View Full Version : Food assistance program facing hard times as holidays near

11-01-2009, 08:25 AM
The line of beaten-down people is long and it intersects with the two-lanes of traffic waiting for the "drive-through" food pantry to open. By the time we do, the hot, the tired, the lost, the hopeless, the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the elderly and the confused are showing signs of strain from the wait.

This is South Florida in recession. What follows is a diary of life on the front-lines of a war we are losing. The names have been omitted of course, but the circumstances surrounding these individuals are rather obvious.

Nonprofits like ours, The Cooperative Feeding Program in Fort Lauderdale (http://www.sun-sentinel.com/topic/us/florida/broward-county/fort-lauderdale-PLGEO100100403070000.topic), are trying to help, but we are seen more often as the enemy, rather than the friend. I don't have the answers. Things used to seem solvable, but I don't think that way any more. I spend more time wondering who is in charge, who is aware, and who is preparing in the event of the ultimate breakdown.

All 90 pounds of her sat shaking in the chair, her eye swollen up, black and blue. Her new husband taught her a lesson because she was, in his words, "stupid." We tell her that he might next break her bones, burn her with cigarettes or maybe kill her. She lifts her shirt to reveal the cigarette burns.

The Jaguar is tying up the food line. I approach the driver and ask her if she's working. She hesitates before telling me that she lost her job as a social worker and private practice counselor. "Was I hiring?" she asks. I find out later that someone told her that I was the CEO. I take her application, even though I have no funds to hire her.

Fire has burned this woman's home, and she's starting over. She feels blessed, but, if she can just help her children look nice for school, that would be an important thing for her to do.

The sounds of a wailing baby interrupt my phone call. So I go outside my office to see a naked newborn being patted dry and diapered by Norma, my grandmotherly volunteer shower attendant. The baby's mother is taking a shower and grabbing some "alone" time while we dress her baby. We find the baby's bottle, feed her and the wailing stops. We succeed in keeping the pangs of hunger at bay.

"EE" is a veteran, and alcohol has eroded what remains of his mind. We assist him with filing for VA benefits and Social Security, and the effort pays off. "EE" gets his benefits. We know he can remain housed, fed and obtain medical care, but each step of the process proved overwhelming and humiliating. No wonder so many vets opt out.

We have never had a break-in, not in our 24 years of operation. So imagine our anguish when we found the roll-up door to our warehouse had been pried open. Our grief turns to relief when we find that nothing seems to be missing. A wrought iron security gate kept the break-in from becoming a loss of about $40,000 in food and a like amount in equipment. We decide to install more cameras, and that's another sad moment for us because we now have to spend our limited dollars on security while turning away the hungry.

We are a step closer to closing on a parcel of land that will provide our agency additional parking and a way to move hundreds of cars through our drive-through pantry. We've waited nearly a year for this miracle, and in that time the lines have increased substantially. We are counting the days when the property becomes available. Hopefully, there will be no disappointments.

The parents have been living in their truck with two kids for months now. The dad is a construction worker, but the family comes here to eat and take care of other needs. Work is scarce, and the house they used to live in is in foreclosure. The truck is their home now, and they worry that another home will be lost.

We operate with a tiny staff, often 15 staff to 500 customers. With customers that are as needy as ours, that ratio is pathetic. But, volunteerism is down 72 percent and need is up by a similar amount. So, how can we keep the peace when so many who come here seeking help are hanging by a thread?

I gather the information on what remains in our food purchase budget and count the pallets of food in storage. Our food and funds won't make it until Thanksgiving. So now the mad rush begins to try to create a food source to fill the gap from now until the Thanksgiving donations arrive.

Unfortunately, food donations have all but stopped in this economy. We know there is a correlation between the unemployment rate and the number of people seeking food. Publix offers "BOGOs" those Buy One-Get One free deals. If only people would buy one for themselves and give the spare to us. That's an easy ask: 'Help us on your next trip to Publix. It won't hurt too much.'

I know before I open my car door and walk into my office that I will meet a number of people who will ask if I am someone who can help them get food, buy gas, find shelter or find work. I think about the few moments I have without such assaults the quiet time on my drive to and from work.

On this trip to the office, the gas warning light comes on, so I pull into my neighborhood gas station in Oakland Park. It is deserted. As I begin to pump gas another car pulls into the station, and before I know it I am approached by a disheveled man who asks for help to get to his home in Weston. He says something about being robbed and needing my help to get his baby home safely.

I look around the pump and see a child in the back seat and a woman in the front. I also check my surroundings. I don't like to hand out cash. I ask him to wait by his car while I finish pumping gas. I hand him some money, and he drives off heading in the direction of Weston. His front tire is one of those tiny, temporary spares, and it's low. I doubt he'll make it to Weston, if that really is his destination.

I'm upset. I've lost those few precious moments I save for myself. I'm back in the war zone, which apparently has moved closer to my home.

