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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Scouting for Food is Back!

Photo by John Mahaffey

By Guest Blogger Rebecca Novak Tibbitt from MomsCharlotte.com

Saturday, February 1, the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts of America will be “Scouting for Food.” Scouts will go door-to-door throughout Mecklenburg County collecting canned goods for Loaves & Fishes.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of these chilly Cub and Boy Scouts distributing and collecting thousands of bags to communities around Charlotte, like little grocery elves.

Last year’s Scouting for Food drive collected a record 264,000 pounds of food for Loaves & Fishes. This is pretty astounding considering that the average first-grade Tiger Scout weighs in at around 45 pounds.

This year, their goal is even higher at 275,000 pounds.

“Scouting for Food is the perfect way for kids to help kids,” says Beverly Howard, Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes. “We provided food for 105,015 people in 2013 – almost half of them children. Food collected by the Boy Scouts will stock Loaves & Fishes’ pantries for the next three months. Our food is needed by folks who have homes and children, and frequently jobs, but whose lives are affected by a short-term emergency. Whether it is a car repair, loss of work hours, or unexpected medical expenses, food provided by Loaves & Fishes will keep them from having to choose between paying a bill or feeding their family.”

Kids, especially picky eaters, don’t always see the “value” in food. But, there are a lot of ways to make filling a bag of groceries a fun and meaningful family project.

How much money does it take to fill a bag? What if you bought items on sale and used coupons? What if you only had $10? How far could that get you? Are your choices healthy, or are they empty calories? Could you fill a bag from your own pantry? If so, what would you pick?

Priority needs include canned meat, canned pastas, cereal, canned fruit and 100% fruit juice.

There are three ways to donate food:

1. If you receive an empty grocery bag, fill it and leave it out for collection on Saturday, February 1.

2. Boy Scouts will be on hand to collect donations February 1, from 10am-4pm and February 2, from 12:30pm-2:30pm at a number of places in the area. Visit www.loavesandfishes.org for locations.

3. Food collection barrels will be located in all Mecklenburg County Harris Teeter stores from February 1 through February 9.

Over the past few years, my now 9-year old Webelo has enjoyed the camaraderie and good feelings that accompany doing a “good turn” with Scouting for Food. As we made our selections this week and filled up our own bag, he told me, “Mom, let’s fill it with the good stuff.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/01/29/4650255/iscouting-for-foodi-is-back.html#storylink=cpy
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Reflections From A Post Santa World…

This Christmas my 10 year old granddaughter, Raven, found out there is no Santa.  Or more accurately I should say she learned there is no fat old man in a red suit.  But her mother told her we are all Santa for each other.  In addition to considering her parents and me (“Who Needs Santa, I’ve got Nana!” is stitched on a throw pillow in my living room) her personal Santas, Raven was fascinated with the notion that she could be Santa too.

I couldn’t help but think about that as I watched the abundant generosity that is Christmas at Loaves & Fishes.  From the small fry bringing in cans from holiday parties, to whopping checks from businesses, we felt like Santa was at the door every day.  And in the pantries there were thousands of encounters between Santas and those finding themselves in desperate need at Christmas. 

I honestly don’t know who gets the most out of these encounters – I certainly get as much pleasure being Santa for Raven as she gets from receiving.  And at Loaves & Fishes I have told folks for years –everyone who is involved gets more out of it than they put in, or else why would they do it?  A lovely dimension of the Christmas miracle.   Who says there’s no Santa?

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Have Yourself a ?????? Little Christmas

Christmas for me is always influenced by what else is going on in my life.  Last year Christmas was all but lost.  A very dear friend was in a serious car accident the week after Thanksgiving and was in the hospital or rehab until February.  It was a depressing holiday at best.

This year is going to be remembered as the speediest Christmas in years.  One of the ways I deal with the commercial craziness of Christmas is to be in total denial until after Thanksgiving.  This year with less than four weeks between the holidays seems more crazed than usual.

