Friday, September 07, 2012

SNAP: They need your voice

(Recently Tom Sell and I were panelists for the Lubbock County League of Women Voters. They asked me to discuss the impact of proposed congressional budget cuts on the SNAP program. Christy Martinez-Garcia, the publisher of Latino Lubbock asked me to summarize my comments. This article appears in the current edition of Latino Lubbock.)

One in seven Americans now receive SNAP benefits.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides financial assistance to purchase food for people whose household income is 130% of the federal poverty level. The average participant in Texas receives $132 or less than $1.50 per day.

As you would expect, in times of economic hardship, the cost of SNAP grows. As unemployment declines and household income improves, the cost of SNAP decreases because less families need it.

That number jumped dramatically since 2008 when the economic downturn caused millions of people to lose jobs and income. For those one in seven, SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is a life line to maintain nutritious for food insecure households.

The people using SNAP are your friends and neighbors. People your children go to school with. People you go to church with. People you see when you are out shopping. SNAP targets the most vulnerable people in our nation. According to USDA, seventy-six percent of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 84% of all SNAP benefits.

A debate is taking place in Washington as our elected leaders work to pass a Farm Bill that will fund SNAP in the future. There are some who say the cost is simply too much and we must find ways to reduce the cost by limiting access to the program. The federal budget must be balanced. It is a shame that one in seven Americans must rely on SNAP benefits to supplement their grocery bills they argue.

Others say it is a bigger shame to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest, most vulnerable citizens in our communities. Unemployment has stabilized but it will be several years before people who lost their jobs during the recession regain their financial footing.

Roughly 75% of the families served by the South Plains Food Bank and our network of agencies throughout the South Plains are also receiving SNAP benefits. Just as the number of people utilizing SNAP has increased, the number of families we are serving on a daily basis has increased by 20 percent. The number of families needing assistance has stabilized but it is not going down.

 Recently I visited with a volunteer at one of our agencies, First Baptist Church. She told me they are continuing to see new faces coming to the church asking for help. Many of them are coming from professional jobs.

The average time a family utilizes SNAP and the food bank is nine months. While it may seem forever, it tells me that families are recovering from the downturn, but not very quickly.

The cuts proposed by the House Ag Committee would reduce funding by $16 billion. According to estimates provided by the Texas Food Bank Network, 9,884 people living in our Congressional District, District 19, could potentially lose SNAP benefits. Many of these people will turn to the South Plains Food Bank and our agencies for assistance, further straining our already limited inventory of food.

The cuts are touted as a way to reduce the federal deficit. According to the Congressional Budget Office under the current law, the annual cost of SNAP will decline by $7.5 Billion over the next decade.

You may know one of the 1 in 7. They need your voice. Congress will make a decision soon on the future of SNAP. Now is the time to call our Congressman and Senators to ask them to oppose cuts to the SNAP program. Tell them, “SNAP works. Let’s not balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Please.”

David Weaver
South Plains Food Bank

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Soup Kitchen Birthday

I saw a soup kitchen birthday.

I found myself at a soup kitchen on Thursday, June 14, 2012.
As communications director for the South Plains Food Bank part of my job is to find clients willing to speak to us for our hard copy newsletter that gets mailed out about four times a year.

I was at the soup kitchen with a group from California that assists us with gathering interviews and writing the client stories for the newsletter.

There were lots of people there that day to eat lunch – for most of them it was just another day.

But for Yasmin it was a special day.

It was her Birthday. She was turning four years-old.
I watched as the soup kitchen volunteers handed a small gift sack to her. The toddler’s eyes lit up. She pulled at the crumpled up tissue paper – uncovering a Barbie doll and a stuffed animal. Both of which she cuddled throughout the lunch.

One of the volunteers made the announcement that it was Yasmin’s Birthday and led everyone in the traditional Birthday song. They had two day old donated bakery birthday cake, but no candles. Her name wasn’t on the cake, which had already been cut and put into little serving boats. No balloons or little friends to giggle with as she opened her gift.
I cried. I had to step outside because I couldn’t hold it together.

It still makes me cry.

It will haunt me forever.

It changed me forever.
Watching such joy on Yasmin’s face as she opened her one present and hearing everyone sing to her – and witnessing the exceptional kindness of those volunteers made my heart hurt.

It all hit pretty close to home. I have never been homeless, but I know what it is like to have no gift to give your child.
Connor was turning 2 and I had no money. We had found out just three months before that he had type 1 diabetes. I had only been employed full-time for about a month.

