The Discipline of Choice

At a recent board meeting I heard a very different take on Lent. After identifying the meaning of Lent for those not familiar with it, the speaker talked about the centuries old practice of giving something up for Lent. Except this time it was from the perspective of families who turn to Loaves & Fishes for food assistance.

For many of them the question is not what pleasure will I give up for Lent, but “will I buy medicine or put food on the table?” Or “will I pay for car repairs so that I can keep my job, or put food on the table?” It certainly put a different light on my determination to “give up” chocolate or soda or coffee for 40 days.

Maybe I need to give up my reluctance to see that people all around me are making impossible choices– not as a spiritual discipline for 40 days – but every day; and not choices between luxuries, but between basic necessities of life.

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‘Scouting for Food’ Teaches the Meaning of a Good Turn

By Rebecca Novak Tibbitt From

Thanks to the generosity of the Charlotte community and thousands of Mecklenburg County Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, siblings and their parents, the 2015 Scouting for Food collection netted 260,004 pounds of food for Loaves & Fishes. So, if you were the person on the fence about adding a 4 pound bag of sugar to your donation, THANK YOU for going for it!

That’s 19,156 pounds over what the Scouts collected in 2014. These little troopers once again braved the elements to go door-to-door dropping off empty bags and then returning to collect the bags a week later. Harris Teeter also hosted collection barrels at their stores throughout the County.

Loaves & Fishes provides a week’s supply of nutritious groceries at no cost to individuals and families who are experiencing a crisis through a network of 20 local food pantries. According to the organization, this massive effort will help to keep the pantries stocked through the spring. Get your head around this fun fact: over the last six years, Scouting for Food has collected 1.3 million pounds of food for Loaves & Fishes.

This is the fifth year that our son has participated – every year since he was a little first grade Tiger Scout through his current fifth grade Webelo II. This year, his little brother and future Scout was able to get in on the action. While Loaves & Fishes is grateful for the effort, I’m grateful that our sons have the opportunity to see what it means to do a “good turn” in a big way.

Once in the groove of collecting and sorting, the boys naturally step up. The littlest ones struggle with the heavy items, but so want to impress the older cool kids. Parents are in full swing as well, leading by example.

Of course, boys like to trash talk and boys like to brag and boys like to WIN. Cold? “No way, man. I can wear shorts in this weather.” Heavy? “Nah. I bet I can lift it.” When our son’s Cubmaster announced last week to a room full of Scouts that they didn’t just beat last year’s food collection, they annihilated it, the room erupted. Oh, the glory!

So, my little worker bees, brag to your buddies. You’ve earned the right. Tell your friends that you faced the cold and ice and collected food for people who were hungry, because you are young and strong and healthy and are fortunate enough to have a full pantry at home. And tell them next year, you’re going to get even more.

Rebecca Novak Tibbitt, MPH, is a Charlotte-based writer, public relations professional and mother of three school aged children.

Read more here:

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Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow……

Like many others, the icy weather gave me an unexpected day off. The ice closed down much of Charlotte for 24 hours. I enjoyed an enforced stay-at-home day – slept late, worked on my taxes, read by the gas logs. Unfortunately most of the people who turn to Loaves & Fishes for emergency food supplies will not have such a positive experience.

Almost 20 years ago my younger son was a bag boy at our local Harris-Teeter. We had an ice storm and because he had no experience driving on ice, I wouldn’t let him drive the mile to work. So he put on his Boy Scout boots and hiked it. Well, he came right back – the power was out so the store was closed. He complained, “Mom, I won’t get paid for today!” And I say, “No son, you won’t have movie money next week, but the man who works in produce may not have money to feed his family.”

When icy weather strikes, it can disproportionately affect those who struggle to make ends meet. Missed work days mean smaller paychecks at the same time higher heating bills are coming in.

So while I relaxed in a warm house, I also thought about the people who will be in a crisis because of one day of bad weather.

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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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