But no matter what year, Loaves & Fishes is bombarded with activity in December:  Record numbers of families needing help, media calling looking for that “feel good” holiday story, and countless donors sending money and food.

While speaking with a reporter this week – who was focused on Christmas – I found myself saying “The Christmas work of Loaves & Fishes extends far beyond Dec. 25.”  May it be so in our hearts as well as our hands.

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It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore…

We are compiling the results of our yearly client survey.  One response stood out.  When asked “What do you do when you run out of food?” the client replied “I eat oatmeal for three days.”  That was before the decrease in SNAP benefits took effect.

Every family in the United States who receives SNAP (Food Stamps) will see a decrease in their benefits beginning this month.  A family of four will receive $36 less per month in benefits.  We at Loaves & Fishes decided to see what $36 of groceries actually looks like.  Shopping at a chain supermarket known for low prices, we found out just how many meals $36 can provide. 

There is really no good time this could have happened, but this is a very bad time.  With the recent delays caused by NCFAST, the coming of cold weather, and the holidays upon us, we expect to see more need for emergency food than ever.

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What You Have Will Be Enough

Beverly Howard shared the following remarks upon receiving the 2013 Community Leader Award from Mecklenburg Ministries at their annual breakfast.  So many were inspired by her words that we wanted to share them with you.

I lived in 8 states and attended 12 schools in 12 years growing up.  I had no sense of what community was.  And my earliest role model was my mother who gave up her only paying job when she married my father in 1936.  Because married women weren’t allowed to teach.  Teaching jobs were for men with families to support, or single women who had no husband to support them.  This was not that long ago but how things have changed.

I found myself in 1975 newly arrived in Charlotte.  I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do or be.  My great ambition for life was by the time I was 30 to be married, have two children, live in a house in the suburbs and have two cars.  And I did.  But then I turned 31 and thought what am I supposed to do now?  Well, for me I found a home in this community.  I felt welcomed and needed.  So I started to look around for some role models.  And I found them in three women, Virginia Sampson who founded Loaves & Fishes, Ann Elliot who founded Friendship Trays, and Caroline Myers founder of Crisis Assistance Ministry.  These women always seemed to have their ducks in a row.  They anticipated problems and were ready with solutions.  Beside them I feel like a very short dog in high cotton.

Well Community Leader looks a lot different in 2013, at least from the inside.  I never have my ducks in a row.  In fact ask anyone who has been to my house.  If you open a cabinet in my kitchen something will fall out and hit you on the head.  And I’m constantly surprised by problems.  You would think after 25 years I would be used to surprises but I wander along assuming nothing will ever go wrong and am surprised every time!   

But what I want to especially tell the younger women here this morning is this:  After telling the Loaves & Fishes story for 25 years, I have finally learned its wisdom applies to all of life.  Start with what you have – whether it’s 5 loaves and 2 fish, or like me, a mixed bag of skills and strengths.  Somehow it will be enough.  Young women, what you have will be enough.  You don’t have to be able to speak like Rodney Sadler or Russ Dean, or be as talented as Amy Jacks Dean.  What you have will be enough.

I will quote from the Gospel of Leonard Cohen:  “Ring the bell that still will ring, Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s what lets the light in.”

 We are all products of countless influences.  Some known and some a complete mystery.  I am fortunate to have some of the people who have made me who I am here in this room today – a fine son and very much loved granddaughter, friends of many years, and a pastor whose faith and wonderful sense of humor have inspired and encouraged me.

And just as I have been given enough – I believe our community also has enough.  Enough people with good hearts, enough resources, and enough energy to face today’s challenges.  Virginia Sampson and Caroline Myers and Ann Elliot stepped out in faith believing that there would be enough to provide for folks in dire need and indeed the miracle is those organizations are still meeting a tremendous need.

I spent a lot of time as a young person agonizing over what I was going to do with my life.  I could have saved a lot of effort if I had known then I would have very little to do with deciding the course my life would take.  Or as theologian, Frederick Buechner, puts it:

 “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. The great gift of my life has been that community and Loaves & Fishes have provided that place for me.

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