I purchased his cake that year using SNAP (food stamps) benefits, but had no money for a gift. I watched as everyone else brought him something, but I had nothing to give him. The Christmas before had been the same way – he would have had nothing under the borrowed tree if it hadn’t been for friends, co-workers, family and even strangers who knew what a difficult time we were having.

It was humbling for me – then and now.
Birthdays should be celebrated – especially by children.

No child should have a soup kitchen birthday.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hope for today

I have been on mission trips all over the world.

Often I explain to people that I have been to more countries in the world than states in the United States.

I have been to Malawi in Africa.

I have seen world hunger.

I have been to Mission Arlington.

I have seen inner city hunger and poverty.

I have lived in Lubbock all my life, but really didn’t know the need here until I started working at the South Plains Food Bank.

A few weeks ago in a staff meeting our Kids Cafe Executive Chef, Tammy Hester, explained that many of her sites would be closing for Christmas. Tammy and her staff cook and deliver hot, nutritious meals to 21 sites throughout Lubbock and a few surrounding counties Monday thru Friday as part of our Kids Cafe program.

For some of these kids – this after school meal is the only evening meal they will receive. It is the only thing standing between them and going to bed hungry.

Tammy explained in our staff meeting that she was worried about the kids at one site in particular. She told us they were feeding about 40 kids every day and that she already worried about they managed on the weekends, but really didn’t know how some of them would make it through Christmas without their Cafe being open.

The image of those kids stayed with several of our staff through the holidays. When we returned to work on Tuesday we talked about them and wondered how they were doing.

I posted a vague update on my Facebook page – I knew of children right here in Lubbock who are skipping meals because hunger doesn’t take a vacation.

I confess – I was shocked when an IM popped up questioning where these children are and what can be done to help them. I knew the lady on the other end of the IM from college. But we really hadn’t stayed in close contact – just kept up through Facebook really. But I knew she would do something for the kids – she had always been one to make things happen on our college campus!

Recently, Tammy and her staff have started making snack packs for a few rural sites where children there needed extra meals on the weekends. Tammy explained that if we could find someone to cover the cost of a ‘snack pack,’ which provides 4 meals and two snacks to children at the low cost of $3.47 a pack – then we could use that stuff, make up snack packs, and deliver them to the children at the site.

After explaining this to my college friend through various phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages she sprung into action. Within hours she and a few other friends had gathered the money to cover 46 snack packs.

Those ladies and their children came in today and assembled the packs and delivered them to the site.

Tonight there are 46 children in Lubbock who will go to bed with full tummies – they will go to bed knowing that someone values them and cares for them – they will go to bed with hope.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A holiday hug...

One of our staff reported that he got into a hug while he was passing out a food box. I’ve heard of people getting into a fight, but never getting into a hug. It’s a risk we take every day at the South Plains Food Bank I guess. In fact... I got into a hug today. It is humbling.

People come to us burdened with lost jobs, illness, or other crises that keep them from putting food on the table for themselves and their children.  Because of your generous support, we can provide food for people. It eases the burden for a moment. It gives them hope. They want to hug someone. And since you weren’t here, they hugged me instead. I was glad to receive it on your behalf.

A wonderful woman who stopped by for a food box last week sent me a sweet note. She wrote about leaving the food bank with tears in her eyes… “not from shame for asking for help, but because I saw the love of God  in you and your staff…” Like I said, this can be a humbling place to work.

Your gifts to the South Plains Food Bank make such a difference in the families we serve every day. 1 in 5 people on the South Plains will be fed through you and the agencies we serve this year.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I hope your holidays are filled with hugs and joy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rachelle Grimmer

I can’t stop thinking about it.

It happened more than a week ago.

A mother walked in a Texas welfare office and after a seven hour standoff shot her two children then shot and killed herself.

Rachelle Grimmer was 38 years-old.

I’m 38 years-old.

Her daughter – Ramie, 12, died of gunshot wounds a few days later on Wednesday, December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day. Her son – Timothy, 10, was removed from life support and died on Thursday, December 8.

The shooting happened Monday, December 5 – on my birthday.

I have thought, pondered, contemplated, and cried about this for more than a week.

I have been haunted.

As a former journalist I have listened and read reports by journalists covering this event.

I want to ‘make sense’ of this tragedy.

Not possible, I know.

I have heard and read hints of mental illness.

That might make me feel better on some level if I believed it.

