Last year, around this time, I entered the basement of the First United Methodist Church and immediately thought there had been some kind of mistake. I was there to sort donations for Wheels of H.O.P.E., the mobile food pantry, but where in previous months I had seen tables pretty well laden with boxes of canned goods, now I saw only a few boxes. I thought I was late and the other volunteers had already done the bulk of the sorting.
I wasn’t late — the food pantry was short on donations.
This happens every year, without fail.
We are entering a dry season, as food pantry donations are concerned. There’s always a drought in the summer where food pantries and similar organizations have trouble stocking their shelves. This isn’t just a local problem. It happens everywhere. This seems to happen for several reasons.
It’s largely because families are going on summer vacation. Schools and after school groups — such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts — are behind a lot of the food drives that keep food pantries going.
It’s also not a season where many people think to donate food. Summer is, in my mind, a time of plenty because there are so many crops growing right now. Before I started volunteering regularly with Wheels of H.O.P.E., I never would have imagined the sort of drought we’re about to enter.
In honor of this season of the opposite of plenty, I’m going to tell you some things you might not know about being poor.
• Groceries are harder when you don’t have a car or a grocery store in your area.
Even if you have money for food, if you don’t have adequate transportation or a grocery store within a mile of you, you may find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation when it comes time to buy groceries.
This is one of the reasons Geary County suffers from food insecurity. We have three grocery stores — Dillons, Walmart, and the Walmart Neighborhood Market. Grandview Plaza doesn’t have a grocery store at all.
While some people are close enough to walk to buy food, can you imagine carrying everything you buy at, say, Walmart, a mile or more just to get it home and in the fridge?
Even if that’s not a problem for you, do you realize how much more time that takes than driving? Not everyone has that kind of time.
Many people find themselves buying marked up snack food — not exactly nutritious — from convenience stores because it’s less trouble.
• There’s actually a good reason poor people tend to have terrible diets and it’s not what you might think.
If you don’t know where your next meal’s coming from or if you’ll even have one, probably the last thing on your mind is your waistline.
When I was in college, I took some summer classes one year. It came down to a choice between having time to do homework and having a summer job, so I was largely feeding myself off money I’d saved from a previous part-time gig. I had about $200 for the 40 days of classes. McDonalds had a well-stocked dollar menu back then and that was largely what I ate. Not healthy at all, but when you’re short on cash and not sure you’ll have enough to eat that month, you don’t always make healthy decisions. On $5 a day, when it comes down to a choice between a bag of apples and a box of ramen, the ramen will stick with you much longer. Granted, it’ll also stick to your thighs, but at least you won’t have spent your whole food budget on something that lasts a couple hours before you’re hungry again.
You’d be shocked how many people deliberately choose higher calorie, higher fat foods simply because they need more bang for their buck.
• All it takes is one serious emergency to turn a middle class family into a poor one.
I’m going to use myself as an example here, again. This January, I had a bit of a health scare. Without going into undue detail, I thought I might have cancer and had some checkups to make sure I didn’t. I don’t have cancer — what I have is a bunch of bills for something my insurance only partly covered.
It could have been worse and for many people it is. Health problems, car problems, and myriad other things can throw someone who is living meagerly but comfortably into a tailspin and land them in a serious predicament.
I don’t want anyone to think we’re not grateful for the food drives that have been done this year that maybe weren’t in the past. There was a county-wide drive among the Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, including those on Fort Riley, that brought in a load of donations to Wheels of H.O.P.E., donations that it took an extra week of volunteering to sort.
But this sort of thing is a continuing problem.
There will always be people who have less than others and there will always be people who need occasional help.
There are two major food panties in Geary County — Wheels of H.O.P.E. and the Geary County Food Pantry. All serve people who struggle with extreme poverty and food insecurity.
To contact the Geary County Food Pantry, call (785) 762-8830. Wheels of H.O.P.E. has a Facebook here: https://m.facebook.com/JCWheelsofHOPE/. Contact them to learn what you can do to help out.