Sunday, September 20, 2009

What does your food bank have to offer besides free food?

     Does your local food bank have a grocery store?  Ours does, it's at the back of the food bank. They call it Value Market.  You don't have to be eligible for food stamps, any program or even be signed up for food boxes.  And the savings are awesome.  Anywhere from 30-70% off regular grocery prices.   They can take the money you spend there and turn $10 into $100 worth of food, or so one of their posters says.  It's a small grocery store, sure, but if you start there before going to your local mega store you can save a lot of money.  Recently, I bought a 10 pound ham (the loaf shape) for just under eight bucks.  I don't like ham, but my hubby does, and I can choke it down at that price.  It's a good quality name brand, and with our food slicer we can make deli style sandwiches, or cube it into casseroles, or just freeze pieces to make holiday roasts from.
     Our food bank doesn't sell donated food, the grocery store is run separately, funded by it's sales.   They buy first run food, a lot is name brand food and sometimes they have food packaged for them.  You never know what they will have at anytime, though, so having a freezer is a plus.  One of the things I keep an eye out for is the little cans of green chiles.  If they are cheap enough, I'll buy a case.  Cheap enough to me is 50% or less than I would pay at the local Fry's.  After you done your shopping, you go past these long tables set up with bags of bread and sometimes flats of fruits or fresh vegetables.  No matter your income, after you buy at the grocery you get a bonus from the table of whatever they are giving out that day.
    I like to get my rich clients to shop there.  I tell them it's good for their wallet, good for the community, and good for their karma.  Besides, I think those with should see how hard those without have to work for what they get, standing in line for hours for a free bag of food.  Okay, I also like to see them completely out of their element.
   Like every other food bank, ours gives out food "boxes", actually large bags of food here, to anyone qualified.  At this food bank, qualified is any resident of Pima county, no proof of need required.  It's pretty obvious, though that the people who are willing to stand in the long line that snakes through the giant room are not well off.  Anyone may be welcome, but you won't find the comfortable there, willing to rub shoulders with the needy, someone might think they can't keep up with the Jones', after all.   Even if they can't.  America does have it's caste system, it's based on how many dollars you have, or at least the illusion of those dollars to the extent you can maintain it.    Don't get me wrong, though.  Tucson can be an incredibly generous town.  If there is a need, such as the food bank running low, the humane society needing pet food, schools needing supplies, even someone needing bone marrow or help paying for a funeral, Tucsonians will cough up that money or donate that item faster than you can spit.  They just have to be reminded of the need.  Even the neediest donate something, somehow. 
     Anyway, if you have a roommate situation, or more than one household under the same roof, you each can get your own.  One bag per month and whatever is being given at the free table.  That bag always has beans, rice, canned soup, fruit (fresh, canned or frozen), cornflakes and peanut butter.  Neither of us are big fans of cornflakes and peanut butter, so it kept piling up.   Then I discovered a recipe for cornflake bars.  Lots of recipes.  Yummy. Now I don't have excess inventory, just excess calories to burn.    The simple version:

Cornflake Bars

1 cup corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
8 cups corn flakes
any desired additives (see below)
Have everything measured and ready before starting.
Heat syrup and sugar together just til sugar melts, stir peanut butter into hot syrup, Stir in cornflakes.
Turn into buttered dish, smooth and let cool.
If desired, when you add the cornflakes, add dried fruits, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips or whatever   catches your fancy, but act quick this sets up in moments.

     Our food bank is a great place to take the kids.  No, really.  If you go the right day, there is a farmer's market in the compact park like area just outside.  There are nice little paths for walking and well shaded benches for sitting, with open areas for the kids to play in.  They have a demonstration garden showing how to grow vegetables and even how to make your vegetable plants attractive enough for landscaping.  People in Tucson don't grow lawns, it just isn't done here.   If you are going to waste your water, don't let the neighbors see it wasted on grass.  But some people also don't like the natural desert planting touted by the expensive landscapers here.  Surely, though, no one can object to beautiful ramadas shaded by grapes, arbors of squash and beans, and sunflower and corn screens to go along with the lemons, oranges and grapefruits.   I must admit, I spend a little more water and grow some desert adapted peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums (but they do also provide cooling shade).  Behind the garden is a chicken coop shaded by a tree.  In our area, raising hens is okay in the city, and the coop the food bank has is a cute little thing.
    Classes, our food bank has them.  The current classes are in gardening.  They will train you, provide starter seed, volunteers to get your garden started.  It's garden time in Tucson.  They've had classes on compost, building a solar oven and water saving.  They also have a youth apprentice program on an organic farm.
     These are just the things I've had dealings with at our food bank.  I know they have other things, and they have connections to other programs.  It is an active, vibrant community organization which offers much more than the average Tucsonian realizes.
     What does your food bank offer?  Have you ever checked?  It might be worth your time to find out, even if you aren't facing difficulties.  If your food bank doesn't offer much, maybe you can help start a garden or a cooking class.  Help your community and find out.  Really help your community and volunteer if you can.  And don't wait until you see on the news that the food bank's warehouse is empty.  Don't wait for the holidays, the need is ongoing.  Donate now.  You'll feel better for it.  Honest.  Besides, it makes a good tax write off if you itemize.

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