Give Them The Sauerkraut!

Long before I became associated with Loaves & Fishes my church held a food drive 4 times a year. My most vivid memory of those days was asking my five year old son “John, what shall we donate to Loaves & Fishes today?” After checking out all the choices in the pantry he invariably replied “Give them the sauerkraut!” John was not a fan of sauerkraut and he believed that if I gave it away I would never buy another can.

That story comes to mind because we are preparing for our huge annual food drive, Scouting for Food, Feb. 7 – 8. The week before the drive thousands of Boy Scouts will be dropping empty bags off at houses all over Mecklenburg County with a request that they be filled for Loaves & Fishes and left outside on Feb. 7. The Boy Scouts will be collecting them that morning and delivering them to multiple collection points located all over the county. Last year the Boy Scouts collected more than 240,000 pounds of food!

And as we wade through that sea of canned goods, every time I see a can of sauerkraut I remember little John (who is now 36 years old and absolutely loves sauerkraut!) So when that Boy Scouts knocks on your door in February feel free to load him down with good, nutritious food – including sauerkraut!

For more information about the Scouting for Food drive

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Is This News Good or Bad or Maybe Both?

It was two days before Thanksgiving, almost time for the pantry to close. The volunteers had served 39 families already that day, with one lone client still shopping. So it was quiet and a good time to talk to a reporter looking for a story.

The first question is always “How many people has Loaves & Fishes fed this year?” Immediately followed by “How does that compare to last year?”

The answer, as they say, is complicated. We are delighted that we have served fewer people in 2014 than 2013. We saw double digit increases for 5 years and couldn’t have sustained that growth much longer. Now we are down to pre-recession numbers. We project providing a week’s supply of nutritionally balanced food to around 80,000 people in Mecklenburg County by year’s end.

However, the point I repeatedly make is this – great that the need is less, but 80,000 hungry people in Mecklenburg County? Half of that 80,000 are children? What a scandal for our community. Enough people to fill every seat in Panthers Stadium with 5,000 standing on the field!

We get so caught up in numbers – trending up or trending down, that we completely lose sight of the fact that each of those 80,000 people is a real person, adult or child, who doesn’t worry about what to have for supper tonight. They worry about having any supper, or lunch, or breakfast at all.

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We Gather Together to Start…Christmas Preparations

It’s only the first week of November and I am already stressing about Christmas. Every year I grumble about the season starting earlier and earlier. I actually passed a house last night with a fully decorated tree in the living room! I realize consumerism is what fuels our economy, but I grieve for what we lose when we begin Christmas in October. This time last year my then 9 year old granddaughter and I walked into a store full of Christmas decorations with carols playing. She looked up at me and said “Poor Thanksgiving”.

True, about the only people who make money off Thanksgiving are grocers. And Thanksgiving at Loaves & Fishes is the most hectic time of the whole year – after all without a “feast” you don’t have a Thanksgiving holiday, right? But I think we miss the whole point of Thanksgiving. In our headlong rush to start “the giving season”, we lose the thankful season.

I know I will not be able to postpone all Christmas plans and preparations until after Thanksgiving. But this year I am determined to savor the peace and joy I experience when I take time to realize how many things I have to be grateful for. And Thanksgiving – a day set aside to be grateful – is one of them!

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Where Are My Perspectacles?

Facebook is not just for sharing pictures of children/grandchildren/pets! It can also be the introduction to fascinating websites that only my friends seem to know about. Following a link last evening I discovered a fabulous blog about seeing what’s around us with Perspectacles – a cross between spectacles and perspective.

The blog was about discovering the miracle of looking at the author’s old, dated kitchen with new eyes. Her mismatched appliances became magic machines that preserve and prepare food – wonderful, nutritious food that billions of people around the world only dream of providing for their children. And that outdated faucet – miraculous source of unlimited, clean drinking water. And that cluttered counter full of school work – with perspectacles you can see the free education and opportunities it represents.

