Day 4: This morning instead of our usual volunteering, we started out by taking a walk around the area to obverse and take note on the different neighborhood areas and what food resources they have. Just a couple blocks away we were in a “rough neighborhood” and asked if we were lost because we shouldn’t be there. We went on our way through the area to the grocery store and was a note on the door as we walked saying “pull up our pants and pull down our hoods” which was a little nervous-making. As we walked in we realized it was more like a gas station with limited produce and fresh food options. After buying a few snacks we walked uptown through clearly divided (by a fence) neighborhoods of higher income and very low income. Field Foods was our next grocery store which resembles a basic grocery store that we see (Pick N Save) and realized that within just a few blocks there were such huge divides between neighbors, incomes, and what food was accessible not just distance wise, but by what they could afford- which is the biggest factor. Even though they solved their food desert issue by putting in another store, many are still unable to buy fresh produce and quality food.
Right after our tour and another learning session, we drove over to Operation Food Search which is a food bank that serves 331 agencies- including shelters, agencies, food pantries, emergency services, and schools. They receive MANY donations from grocery stores of food they pull from the shelves early before their shelf life is up. That being said, our job of the day was to pull much of the donated bread off the shelves and into bins for St. Louis composting. We were kind of turned off by this since we were learning so much about food insecurity and access, but after reflecting and discussing the situation, we realized that food banks and even Kingdom House receive TONS of food donations that they simply can’t serve out fast enough before it goes bad. OFS was getting another shipment of fresher bread so the loafs they had simply had to go, and that was that. Its not a perfect situation or solution, but definitely more understandable now. The overall lesson we talked about was that if you’re going to donate food to shelters, food banks, or pantries, that you should definitely ask what they most need or bring more non-perishable food items. Its better to provide what they actually need rather than what you assume they need; just like why Kingdom House goes out in the city to see what services individuals in the community need.
Reflection and discussion today was very insightful and we’re happy we get the chance to debrief on what we see and make sense of what is going on around us here. We had our lesson on the reality of food stamps, EBT, and government assistance in regards to how much money a family of four gets per day to feed themselves. What families and individuals get through these is still under what reports say is the lowest price to sustain and function on. EBT and food stamps only cover food too. They don’t cover household items, feminine hygiene products, diapers, over-the-counter medications, etc. There is still a gap between what they need and what they can afford even with this help, which is not okay and not a way to live.
To say we are frustrated is an understatement at this point in the week. There is so much we should be doing and could be doing, but there are many logistics and people in the way to come to the solution to end hunger, homelessness, and access to basic needs. On the positive side today, we received our letters from friends, family, and UWO staff to lift our spirits and send well wishes. It was such a great end to our day to have that support even though we’re miles away. Tomorrow is our last day of lessons which will focus on intersectionality between what we’ve learned with racism, homelessness, and food insecurity.
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