Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sharing the wealth: Food for people who need it

Over the last few days I've watched a number of TV shows that left me scratching my head, wondering why there can't be some coordination between people who have way too much and those who have nothing.

Right now I'm watching one I've seen before, I'm Pregnant and...Homeless. It's about a couple, Misty and Jonathan, who through no fault of their own found themselves homeless--and expecting a baby. A year earlier they had a home, cable, heating and air conditioning, all the "normal" things we take for granted. Then the economy took its toll, Jonathan lost his job when the company he worked for folded, and they ended up homeless.

Eventually they sent their 1-year-old son, Zion, to live with Jonathan's relatives and they started camping out in the forest in North Carolina. They looked for work but couldn't find any. They resorted to panhandling just to eat. They don't qualify for subsidized housing because Jonathan has a prison record. You can tell from listening to them that these are not people who are used to getting handouts, nor is that their goal in life. They WANT to work. They WANT to pay their way through life. But at almost 9 months pregnant and with no job prospects in sight, they're stuck.

Because of their conditions and their lack of adequate food, Misty has actually lost 15 pounds since the onset of her pregnancy. She's receiving free prenatal care, and that's all well and good, but apparently in North Carolina--or, at least, in their area of NC--there aren't programs to provide proper nutrition to families in need.

They're shown panhandling for several hours and netting $17 and change. They head to the supermarket to buy some food, but as we all know $17 doesn't buy much. The high quality foods Misty should be eating are too expensive, and $17 just can't buy much of them.

When her nurse midwife asked if they'd been able to find a source of cheaper fruits and vegetables, and the answer was no, I just started wondering...WHY? Why is it like that? Fruits, and especially vegetables, are so easy to grow, and can be grown in such abundance even in a small area of a normal suburban backyard, I just can't help wondering why there aren't people with surpluses of produce giving them away to those who need them. Here in Southern California we have a great organization, Food Forward, that uses volunteers to go to properties and pick their excess fruits and vegetables, and then 100% of that produce is donated to local food pantries. So people who have more food than they can use give it away, and people who need food get it.

There's another show that REALLY makes me squirm, Extreme Couponing. It profiles people who've made saving with coupons the focal point of their lives. Seriously, these folks spend hours a day working out their shopping plans, coordinating sales with coupons, cutting coupons, stockpiling coupons, checking blogs and other web sites, before finally going off to do their shopping with hundreds of coupons in hand. So what's the problem? Well, it seems that most of these extreme couponers take pride in their "stockpiles"--massive collections of redundant items they've purchased for little or no money (or even gotten paid for taking from the stores). They may have 100 bottles of laundry detergent or 200 boxes of cereal...far more than their families can possibly use in the near future.

Their stockpiles grow so large that dedicated rooms soon become too small; some of these families have groceries stored in every room in their house, including under their kids' beds. I think it was at that point that I started shaking my head in disbelief...

There are people who have nothing, people like Misty and Jonathan, and then there are people stockpiling products they cannot possibly use, and it just makes me wonder why the haves aren't helping the have nots. (One notable exception from the couponing show, a man named Nathan Engels in Kentucky, has made HUGE donations to food banks, schools, and the military from his couponing hauls. Shout out to Nathan! Good job.)

I'd sure like to see some effort from the people who've gotten extreme couponing down to a science, so that instead of stockpiling products they're never going to use, they donate some of that excess to people who'd be grateful to have them.

As for Misty and Jonathan, when their episode ends they've just gotten into a house two days before their baby, Micah, is born; the owner has agreed to a barter situation and so they're temporarily with housing. Jonathan has gotten part-time work as well and is looking for something more secure. It's been a while since the episode was actually filmed, so I don't know what's become of this little family since then, but the impact they made on me continues. I hope they're doing well.

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