Monday, November 7, 2016

The Importance and Struggles of Voting

An Opinion Piece from Hub SPEA Service Corps Fellow, Kirby Jewell
For the last couple of weeks, our team at the Hub has been advocating for our patrons and community members to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, get informed on the candidates and issues, and ultimately vote in the upcoming General Election. We believe voting is essential to creating the systemic change that eliminates food insecurity and poverty. While raising awareness is a great way to begin, we cannot make lasting and meaningful changes to break the cycle of poverty without legislative action. Our voter registration push was the first step, and we are inspired that so many people have shown an interest in these efforts so far.
While at the Hub many preach the importance of voting, we also acknowledge that there are many barriers to voting, and that many feel disempowered by the current political system.  From finding information on candidates, understanding what the different positions are, figuring out where you vote, or just getting an idea of what you have to physically bring with you to the polls in order to prove your identity, the entire process can be overwhelming. These problems inevitably dissuade many people from going through the process in the first place. But these issues exist for a reason and that reason is to keep folks experiencing poverty from showing up and voting their interests. By suppressing the vote of those who are often voiceless, officials are able to maintain the status quo. Justifiably, this reality makes many feel powerless, and thus less likely to make the effort to vote.
I was faced with a situation recently that tested how much I was willing to push to have my voice heard in the General Election. I experienced firsthand the attempts that government officials make to deter people from voting - the same attempts that subconsciously urge voters to not put in the effort and forgo voting. I have no doubt that officials at my local Board of Elections were trying to suppress my vote, first by “misplacing” my absentee ballot, and then by reissuing my ballot to the wrong address 5 hours in Ohio away from my home in Bloomington. My faith in the system was shaken as a result of this ordeal, and I made sure to write to my Secretary of State twice to ensure that he was going to act on the matter.
But on my drive back to Bloomington after I had finally cast my ballot, I was left wondering how many people out there, faced with the same dilemma as me, simply gave up. I will readily admit that I am not the typical voter, and that I may be one of the few people left who gets genuinely excited when election season rolls around. I am a rare case, which means that if people were facing the same problem as me, maybe they would just “hope for the best” and see if their ballot shows up before the 8th, which was the advice given to me when I called the Board of Elections. Even though I was not going to let anything stop me from voting, there were times when I really wanted to give up, and I questioned whether or not all of this effort was worth it. But I always came to the same conclusion: it absolutely was.
The election system is difficult enough to navigate, and there are barriers at every step to deter people from voting. These barriers are amplified for those who are faced with issues like food insecurity and poverty, because those are the people who, if empowered, can force the systemic change our system so desperately needs. My hope is that your takeaway from this is that you must keep pushing to have your voice heard, and voting is an important step in accomplishing that goal. Maintaining the status quo is what many elected officials strive for, and they do this through making the process burdensome and complex, and sometimes through outright voter suppression. While this realization may cause people to lose all faith in the system, it only reaffirmed my belief that this fight to have our voices heard is worth it. Once I recognized that resigning to my fate of not being able to vote is exactly what was expected of me, I knew what I had to do. If you are registered to vote but have not decided whether you will head out on Election Day, just remember that our fight to change this broken system can only begin with your defying act - so vote!

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Hub Food Cycle Shake Down

Hey Hub folks, Kristen here.  As many of you know I field dozens of questions a week, if not daily about where our food comes from, and generally why we have so little control over our stock. You have likely noticed that lack of control results in periods of low food supply.  In the name of efficiency and transparency, I would like to explain to you the ins and outs of how the Hub food pantry's food distribution works from day to day.  To paint you a broad picture, the history of food assistance is embedded in rerouting “waste” and “excess” food from the market and into charities that serve those experiencing hunger.  As much as we rely on this system, we are critical of it.  We believe that everyone, regardless of income, deserves access to the food they need, and that there are problematic assumptions in the belief that one’s waste is another’s sustenance.

Photo above is a box of food donated by a local grocery store.

We receive approximately 97% of our food from the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, 2% from direct donations throughout the community and 1% from our organic Hub gardens.  MHC pays a small shared maintenance fee per pound of food to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank to access this product.  Each year, MHC budgets upward of $30,000, to pay for food product that has a retail value of nearly 1 million dollars.  There are a handful of items that we do not have to pay a shared maintenance fee for, like bread and produce.  This is why we can easily say that for every dollar donated, we can obtain 10lbs of food.

Pictured above is commodity food from TEFAP

You have likely heard us talk about TEFAP food.  TEFAP is The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which is commodity food that comes down from the government through food banks to organizations like ours.  We are very reliant on this ongoing input of commodity food, and the administration and quantity of this food is controlled by government policies.

The selection of food in our pantry that we are the most proud of is the local produce.  A small amount comes from our onsite food pantry garden and our off site Butler Park garden.  But the majority is funneled through programs of the Hoosier Hills Food Bank: the Garden and Gleaning Program and the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program. There is no shared maintenance fee for any of this produce.

Photo above is a particularly glorious day of local produce in the food pantry.

MHC receives a truck from Hoosier Hills nearly every day of the week, delivering donations from the food bank and from local groceries stores.  What these trucks have on them is entirely dependent on what the grocery stores have marked as “waste” for that day.  We could receive anywhere from 2-8 pallets of food on any given day.  There is no guarantee that there will be any certain item on the truck, i.e. bread, produce, meat, dairy, etc.  
We also do two shopping trips a week at Hoosier Hills Food Bank.  During those trips we try to fill our truck with as much nutritious food as possible.  This is a challenge many times, as there is no way of knowing what will be on the shopping floor of the food bank.  Some days the floor is filled with food, other days there are few items.  Hoosier Hills Food Bank is reliant on donations and the Feeding America network, and cannot control the consistency of their stock.

About 1100-1200 people come through the food pantry each week, and considering those in their household who may or may not be present, almost 4,000 total individuals receive food from the Hub each week.  We have looked into bulk wholesale purchasing multiple times and each quest has come up with the same result.  It is too expensive to make a noticeable difference in the pantry.  For example, we could purchase a pallet of food and it might last 2-3 days in the pantry but use an entire month’s worth budgeted food expenses.  

It would be ideal if our pantry always had a reliable amount of healthy food to supplement a household’s needs.  Unfortunately, that is not the reality of our national emergency food system’s distribution model.

Relying on waste as a method of providing food will always mean uncertainty for food banks, food pantries, and the individuals and families we serve. To add to these frustrations, keep in mind that the disfunction of distribution is just one part of the issue of national and local food security - it doesn’t account for the root causes of food insecurity that we know need to be addressed, like poverty, oppression, stigmatization and isolation. There are no quick fix solutions to the broken system dealing with food insecurity, but being transparent about the issues is a starting point. As a community, let’s keep talking about it.

If you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to talk to me at the pantry, or to email at