A Christmas-season trip to the Menominee county food bank.

St. Stephen's Lutheran Church ELCA, Stephenson, MI

St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church ELCA, Stephenson, MI

Today I made a trip to the Mid-County food bank, which is run by ministers of various churches in mid-Menominee county. The actual location where you go to pick up the food is in a Lutheran-ELCA church in the town of Stephenson.

The food bank has changed a lot from the last time I saw it. They now have a marked entrance to the food bank on the side of the church building, with a large Food Bank sign. Since the side of the church faces the road on which Stephenson’s one grocery store is located, I’ll bet a lot of people who didn’t know about the food bank know about it now from reading the sign on a trip to the grocery store.

They also have remodeled the area where the food bank is held. I think the food is still kept on shelves in the same area, but the waiting area is now in the same room where the door to the food bank is, and you now don’t have to take a number.

They have changed some policies. They now require you to have a photo ID with your address on it to get food there. But they are accommodating if you happen to have misplaced your photo ID. They will accept anything that shows your address, which proves you live in the area the food bank serves. (They don’t want you to collect food at their food bank and then at the one in Marinette.)

They also have a prominent sign that each household may come to the food bank only once a month. You get a bag of food for each household member, so if you are on food stamps and can’t feed your family on the shrinking food stamp amount, you get about enough to fill in the gap when your food stamp money runs out.

A little known secret of the food bank— they get lots and lots of dried beans and other dried legumes (lentils, peas and beans are legumes). And since most poor people don’t know how to cook dried beans and turn them into food, a lot gets thrown out when the expiration date rolls around. (They are not allowed to hand out any expired food— even though I’ve eaten lentils ten years expired and they made perfectly fine soup.)

Since the food bank now has some large freezers in the back, they had some frozen ground venison to give out. My friend Rev. John Lindt who is on the board of the food bank told me how they get the venison. When deer are doing major damage to the crops of a local farmer, the farmer can get a special permit from the DNR to hunt the offending deer. The farmer may donate it to the food bank, which gets the carcass processed and frozen.

At this particular food bank, the customers are not allowed directly in the room where the food is. There is a service window, and the volunteers fill your bag. They ask you what kind of food you can use. I told them I was on a special diet for health reasons so they would understand why I couldn’t take the hamburger helper or pasta or other high-carb options. They actually brought food items over to me so I could read the label on some things before they put it in my bag.

One nice thing is that they also give out a roll of toilet paper and one of paper towels. For poor people on the various forms of government aid, this is essential. Food stamps don’t pay for anything but food. And your SSI disability or welfare check is only meant for paying your home heating, electricity, rent or property tax, and other things like that. There is nothing given for things like paper products or soap and laundry detergent.

Most of the people I’ve seen on my visits to the food bank are behaving well. But all of them are going through a lot of negative emotions. Going to a food bank, like going on welfare programs, is absolute proof that you have fallen out of the middle class. It makes a person fearful, depressed, and even angry. Mostly angry at fate, or at yourself for your mistakes and failures, but sometimes I am sure people transfer their anger towards the food bank volunteers and their rules. So if you ever see a food bank recipient who gets snippy with the food bank volunteers or bitches about the rules, don’t assume that all poor people are ungrateful, lazy-ass bums. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in pain. (I made a point of saying thank you— twice— to make up for those who are too depressed to say it.)

Now, if a certain type of person reads this post they may decide I am an evil lazy bum for going to a food bank when I have access to the internet. But really— don’t people know you can get internet access through public libraries? I’ve read about an actual homeless woman who kept a blog, turned it into a book, and had it sell well enough to let her stop being homeless. And there is also the fact that some food bank bums have relatives or friends who pay for internet access devices and service. So don’t get so judgmental. Anyone can lose a job. Anyone might be or become disabled. Anyone, then, can be down and out and need the help of the kind people who donate to the food bank. So let’s just be grateful that there are some out there who still care for the less fortunate— as the Bible commands— without getting all judgmental about it— as the Bible forbids.