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The Cupboard is Bare

27 Feb

Two days until the end of my Food Security Challenge and the fun is well and truly over! My money is all spent, the food all eaten – except for five apples and a handful of slightly stale kitten cookies.

img_2481Some people eat only apples to have a cleanse of their digestive system. For me, I have no choice in the matter. Of course, I did have a choice earlier. I could have just bought unhealthy food with empty calories and have probably not run out of food by the end. I could have subsisted on white rice and white pasta and cheap pastries.

My belly would have been filled, but filled with junk that would have made me less healthy than when I started the month. I would have been saving money on food to spend many hundreds of times more on medical care in the future.

This past week I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of the Foodbank’s 300 plus member agencies and programs – ones who specialize in working with seniors. I have been highlighting the needs of seniors in our community during this year’s challenge and these agencies do great work with seniors.

Food from the Heart, run by Sharon Byrne and whose board chair is Kelly Onnen, make and deliver meals to both seniors and those recovering from surgery or illness. Once a week they assemble at Trinity Lutheran Church and work culinary miracles, creating meals and supplemental food to allow it to be stretched out to multiple meals.

img_2387It was painful for me to see all those rows of delicious food boxes. They even offered me a sample, but I stayed strong to keep to my challenge. Tempters!

I also paid a visit to Pilgrim Terrace, an assisted living facility where the Foodbank has run a Brown Bag senior food delivery for many years. I got a chance to talk with Karen and Joanna about how they make ends meet.

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They have a lot of soups and salads and the fresh vegetables, dry goods and protein items that they get from the Foodbank make all the difference in being able to stretch out dollars. They also have a wonderful lunch program which has made a huge difference in the resident’s ability to interact and make friends.

This also meant one more delicious looking meal that I could not eat…

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I got a chance to meet their ED, John Jeffries and Jenn Skinner the Ops Director and also to take a look at their fabulous tower gardens that provide salad ingredients, which they use in their own meals and sell to local restaurants to subsidize the cost of the lunch program. You’ve got to be creative if you’re going to stay healthy on a fixed income.

Two more days to go. Let’s find out if an apple a day will really keep the doctor away.

Welcome to the Department of Food Security

21 Feb

slide02Food insecurity. It’s a confusing term, and one that I’ve never liked. Yet it’s the term that best describes what the Foodbank faces from many thousands of seniors and families in the County. We are not facing starvation, and hunger is not the right word either. Hunger just describes a symptom. We are hungry, and if we solve the problem today, we will still be hungry tomorrow.

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slide05Food insecurity means that a household or individual is not able to guarantee that they will have enough healthful food to get them through the month. Like me in my Food Security Challenge, they might start out eating well at the beginning of the month, and then as rent, transport, medical and other bills take their chunk, people may be looking at an amount tinier than I am living on to be able to put towards food. (Because food is usually the thing that suffers, the thing that can be replaced with inferior or unhealthy alternatives without the body complaining…at first.

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We may thing that SB County is well off compared to some places, but we are also way down the list of food secure counties in California (Out of 58 counties there are only 11 with worse food insecurity than us). Ouch.

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Food insecurity is faced by many seniors as well as by so many working families in our county. They earn too much (but still a tiny amount) to qualify for food stamps and so rely on Foodbank and member agency programs to supplement the food they buy for themselves.

Imagine I am a senior (not so hard with all this grey – I keep telling myself I’m a silver fox, but even so…) and I don’t have enough good food that week. If I collapse because of low blood sugar and have to go to the emergency room or am admitted, the cost skyrockets when it could have been solved with a little healthy food and some education.

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Our role at the Foodbank is to keep people healthy and make sure they have the skills and ability to make healthy food choices even if they are struggling. This makes common sense. If you eat bad food you get less healthy and can work less. If you work less you can only afford bad food and so…the downward spiral continues.

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Speaking of ugly words, you have to hand it to ‘presenteeism’ which describes students or workers who are there, but not really ‘there.’

We live in a country that can easily provide enough healthy food for everyone. Let’s make that investment and save ourselves a fortune in the future.

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As to the Food Security Challenge, I am down to my last $26 with a week to go. That’s $3.71 per day. My supplies are dwindling so this last week is going to be a big struggle. I could end up on the Kitten Cookies and apples diet.

Stay tuned to find out.

 

 

One Night Free from Food Jail

16 Feb

When I agreed to undertake my third food challenge, it was with the understanding that I was only going to utilize the equivalent of food I could buy with my food stamp allowance (as opposed to what I could get at additional Foodbank distributions). This meant I would probably be living on half the food I did last time.

However, I did negotiate the luxury of a single ‘night off’ from my challenge – Valentine’s Day evening. The last two times I undertook the challenge (both during February), I could not enjoy a Valentine’s Day dinner with my wife, Mari.