I don’t know especially since there has been no documentation found suggesting she was mentally unstable – only a slur tossed out from her former mother-in-law, whose son – the children’s father – had been trying to take the children from their mother for years. A police report suggesting she might have some mental issues. But no proof. Even close neighbors have said that Rachelle Grimmer was not mentally ill, but rather that she was compassionate and intelligent.

I'm not sure what to believe.

That leaves me with this thought - could it be that she and her children were just hungry.

I have thought long and hard this week about Rachelle Grimmer.

I have thought about her situation; wondered at what it must feel like to be so desperate to feed your children.

I have had that moment of panic – that realization that in a few days there would be nothing to feed my child.

Monday, December 5 I was receiving hundreds of Facebook messages wishing me a Happy Birthday. I was getting calls from friends and loved ones. I knew presents, a cake, and my family would be waiting for me when I returned home from work that night.

What did she experience that day? What was it that finally made her feel hopeless, worthless, and empty that day? At what point that night did she look in the face of her children and make her decision to shot them? When did she decide to kill herself?

Monday, December 5 was the first day of the South Plains Food Bank’s U Can Share Food Drive. We raised more than 400,000 pounds of food and more than $170,000 during the week of our drive. But the community gave more than pounds and funds during our drive – they gave hope.

When we here at the food bank give out a food box, we give more than food – we give hope.

I know that food was offered to this mother during the hostage negotiations. I am sure at that point she knew she would be headed to prison and perhaps would never see her children again – the same children she had been begging the system for help to feed since July.

I wish Rachelle would have gone to her local food bank. Maybe things would be so different today.

Maybe if Rachelle had been given that box of food, that box of hope, maybe she would have felt like she had the time to gather all the documentation needed for her food stamp case.

I believe, as painful as it is, as hard as it is – i believe Rachelle Grimmer was hungry.

Rachelle Grimmer needed food for her children.

Rachelle Grimmer needed a food box.

Rachelle Grimmer needed hope.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011



Recently I reposted on Facebook a statement made by Newt Gingrich in regards to someone using their, SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps to travel to Hawaii.

I had a few people leave comments. What was interesting is that my childhood friend of more than 25 years actually believed this could really happen. I refrained from commenting because I cherish her friendship and value that people do not have to support the same beliefs about things as I.

But today, after sleeping on it a few nights – I feel like I must comment in some manner.

So here it is. . .

It could never happen!

I know because I have personally received both SNAP and WIC benefits.

SNAP benefits in most states are put on a plastic card, much like a debit card. There is a set amount in the account, say $197 like in my case. I could only use those benefits at approved locations where my purchases could be regulated. There are some items, even food items that SNAP recipients are not able to purchase.

An example would be: I could purchase a TV dinner, but I could not go to the ‘food court’ of the grocery store and purchase a bbq plate or make a salad that was hot and ready to eat. I hope that makes sense.

I also could not purchase tobacco or alcoholic beverages.

So now let’s just be honest!

I had $250 of child support coming in every month. That’s it. No, really – that’s it. I had a new baby, who was born with health problems. He was sick and could not go to daycare. I could not work. We were living with my best friend who was nice enough to allow us to move in with her rent free so we weren’t out on the streets. But that was it.

I received WIC. Even those benefits were mirochipped onto a plastic credit card so those purchases could also be regulated.

I received $250 cash a month.

I received $197 in SNAP a month.

I could not have ‘freed up’ enough money to travel to Hawaii! Trust me!

Most people who receive these benefits are not cheating the system – they are not cheating us tax payers. They really need them. They are grandparents raising grandchildren. Some are just simply seniors on their own who can’t afford the increase in food prices, increase in gas costs, increase in - well everything! Some are single parents or families who are working just to make ends meet but find themselves short every month.

I doubt they swallowed their pride to stand in line after line, to jump through hoop after hoop to get a few extra dollars a month because they have this dream of going to Hawaii!

But yes, I hear you! I hear you talking about another headline – some lady who lives in a million dollar home who gets SNAP benefits. I hear you talking about the guy in front of you in line at the grocery store that just purchased five prime ribs and paid with his food stamps.

Okay, so there are a few people who are defrauding us fellow tax payers. So there are a few people who make choices at the grocery store that really is none of our business. I said we would be honest.

For those who need the benefits, for those who lose sleep every night wondering where, when, and what they are going to do for their next meal, wondering how they will feed their children – hoping no one will take their babies away from them because they were laid off and haven’t be able to find work yet. . . for those people I want to explain to the rest of you. . .

They are not planning a trip to Hawaii.