A couple of minutes past 5 p.m. and I'd promised I'd leave work early, but the phone's ringing. I hear voices down the hall and know other staff members are still here. I hope one would pick up the phone. No such luck. It rings until I lift the receiver and say "Good afternoon, Cooperative Feeding Program."

I can hear a woman crying, too choked up to form words. She sounds so young and in such pain. She has no food in the house. It isn't for her, it's for her kids. She repeats that several times. She cries heavily into the phone, and I realize I'm going not to get out of here early. So I let go of the silly idea and ask her a few questions the whys, whens and hows that put her in this position.

She's in a safe house after fleeing domestic violence. He had the income that bought the food but now she's on her own. She says she's been doing everything possible to connect with the services that would help her and her kids get established. "It's not easy" she says. I holler down the hall to see who is still around, and lucky for me, there's someone here who lives south. The woman lives in Hollywood and my co-worker will drop off some food at about 6 p.m.

I know better than to answer the phone this late in the day. It's always a crisis. I know better, but I also know better than to ignore an after-hours call. I might be walking out on a family, hanging onto the other end of the line waiting to hear a voice of help and praying someone is still there working late.

The lovely lady is first at the door to file for food stamps today. She was just let go from her job as an airline stewardess after 13 years with the company. She says she didn't see it coming. When she left, one of my staff members comes into my office and kisses my forehead. "Thank you," she says. "I am so blessed to have a job."

We counsel the newly unemployed, and they are so new to this life of loss and poverty. Truth is everyone is scared. We go to sleep scared, we wake up scared. My trip to the office is filled with a range of emotions from, "How can I listen to another story of loss?" to "I am so lucky to have a job to go to today!"

We're lottery winners those of us who still have work to do.

11-01-2009, 10:07 AM
Stop & Shop's Food for Friends to Raise $1 Million for Local Food Banks

QUINCY, Mass., Oct. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Customers will find that donating $1,
$3 or $5 at their local Stop & Shop check-out will net great rewards for more
than 300 local hunger relief organizations as Stop & Shop's 20(th) annual Food
for Friends program kicks-off in all stores on Oct. 30. The program is an easy
and affordable way for customers to support local organizations and families
in need of assistance this holiday season.

Through in-store donations and a corporate matching program, Stop & Shop hopes
to raise more than $1 million with 100 percent of the dollars collected
going to local and regional food banks. In addition, the company will match
the first $500 raised by each store. Food for Friends will run through Dec. 3,

"Providing food to those in need is a cause that directly impacts the
communities in which we operate," said Faith Weiner, senior director of public
affairs for Stop & Shop. "Food for Friends is just one of the programs Stop &
Shop provides to customers looking for creative and inexpensive ways to give
back this holiday season."

A 2008 Greater Boston Food Bank Needs Assessment Survey confirmed that food
banks continue to struggle to keep up with increased client loads and fewer
donations. Forty-seven percent reported they had run out of food as a direct
result of the growing demand and 90 percent confirmed an increase in the
demand for food since 2007. Nearly 53 percent reported a decrease in

In addition to in-store donations Stop & Shop customers can keep the spirit of
giving alive by organizing a holiday food or toy drive; donating unwanted
clothes or blankets; or volunteering at a local soup kitchen, Boys & Girls
Club or other community service organization.

Customers may also explore additional hunger relief programs funded by Stop &

-- Turkey Express - Stop & Shop will deliver 20,000 turkeys to local
relief organizations throughout New England beginning this month. The
program will run through Nov. 23, 2009 and will provide turkeys for
families serviced by the Greater Boston Food Bank, Rhode Island
Community Food Bank, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, and Long
Island Cares to name a few.

-- Kids Cafes/Backpack Programs - A recent $1.5 million dollar grant
through the Stop & Shop/Giant Family Foundation will fund hunger
efforts through Kids Cafes and Backpack programs for the next three
years. The programs provide free, nutritious meals and snacks to low
income children through Boys & Girls Clubs, churches, and public
schools. The grant will allow the Brockton Boys & Girls Club, in
conjunction with the Greater Boston Food Bank, to open a Kids Cafe in
Brockton, Mass., in early November.

To learn more about Stop & Shop's hunger action initiatives visit,

About the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company
The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, headquartered in Quincy, Mass., employs
more than 59,000 associates and operates stores throughout Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey. The
company is a member of the US Green Building Council and has been awarded LEED
(EB) certifications for 50 of its existing stores. Stop & Shop has been
recognized by the EPA for the superior energy management of its stores and is
also a member of the EPA's Smart Way program.

About the Stop & Shop/Giant Family Foundation
The Stop & Shop - Giant Family Foundation was created to support educational
and recreational programs for children across the communities served by the
Stop & Shop Supermarket Company and Giant Food. The Foundation donated more
than $750,000 in 2008/2009 and committed $1.2 million as a result of its
fundraising efforts.

SOURCE Stop & Shop Supermarket Company