This post is inspired by Normal Girl’s post about a similar issue.
As I’ve mentioned before, my fiance and I have been struggling with poverty for some time now (about a year). It got to the point this time last year that we only had the food that the local-at-the-time food bank (I’ll refer to it as JAC from now on) gave us and nothing else. We’ve been in that place again since September, when we were evicted from our apartment (due to us being unable to pay rent on time since my fiance lost his job in April) and entered a period of housing instability in addition to the food instability that we were already experiencing.
The experience at JAC versus the food bank we go to now (LC from now on) are vastly different. I think it might be because JAC is in a large metropolitan area and more people rely on it and LC supports a city so fewer people rely on it.
JAC does things by verifying your need (you had to live within JAC’s county and have an income below a certain number for number of people in your household). If you qualified (and we did, obviously), you would be put into their system and you would be allowed to go 6 times within a year of your first visit date. When you went to claim your food (which you could do same-day), you’d wait in the waiting room for your number to be called, then you’d go back into an office and a worker would ask if you had any food allergies/dietary restrictions, sometimes the worker would ask if you had pets (by pets they mean dogs or cats), if you had a kitchen to use and a fridge, how you were getting the food home, and if you wanted coffee. Then you’d wait in the waiting room for your last name to be called. Sometimes the wait could be a few minutes, sometimes several hours; it just depended on how many people were there. When your name was called, you’d go up to a window (think teller window at a bank, sort of) and they’d hand you a box of food after confirming your name.
Sometimes they would have bins of items marked “take what you need” or similar. Often times, a small group of people would descend on these bins like vultures, grabbing armfuls of the items, more than they possible could eat before it went bad, and block other people from getting to the bins. It was especially bad if it was something like pizzas or sweets, rather than day-old brad. It’s possible that some of the people JAC serves feel more frantic because the way that JAC gives out food, or maybe they feel scared that there won’t be enough food for everyone in the waiting room, or maybe I’m giving these people too much credit and they’re just greedy. All I know is that being around that was difficult on me due to my eating disorder so my fiance usually went by himself so I didn’t get hoard-triggered more than being food unstable makes me already.
How LC does it is vastly different. To qualify, you need proof of address in the city/county that LC serves (such as utility bill, pay stub, or other mail you’ve received in 30 days), and proof of need such as a recent pay stub or proof of unemployment or disability. You would be approved or disqualified right there, within 5-10 minutes (versus the hours it took at JAC). LC is set up more like a grocery store. It’s inside a large warehouse and there’s racks of food with signs that say each household can take whatever number of item on the rack, freezers, and pallets of vegetables. You can take a small grocery cart and shopping bags and follow the queue around the u-shaped aisle, picking out what you’d like best. The line to get inside can be long but it’s much less chaotic and triggering to me than JAC is; there’s no vultures keeping everyone away from the “take what you need” racks, there’s no endless waiting. It’s a smooth system and much easier on me. The workers, also, are a lot less frazzled and more friendly than at JAC. You’re also allotted “commodities” every month that you can collect when you wish: this month was canned cranberries, orange juice, canned veg, and some frozen chicken.
At LC, we can go 2x a week as long as we continue to meet the need requirements (income, living within the zone). They also rely heavily on fresh food and we rarely get canned goods from them.
I wanted to write this post from my analytical perspective as someone with an eating disorder, with as much detail as possible, so that anyone else who has food issues, such as hoarding, food sensitivities, and anxiety might maybe be put at ease and seek the resources available to them in their local community.
I should note here that I am VERY grateful for the help we received from JAC and we would have starved without their help, however, the experiences at JAC was much more stressful and hard than the experiences at LC.