The first thing I noticed is that the food bank takes up an entire warehouse. Outside the front doors a lovely mural depicts people harvesting a garden for an old-fashioned produce stand. The next wall has a quote from Pablo Neruda.
The reception area has tall walls with high windows, metal filing cases and the ubiquitous, moveable office divider walls. Boxes in the gigantic pantries are stacked impossibly tall, 10-15 palettes high. Signs direct donors to head to Dock 1; at another dock, vans load food to be delivered to distribution centers.
Beverlee moved to Eugene from the Oregon coast where she was one of the humans instrumental in releasing an orca back to the ocean (you know that story as “Free Willie”). She’s always loved community development work.
Bev says, “In the non-profit world you wear so many hats. You can be responsible for so many things. If I like coming to work, I certainly want my employees to enjoy coming to work…it’s a whole lot easier to manage an organization where folks are happy. It’s great to keep my finger on the pulse.”
Of the staff of 58, thirty-six employees are full time, and 6 of those are involved in fund raising and marketing. Many of the workers have been with the non-profit for 18-20 years. All are passionately committed to FFLC’s goals.
A typical employee “is a guy who had a really good job, great bennies, and a good salary. But it wasn’t meaningful work. So at a certain age he decided that he needed to change gears and do something more meaningful.
“It’s a paradox sometimes,” Bev says. “We have people working here who need our services. A liveable minimum wage is $15/hour. But all of our full time employees get health care and retirement benefits.”
Entry-level employees usually are young people (frequently part-time), working their way into careers. Other positions are filled by a highly educated group who usually hold graduate degrees and have an interest in non-profit management. Many are Peace Corps veterans or people with experience as volunteers. The 16 men who work in the warehouse are a range of ages, all of them interested in physical labor.
FFLC runs 13 food programs, each with a unique way of distributing food to the hungry. Most of the food bank’s 140 partner organizations are staffed by volunteers.
Bev wanted to know first-hand what it’s like to budget for food on a limited income. “The first thing that happens when people are strapped,” she said, “is they decide not to eat. They want to pay the bills and keep the roof over their heads.” Persons on food stamps provided by the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, feed themselves on what comes to $31.50 a week, or $1.50 a meal. Bev had to think ahead and prepare food all the time to make it work. She realized that “[a] person who has limited access to food by necessity spends a lot of energy trying to figure out how to meet that hunger.”
Food For Lane County is Eugene’s most popular non-profit, and she hears stories every day about people who have been touched by their services. Bev volunteers at FFLC’s programs and especially loves FFLC’s restaurant. The Dining Room serves nightly free meals with a piano playing in the room, artwork on the walls, and newspapers to read. The homeless and the hungry are fed with dignity. Bev describes being there as “a Buddhist moment”.
I asked her for any last thoughts. She notes that America has no national discussion about hunger and poverty. People cared when the recession first hit, but events have moved on in terms of dialog or visibility. And in the meantime the problems of hunger and the hungry in the USA have worsened.
Before the afternoon ended I knew I was going to blog about Beverlee and Food For Lane County.
FFLC’s vision: To eliminate hunger in Lane County.
Their mission: “To alleviate hunger by creating access to food. We accomplish this by soliciting, collecting, rescuing, growing, preparing and packaging food for distribution through a network of social services agencies and programs and through public awareness, education and community advocacy.”
* Food insecurity—the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
http://www.magpictures.com/aplaceatthetable/ “A Place at the Table” with Jeff Bridges is about hunger in America.
Look for FFLC on Craig’s List
NOTES: The facts in this post speak for themselves. I didn’t need to editorialize or make many comments. The bald reality of hunger in America is outrageous enough.
Photos Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)