This year I decided to ensure that I at least keep in the running for the Marriage Security Challenge, by going out on a nice romantic dinner with my beloved.

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The Happy Couple. Watch out, Erik is reaching for your dinner, so he can eat it tomorrow!

We went to the Scarlet Begonia on State Street – so all you people who are convinced that you caught me cheating, I hereby wave my Get Out of Food Jail card.

After two weeks of virtue, I decided to go for the most sinful option on the menu – the rack of lamb. Forgive me little lamb, the food stamps made me do it.

It did bring home to me how lucky I was to have to the option of a delicious meal that ended up costing almost exactly what my whole month’s allowance of food stamps were. I feel guilty just typing that.

Now after my wild night, I am back on the (chuck) wagon and have about $ 37 left to make it through two weeks. I will have to focus some dream time on remember that meal – as well as my lovely companion, of course!

As I have suggested previously, it is the monotony of eating multiple meals of the same thing which can get to you over a period of time. And because this challenge is focusing on seniors, it is a reminder that loss of appetite and desire to eat can be a key indicator of poor health in an aging population.

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Chili – Meal #1 = Yummy, Meal #2 = Even Better, Meal #3 = Hello Old Friend, Meal#4 = I think we should see other meals…

Remember, the average recipient of our Brown Bag program is a 70 year old woman living on a fixed income of $900 per month to cover accommodation, medical, food and transport.

That increases my gratitude and my desire to ensure that all the seniors who need help in our community get enough good food to keep them healthy.

I know we can do it.

 

Kids Helping Seniors

13 Feb

 

On Day 11 of my Food Security Challenge, I got the opportunity to spend Saturday with my five year old daughter Mia and sixty other parents and kids at the Foodbank’s monthly Family Day.

This is an opportunity for families to find out more about the Foodbank, do some volunteer labor and to encourage the philanthropic bent amongst their offspring.

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Team Mansbach (From Right): Jacob, Mike, Joseph and mystery friend rocking the candy cotton. (Jen not pictured)

For the Family Day at our south county warehouse off Hollister Ave, we are lucky enough to have the Mansbach family to coordinate the proceedings. The family’s connection to the Foodbank began when 12 year old Jacob ran the SB Triathlon in support of the Foodbank and his family’s involvement grew from there. Jen and Mike Mansbach, Jacob and brother Joseph are there once a month to inspire and direct a small army of youthful food bankers, as well as, last weekend, a grizzly CEO and his ‘miracle’ offspring.

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The Foodbank increasingly operates as a conduit to help the community itself solve community problems, and Family Day is a great way of seeing this in action. Who better to help seniors – by packing bags of groceries for the Foodbank’s Brown Bag program than children? We like to say that children are the seniors of tomorrow, so the more they help seniors now, then good karma says they will be helped in return by Foodbank 2067 or whenever it is.

Mia’s only 5 but good junior food banker that she is, she got to work filling bags with a mixture of pasta, rice, beans, protein item, soups etc, along with a truly impressive group of adults and kids who built an amazing production line, filling hundreds of bags in just a couple of hours.

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Meanwhile outside, some furious carrot and orange sorting was taking place. The Foodbank purchases a lot of ‘seconds,’ these are the less attractive pieces of fruit or vegetable, which are deemed not suitable to appear on the produce shelves of California supermarkets. While this might be sad for a Strawberry who had hopes of being ‘Strawberry of the Year,’ it is great for food banks, because it allows us to purchase produce for pennies on the dollar, and working together to ship it to food banks all over the State. We weeded out the carrots who were not fit – with the simple criteria that the Foodbank uses for all our food decisions: Would you eat it? If not, don’t expect anyone else to eat it.

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I don’t want to be a strawberry, I want to be a butterfly!

 

There was a great spirit amongst kids and parents, grateful to get away from the entertainment screens or the structured activities that take up so much time. You could sense the realization that doing something to help others felt a lot better than doing something to help yourself.

Family Day always leaves me refreshed and inspired – even when I’m living on food stamps.

Meanwhile on the home front, I made another big purchase of meat, fish and staple items, which I am hoping will allow me to get through the next 17 days with only the purchase of fresh produce and a few other items. It is a big gamble, but it feels like the less I shop, the less opportunity there is to steadily fritter away my money on non-essentials. (And yes I did buy a jar of capers, which might count as non-essential, but we all have our foibles)

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Let them eat Capers

So, where does that leave me, and more importantly, my piggy bank? In the previous episode I was down to $100.67, and with my new splurge, this leaves me with a measly $63.40 to eke out my remaining 16 days. That’s an unspectacular $3.96 per day, nearly half of what the daily food stamp allowance should be.

Maybe I better get a copy of ’16 Dishes with Capers’ out of the public library…