving as one impetus that propelled me toward my head-shrinking vocation), I became convinced that concept has equal validity when SEC interventions appear to be warranted.

In that era, Texas utilized what was called the DPW Commodities Program. Excess foodstuff production (I’ve never fully understood whose excess that was) was delivered to households of verified lower SEC status (i.e., welfare recipients). The foods included such articles as eggs, freshly churned butter, white bread (probably day-old), a variety of vegetables and meats produced or grown by the inmates on prison farms. It was not uncommon for recipients to throw away the butter as quickly as it was delivered (wanting “oleo” instead) and frequently complaining about the kind of vegetables (in season) delivered.

While a greater number of recipients were genuinely grateful for what that program provided, a smaller number had been taught by their welfare progenitors (and perhaps extant civil-rights activists) that their rights were being infringed upon by their not being given the foods they wanted. Due to a number of intervening politico-economic and social variables (The War on Poverty’s Great Society; food stamps, etc.) the Commodities program was terminated.

I have known marginal poverty (been there, done that) and have witnessed abject poverty; thus whenever I encounter people in want of the basic necessities of life, I am moved. However; decades before the feds made public the studies that had revealed our federal-state welfare systems were not terminating, but rather perpetuating poverty (a modern form of enslavement), I and many others had come to that conclusion, but lacked empirical studies to substantiate our deduction.

Still, when the heart is stirred to compassion by the plight of others while the head wants to keep to the more rational road, how is the risk-benefit conundrum to be addressed? Caught in such an approach-avoidance paradigm, I suppose one must seek one’s own level of comfort.


Allison Vaughn said...

Thank you for a good, professional advice. It's tricky, really, because I certainly don't want this family to take advantage of me, and I'm not a social worker, nor a source of financial aid. I repeatedly say no to the requests -sent my way through the kids from the mom- but will offer of my own volition. It sounds so mercenary, and I've always thought I was more of a socialist, but I guess I'm not. Good to hear from you and hope you had a great Christmas. The grandkids look like so much fun.

Heather's Dad said...

Having read your response to my reply, I must add three things:

(1) Forgive me for appearing to offer professional advice. It was offered as an admiring friend. What I had to say was intended to stimulate your thinking along a line obliquely tangent to, almost parallel to, your implied frustration over children being “trained” to take care of their mother (et al) through assigned begging tasks.

(2) You’re not a social worker? I thank the gods for that! Although I have acquaintances who fill that ostensible “calling” within a niche in the edifice of humanity, I still remember the old saw that says: Should two people find themselves on a deserted island, and one of them is a social worker, take pity on the other one.

Most social workers (though they deny it to others, alas, to themselves) are like Idgie of Fried Green Tomatoes fame:

Gross Liberality
(a reflection on Fried Green Tomatoes)

It's marvelous what movies do.
While most explore base attitudes,
Some few expose unvarnished ruse.

I watched brash Idgie, she and Ruth,
as they tossed out much needed food
to hobo camps beside the track . . . .

When one is in a giving mood,
it's easier to just root through
another person's cache or sack,

or get them, too, through guilt induced,
to succor those less blessed – produce
that which deprived third parties lack

before one gives from one's own goods.
This is the truth – untarnished truth,
why liberals raid the federal tax.

(3) Mercenary? A Socialist? Perhaps your better characterization should be Egalitarian. When it comes to self judgment, as it relates to our caring for others - given the multiple meanings of that phrase - who live within our space (a space that separates us from those who live as far away as across the street; and at times as near as Zimbabwe, Palestine and Afghanistan) - I’ve been enlightened by what Benjamin Franklin said, “Love your Neighbour; yet don't pull down your Hedge.” And when their problems deluge our sentience, what can one seemingly insignificant observer do?

I pose these questions only as a soliloquy, for I’ve no answers. Perhaps it would be better for me to keep my quandaries to myself; for Old Ben also had a saying directed at me: “Silence is not always a Sign of Wisdom, but Babbling is ever a folly”.

Yes the grandchildren are fun, but the youngest proved the bearer of an Advent cold-virus that felled us all. That notwithstanding, our holidays were filled with joy and snuffles aplenty.

Allison Vaughn said...

I really value your input, silly. You've known that since I was 14! (I like the Franklin quote.) And your wise opinions are helping me to recognize the acceptable limits of my giving. Thank you, Dr. S...