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Food Banks-Solution or Obstacle

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Food Banks-Solution or Obstacle
“What we have done… is to continue down a road that never comes to an end (p.800).” Mark Winne, the co-founder of a food bank in Hartford, Connecticut, takes a unique perspective on food banks in his thought provoking article “When Handouts Keep Coming the Food Line Never Ends” published in the Washington Post on November 18,2007. Instead of focusing only on the benefits of food banks and the good that they provide, Winne poses the argument that food banks are sidetracking the needed efforts to eradicate the root cause of hunger, poverty. Although Winne made some valid points about the problem facing Americans and made me re-examine my previously held beliefs about food banks, I would have to disagree with his claim that food banks are adding to the problem; food banks are not trying to end hunger or poverty they are trying to help the hungry and impoverished.
Winne begins by discussing the increased awareness that many have during the holidays to donate to their local food banks providing needed food for those who are food insecure. This need though does not end when the clock strikes midnight, millions of American’s stand in line at soup kitchens, food banks, and food stamp offices every day. He reasons that if we do not adjust our commitment to food donation, “the cycle of need—always present, rarely sated, never resolved--will continue (p. 798).”
Next Winne points out that emergency food programs are such a dominant institution in this county, with their vast base of volunteers and donors, that they have shaped the perceptions of hunger in the United States. He admits that the nation's system of charitable food banking is an important response to hunger, but he also remarks that "in the end," one of the "most lasting effects" of the food bank movement, has been to divert “efforts to eradicate hunger and its root cause, poverty (p. 798)." Speaking of the relationship between the food banking culture and its donors, Winne quotes sociologist Janet Poppendieck from her book “Sweet Charity,” “there is something…that dampens the desire to empower the poor and take a … public stand against hunger (p. 798).”
Winne next comments about the futility he felt when he observed the line of people waiting to receive their bag of food supplies from the food bank truck grow longer and longer each week. As the food bank’s director told Winne, “The more you provide, the more demand there is (p. 799).” He talks about how the food distribution was an act of faith because no attempt was made to determine if the recipients actually needed the assistance. The recipients appeared grateful and the volunteers seemed happy in their belief that they were “doing good” by “feeding the hungry (p. 800)”. Winne goes on to say that, “It may have been that a donor-recipient co-dependency had developed. Both parties were trapped in an ever-expanding web of immediate gratification that offered the recipients no long-term hope of eventually achieving independence and self-reliance (p. 799)”.
Food banks are a prevailing organization and command the attention of many people of good will who want to address hunger. Winne continues that the food banks have the ability to attract millions of volunteers and to raise millions of dollars in support of their cause. He makes the comment, “While none of this is inherently wrong, it does distract the public and policymakers from the task of harnessing the political will needed to end hunger in the United States (p. 800).” He goes on to say that because the food banking system has become such a pervasive force in the anti-hunger world, that it cannot stand back and question if this is really “the best way to end hunger, food insecurity and their root cause, poverty (p. 800)”. Winne then ponders the what if; “what… if the collective energy that went into soliciting and distributing food were put into ending hunger and poverty instead. Surely it would have a sizeable impact (p. 800).” He concludes by reminding us that the solution to end hunger is to end poverty.
Reading this article reminded me of my experiences while volunteering at the local food bank, and it is as Winne brings out, you do have a sense of “doing good” by “feeding the hungry (p. 800).” Although, Winne brought out that there was no “attempt to determine whether the recipients actually needed the food (p. 799),” at the food bank where I volunteered we did require proof of need. According to the USDA, people do have to meet certain criteria such as income versus expenses and family size, in order to qualify for emergency food assistance. Each State sets the eligibility criteria to ensure that assistance is provided only to those who are most in need. (United States Department of Agriculture, 2012) This is not to say that many do not abuse the system, I personally know of people who do not need the assistance, but go to the food banks as often as they can to see what they can get.
I thought that Winne’s hope of ending hunger is a lofty goal and it is something that our country needs to continuously work at, but food banks are not in existence to end hunger. Winne’s argument that food banks are an obstacle to ending hunger is akin to saying that hospitals have failed at ridding society of disease, so we should close the hospitals. The solution is obviously not that simple. When Winne said that a “donor-recipient co-dependency had developed (p. 799),” it reminded me of the Chinese proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” With that new found knowledge you also need the student to have motivation. Many today lack the motivation to take the needed steps to go out and “fish.” I believe the solution to dependency on local handouts is not to substitute them with federal handouts. We need to wean people off dependency completely, through education, job training, and a kick in the pants if they lack the much needed motivation and initiative. Yes, there will always be individuals with real need who genuinely are incapable of supporting themselves due to health problems, mental impairment, etc., but there are more who will take advantage of the provisions offered just because it is easier than working to provide for themselves.
The article also reminded me that it is not just about having the aspiration and willingness to make a real difference, but knowing how to do so that matters. It is truly amazing to see how people provide support and resources to tackle an issue like hunger. Yet at the same time it behooves us to do as Winne suggests, and take a “step back (p. 800)” and recognize the forces that are at the source of the problem so we know that our efforts are in fact making a difference and empowering individuals to better their lives.
Winne has raised an issue that touches us all, not just those who experience hunger first hand. Hunger and poverty is a never ending cycle, and unless we offer new tools to our nation’s poorest we will forever be throwing money at a problem that cannot be solved with money alone. Often times our nation cannot fix its problems because we do not “step back” and properly indentify the core issues. If we look at the issue of hunger as the problem then providing more food banks is the answer, but we know that the cause of hunger is a bi product of much larger issues. Food banks have and are playing an important role in addressing the immediate sensation of hunger, but addressing the underlying cause of hunger demands a more forceful response. We have been far too reactive as a nation when dealing with poverty when the answer is clearly being proactive. Education is the most important part to solving this problem.

Winne,M.(2007. When handouts keep coming the food line never end. In Baker College composition: A custom approach (Revised Edition) (pp. 797-800). Boston, MA: Pearson.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2012, March). The Emergency Food Assistance
Program. Retrieved January 23, 2013, from…...

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