I write this post out of sheer frustration as an employee of a food bank.
My primary motivator, however, is to encourage the hell out of you to continue donating to your local food banks.
I know that folks who donate food to their local food banks have the very best of intentions. They recognize that they personally are fortunate to have enough food to eat each day. And they have authentic compassion for those who do not.
Like the blond and upbeat super couponer sisters who come into our food bank on a weekly basis with bags upon bags of food, paper products, and personal care products. Like the young mom with the darling toddler who brought in a large box of high quality food she found in the cupboards of her grandmother’s house after she passed. Like the kind folks who have brought in fresh produce straight from their home gardens to share with the low income senior citizens we serve.
Some food donors are missing the boat when it comes to sharing their bounty with the poor and hungry in their communities.
Like the dude who came in a couple of weeks ago with three large, and very heavy mind you, boxes, of non-perishables.
As the operator of our small food bank, it was of course my job to go through each of these boxes, organize the items, and find places for them on our shelves. No big deal. Typically, this is a joyful task for me. I get to do it usually a few times each week. It’s kind of like Christmas, because I don’t have a bloody clue what goodies are going to be found inside. The only real difference is that the goodies are not for me.
Unfortunately, in this particular circumstance, only approximately 10% of the items in the three very large and heavy boxes (oh, geez, did I already mention that?) were, in my view, fit for human consumption.
Let’s see…what did I find in these boxes? I know your curiosity must be at least a tad bit piqued by now, right? There was an opened bag of goldfish crackers which expired in 2014. There were several cans of baked beans which expired in 2015. There were multiple containers of frosting with expiration dates in 2013 (I looked at the semi-see- through bottom of them and almost hurled). Then there was a half used up box of chicken broth that had expired in 2016. The “youngest” food items expired in 2017, and disappointingly, there were just but a few of them.
Now, I fully comprehend that many non-perishable food items are technically safe for human consumption anywhere from 3-5 years past their expiration dates (I check the Eat by Date website regularly). However, I also know from experience that the seniors who come in to our food bank usually take a second or two to check expiration dates, and more often than not, they will choose the items that have not reached their expiration dates quite yet over those items that have. And really, I have too much respect for the palates of our senior clients to put food items that are a year or more past their expiration date on our shelves.
Thankfully, the dude who brought in all of that worthless, inedible food is the exception and not the rule.
I couldn’t help but ponder, as I was going through these boxes full of food, the amount of time and physical effort undertaken, not just by me, but by him as well, to lug all this food into our food bank. What a colossal waste of time and effort, right?! That day was most certainly the most frustrating day I’ve had at this job of mine.
So, here’s the deal: please keep being your wonderful selves through donating your food items (and don’t forget the toiletries which, btw, food stamps do not cover) to your local food banks. Just choose to have some respect for your hungry beneficiaries and take a half second to actually check the expiration dates on everything as you are packing it up. Make a choice to eat (potentially at your own risk, depending on the item) or discard those items that have long ago expired. Donate those items that have not yet been opened too. Use common sense. Ask yourself if you would want your elderly aunt to consume those crackers that expired in 2015. If the answer is no, then don’t waste your valuable time and effort and the valuable time and effort of your friendly food bank employee or volunteer by donating it. Eat it or chuck it!
Anyone who has the impulse to say to me “beggars can’t be choosers” can stick it. That really is a phrase that ought to be outlawed. The dear folks that come into food banks do not deserve to be called beggars. They have not chosen to be poor. They would much rather not have to come into a food bank. It’s demoralizing. Many of them are subsisting (or trying their damn best to) on less than $1500 a month from Social Security or SSDI. Often, their rent or mortgage payments are 50% or more than what they get each month. Doesn’t leave much for food, does it? They deserve good quality, not-yet-expired food to eat. Just like the rest of us.