As I mentally prepare myself for the orgy of consumerism that is about to engulf the world as I know it, I hope I can keep my perspectacles handy.

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Bedbugs Were Not in the Budget

When living on a very tight budget, you never know what might be the one thing that pushes you into crisis. For Brenda, it came from an unexpected source, summer camp. Last June, her twin boys came home from camp with lots of great memories and sleeping bags infested with bed bugs!

Everything had to go. As Brenda told us, “We save and budget down to the last penny.”, but having to replace everything in the boys’ room was not in the plan. They went into debt replacing bedding and clothing that were infested and had to be thrown away.

Luckily, a week’s worth of groceries from Loaves & Fishes helped Brenda not to have to worry about having food for her boys. “It hurts when your cabinets get low and you’ve got kids.” The food from Loaves & Fishes, “…meant a lot. The food lasted until we could get back on our feet.”

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A Meal and More

Word is out – the Great Recession is over! Unemployment is down and the number of people needing Loaves & Fishes has finally stabilized. However, Loaves & Fishes still provided a week’s worth of nutritious groceries to 105,015 people in Mecklenburg County in 2013. So what is contributing to the continued need?

The cost of a week’s supply of basic, nutritious food for a family of 3 has risen 17% in the past 5 years. Surprised? We were too, but we “shop” once a year comparing prices of the same items at a local low cost grocery store.

Thousands of full-time jobs have been converted to part-time with more to come. Part-time means no insurance or sick time, and no guarantee of working the same hours each week, making it very hard to coordinate two jobs.

Although thankfully slower, layoffs are continuing. When a big bank lets more than 500 people go in Charlotte, most of those employees will not need help from Loaves & Fishes. But the folks that make a living cutting their grass, cleaning their houses, providing child-care for their children, and waiting tables at the restaurants they frequent will also be affected.

A client wisely said this year: “The food goes beyond just the meal.” We are fortunate that you make possible the meal and beyond – that our neighbors aren’t alone in their struggle to make a good life for themselves and their families and the knowledge that our community cares and shares out of our abundance. We are deeply grateful for all those who partner in this mission by donating time, money or food. We look forward to our 40th year of ministry with hope of a decreased need, but with confidence that Loaves & Fishes will continue to go “beyond the meal”.

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All I have is thanks and a calm in my heart

Our most recent newsletter features the story of the Oliver family. We met the Olivers after receiving a very moving thank you letter from mom Heather. We wanted to share it with you…

Dear Loaves & Fishes,

THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for your kindness, compassion and willingness to help my family. I visited for the first time in my life to a place like yours in March. I was nervous – I was afraid I would be judged or looked down upon or treated like a bad mother and wife for failing to be able to feed my family.

We have constantly stuggled over the past two years – lost jobs, found new ones, lost homes, friends and the fellowship of our community in east Charlotte after experiencing a series of events that forced us to leave. We have relocated but, like always, we consistently struggled to make our money stretch. I have never been so sad and scared until I had no food to feed my husband before a 12-hour shift. I was worried about our health. But I found out about your program through DSS.

When I came to your location, the people who helped me were kind, loving and understanding. There was no feeling judged; there was no one who made me feel bad for my position. And for me that kind of welcome empowered me. I left excited about the huge amounts of foods – even juice, fruit and yogurts which are my daughter’s favorites. I can’t put into words what this experience means for me. All I have is thanks and a calm in my heart. You have all been a true blessing to me and my family one we desperately needed.

With great thanks…

The Oliver Family

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What do you want to give? Ask A 5 Year Old.

I have been asked many, many times, what is the best food to donate to Loaves & Fishes.  The question always reminds me of a time 30 years ago, long before I worked for Loaves & Fishes.  My church had a food collection each quarter.  I would stand in front of the open pantry and ask my youngest son, who was about 5, “John, what do you want to give Loaves & Fishes this time?”.  His answer was always the same “give them the sauerkraut.”  He was convinced that if we gave away the sauerkraut in the pantry, I would never purchase another can.  To this day I can’t see a can of kraut come into the warehouse without thinking of young John.