They are most likely wondering what they are going to do when their WIC and SNAP benefits run out this month and they still need food for their family. They are probably wondering if they do take this new job – with much less pay than the one they had before they got laid off – how will they make ends meet if they lose their WIC and SNAP benefits because they ‘make too much.’

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about those people – the ones who really need the help.

I needed help. And even though I received both WIC and SNAP – I still needed help.

I found it at our local Food Bank, the South Plains Food Bank where I am proud to say I now work.

Others find help from us too – about 84,000 of them last year. They came to us or one of our more than 221 agencies and they asked us for help.

We stand in the gap between them and hunger. We stand in the gap between them and homelessness. We stand in the gap between them and losing their children. We stand in the gap – period.

They dream about being able to feed their families. They dream of only working one job instead of two or three. They dream of a better life.

They are not dreaming of Hawaii.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Our dilemma

Last Friday, before Halloween, I had the privilege of hearing Michael Pollan speak. Our CEO, David Weaver, had recommended Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma to me when I was looking at possible alternative diet solutions for my family.

Pollan was charming, witty, and full of humorous stories as he creatively spun his tale about the origins and writing of each of his published books. Along the way he sprinkled interesting facts and painted pictures of potato farms that make a french fry seem anything but a complacent spud lying on our plate.

One of the facts he tossed out was that as Americans we are only using about 6 to 7 percent of our income for food purchases, which is the least amount paid for this budget item in American history. That is also the least paid in the world.

My brain began to turn.

Why, then, are 49 million Americans food insecure? How can they not know where there next meal is coming from?

I wanted to ask my question during the question and answer time, but I was a little too intimidated by Pollan’s brilliance and the solid out Allen Theater to venture to ask such a question.

But I had to know.

After the event I had a few moments with Pollan to ask my question, which is really to say that I held up the book signing line, but who cares – I needed an answer.

So as he signed my books, I asked him my questions.

His response was two-fold and quite simple, and yet will probably never happen in my lifetime.

First, Pollan said, agriculture has to be about growing food to feed people and less about agri-business.

Second, he said, people have to be paid livable wages.

Pollan was extremely entertaining and I’m glad I forked over the $30 for me and my best friend to hear him speak. But more than entertaining, his words are still causing conversations between us about food, nutrition, sustainability and why we as an American society cannot end hunger in our country.

By-the-way, my best friend will no longer eat any kind of potato unless it is organic – and others would give anything for any kind of potato or scrap to feed their child.

This is our dilemma.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Class Reunion

Over the summer, several high schools in the area have been having class reunions. I enjoy going to my class reunions. It's a chance to touch base with friends I grew up with. After high school, it is amazing how we all scatter to start jobs, attend college or just plain get away.

I see high school friends from time to time at the food bank, usually they are coming to volunteer with children or grandchildren or maybe drop off a food donation. On those occasions, we have our own "mini-reunion."

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Beau, an old friend from high school. Everybody loved Beau. He had a quick wit and an easy smile. The quick wit and easy smile were still there, but life has been filled with challenges for my friend. He has had his share of problems with substance abuse. One of our agencies is helping Beau get back on his feet. At the moment, he needed some food, so they brought him to the food bank.

Beau and I had our mini-reunion. We reminisced for a few minutes sharing a few stories and catching up. Then it was time for him to go. We loaded his food into a car. He winked at me and said, "Someday, I'll make it. Don't give up on me." I promised I never would.

As Beau left, I thought about the statistics: more than 1 in 6 people in Lubbock will be helped by the food bank and our agencies. The reality of that number hit home. Everyone we serve is someone's friend, brother, sister, mother, father.

That also means that our volunteers, donors, and staff that support South Plains Food Bank are touching 1 in 6 people in our community -- providing food and hope. Sometimes the challenges of feeding the hungry seem insurmountable. Beau is a reminder to not give up. We'll make it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Midnight snack...

It is 4 a.m.

No, really it is 4 a.m.

I brought my computer home over the weekend to work on a few things because I had some time to make up that I missed last week.

So really it is 4 a.m and I am typing away on my work laptop at my coffee table - with a 'midnight' snack sitting next to me.

Something so 'normal' - working late into the night; maybe not even really so hungry as you are tired, but you find yourself staring at the inside of your frig anyway! You grab something easy, quick like some cheese. the pantry to find some crackers to go with it.

Awake but tired - you really could find it all in your sleep or with barely a light on in the kitchen - you always keep the cheese in the middle left deli/cheese crisper of the frig and the crackers are always on the bottom shelf to the right in the pantry.