One way we encourage people to make this decision is by the season.  With summer coming soon we are focusing on “kid friendly” nutritious foods.  Cereal, peanut butter and jelly, canned meats like tuna or canned pasta like spaghettios, and the always popular mac and cheese.  These foods are easily prepared, non-perishable, and will be welcome on any child’s plate. 

Fall and winter donations can follow holidays – all the trimmings for a turkey dinner are always greeted enthusiastically.  And for fun, color code your donations – red for Valentine’s Day (yes people do eat beets!), green for St. Patrick’s. 

Our priority needs are canned meat, canned pastas, canned fruit, 100% juice and cereal. These are the items that seem to fly off pantry shelves the fastest. Loaves & Fishes clients want to feed their families the same kinds of food we all do – just think of what you would want to serve your family – it’s as easy as that.  And by the way, John now loves sauerkraut.

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That’s What We’re Talking About…

Loaves & Fishes’ mission has always been to help individuals and families who are in emergency situations.  Over the past 25 years I have been asked many times “what kind of emergency are you talking about?”  Well, the first couple of weeks of February were a perfect example. 

The weather threatened snow, actually did snow, and then snowed again.  All of those conditions caused life as we know it to come to a halt.  For most of us it provided “snow days” to enjoy some time off, to observe the rare beauty of several inches of snow that lasted more than a few hours.  But for many in our community the weather presented a current and future emergency.  The immediate problem is thousands of folks who work by the hour lost wages.  Most businesses closed at least one day during the bad weather.  And many don’t pay hourly workers for snow days. 

I vividly recall some 20 years ago when I had a 16 year old at home who bagged groceries in a local store when an ice storm hit Charlotte.  Even though the store was only a mile from the house, I wouldn’t let an unexperienced driver take the car.  So my son put on his Boy Scout boots and hiked to the store, only to find the store closed.  He walked home and said “Mom, I’m not going to get paid because they are closed.”  And I said, “Yes, son I know.  You won’t have movie money next week.  But the man in the back of the store who unloads the trucks won’t have money to buy food for his family.”  Nothing has changed in the last 20 years – thousands of working Charlotteans will have lower paychecks because of the weather.

The future emergency will occur in 30 to 60 days when utilities bills become past due.  The extremely cold weather has caused a large spike in heating bills.  Folks who are already living on a bare bones budget cannot accommodate a monthly bill that doubles or triples.  Again hard choices will have to be made – do we keep the power or gas on, or do we buy groceries?  A choice no working person should have to make. 

And for those people the mission of Loaves & Fishes really does make a difference.

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A Good Turn Transforms into 250,000 Meals!

I got to meet an exceptional young man this past Saturday.  He was one of some 4,000 Scouts who were out collecting food for Loaves & Fishes.  It was a glorious day – first decent weather for Scouting for Food in three years.  I ran into this particular Scout at the Trinity Presbyterian collection site.  He is a member of an exceptional group – Troop 118 from St. Stephen United Methodist Church.  Young Vance Ayscue set a goal this year of collecting 2,000 pounds of food himself for the drive.  As of Saturday afternoon he had collected 2,100 pounds and by Monday had another 300 pounds.

I told Vance that he had collected enough food to feed 100 people for an entire week!  He said “Boy Scouts believe in doing a good turn”.  That got me thinking about the whole “pay it forward” movement.  The idea being that we do something good for someone in the hopes that they will do the same when they are able.  The difference being Vance’s good turn will turn into at least 2,400 meals for hungry people.  Quite a return on investment.

Overall the Scouts estimate they again collected more than 250,000 pounds of food.  When a Loaves & Fishes staffer asked a Scout what he saw when he looked into one of the trucks being loaded with donated food, he said “generosity”.  That is exactly what I see when I look at a Boy Scout.

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