You go ahead and pour just a little bit more soda over the ice you already have in your glass...your mouth kind of waters at the thought of that first drink and how it burns your throat going down. You're really not going to be up much longer so you pour just a little.

A few minutes later you find your work complete and your snack devoured. You head off to bed.

The midnight snack.

For every 1 in 6 Americans the simple, normal midnight snack is out of reach.

For the 50 million Americans struggling against hunger - the midnight snack is nothing more than a dream...

Monday, June 06, 2011

In the meantime

"As soon as I'm able, I'm going to get back to work… but in the meantime, I am so glad you are here!"

Cheryl stopped by the South Plains Food Bank to pick up a box of food for herself and her family. Cheryl is a middle aged woman with an engaging smile and a big heart. She loves to garden and never imagined in her wildest dreams she would be getting her "groceries" from the food bank. As a matter of fact, before she and her husband moved here from Ohio for a job, they volunteered at a food pantry in their church.

Almost as soon as they arrived here, her husband began feeling bad. It turns out he has cancer, a cancer that saps his strength. His illness forced him to quit his job. Cheryl has nothing but praise for the doctors taking care of her husband, but all the same, the bills are mounting up. As bad as that is, Cheryl fell and broke her ankle which means she isn't able to work right now either.

My friend Charlie Johnson once explained that we live life in the meantime; that time when hope is waiting on the promise of a brighter tomorrow. None of us expect to find ourselves in the meantime, but it is the meantime that defines who we are and who we are to become.

Cheryl's dream is to get back to work, to get out of debt, to get healthy, but in the meantime, she needs help in the form of food. We all have dreams and hopes we are waiting for, but in the meantime, we help one another. Sometimes that help is something as simple as a box of food and someone to listen.

At the South Plains Food Bank, we don't always know when we will meet "Cheryl" but we will. So what do we do in the meantime? We get ready. We collect food. We build up hope. We live in the meantime.

 - David Weaver

SPFB Dry Food Box

IMAG0043 by davidweaverjr
IMAG0043, a photo by davidweaverjr on Flickr.

Packed for the meantime.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Want vs. Need

1 in 6.

1 in 6 Americans is touched by a food bank.

I am one.

I live in fear every month that I am not going to have enough money to provide everything we need for the month. And yes, I tease my mother all the time that I know the difference between want and need: I want a haircut; my son needs insulin! I get it the difference really.

Occassionally, when I am online, I will read those cost saving articles - "How to trim $100 a month from your budget," or "50 ways to save $2,000 a year." I have to laugh because most of the time I am doing everything they have listed! There's no where to trim or save in my budget!

I live in fear. There is not a dime to spare in my budget. Rent, utilities, gas, groceries, medical bills, student loans, car payment, car insurance, monthly prescriptions, and doctor bills take everything I make. Really, they do.

I am not one paycheck from being homeless. I am one extra prescription a month; I am one more doctor visit a month; I am one more medical bill away from being homeless. One more thing added to my plate and we can't afford to live on our own.

And I am not alone. There are thousands of Americans just like me.

1 and 6 Americans is touched by a food bank.

They are people who are not one paycheck away - they are one more thing away from needing help.

The baby gets sick; the car breaks down; they begin taking care of aging parents; their hours got cut at was just one more thing added to their plate.

Their plate is full of everything, but food because they are forced to choose between medicine for their child and food.

They live in fear. They live totally stressed out; stressed out about how they are going to make ends meet this paycheck.

1 and 6 Americans is touched by a food bank.

Do you know one?

Friday, March 25, 2011

I am glad Spring is here

When it came to things poetic, I am obtuse. A couple of days ago, however, I came across this poem by Robert Frost. The next day I stopped by the South Plains Food Bank Farm and our Apple Orchard. The GRUB Kids have been getting the farm ready for our growing season. Debbie Cline, our Farm Manager, has already harvested some asparagus. Onions are planted. Lettuce and cabbage are growing. Tulips are about to bloom.

At the Apple Orchard, 2,500 trees have been pruned. The trees are leafing out. The Jonagold Apple Trees are beginning to bloom.The Orchard is taking off!

The produce that comes from the farm and the orchard will wind up providing tasty treats for the clients of the South Plains Food Bank... at least that's the hope. I don't know what kinds of flood, droughts, hail storms, freezes, or pest we will have in the weeks and months to come but for the moment, we are full of hope. The hope of new beginnings.

I am glad Spring is here.

A Prayer in Spring
Robert Frost

OH, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.