My friend Robbie tells me that JIT has revolutionized the food bank business. But not in a such a good way. Back in the day, the food banks received most of their inventory from the local Safeway, Albertson's, Yoke's or Super One. But as costs rose, margins shrunk and profits became even more elusive in the grocery business, new inventory management systems emerged, most notably, Just In Time. Formerly the locals held a certain inventory and restocked their shelves from their back room. These days, the locals don't hold inventory and restock their shelves from the truck, when it arrives daily. So the ordering is done so the delivery comes, just in time. The local grocery stores avoid the warehousing costs, in fact transfer them to their supplier, and are able to more efficiently match their costs to their revenues. They of course, diminish their shrinkage and waste and eliminate possible donations to the food bank. Just In Time.
So now the local food banks have to maintain relationships with Rosauer's on a local level and more importantly, organizations like Heinz and General Foods and Kraft on a national level, who donate the majority of the food bank's inventory. It's a new day and a new deal at the food bank.
Our godson is working on a school-wide food drive and he tells me that this year, his homeroom is responsible for 8 families. I was stunned, as in the 20 years I have been associated with the food drive at this school, the most a homeroom was ever given was 6 families. I am reminded of when my oldest was delivering food to a woman who cried when she answered the door, "I went to your school and back when I was delivering food for the food drive, if I ever thought I would be the one needing food...." My youngest son tells the story of visiting a family of 8 whose furniture consisted entirely of seats from vans. He said the house was spotless and the children clean but they had literally nothing and the food they delivered to this family was the food that would sustain them through the Thanksgiving weekend. So many more stories and such a growing up experience this food drive is--it is a real blessing in my family's life yet the burgeoning demand is troubling and makes me really, really sad. We are making a difference, right? We can help the people that need it, right?
I went to Costco today, where it's my habit to buy just about the same thing each year for the food drive: stuffing mix, tuna fish, green beans, corn, peaches, pears, spaghetti sauce, pasta, rice, pinto beans, peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal, Cheerios, ramen, potatoes, mac and cheese, cocoa and dried milk. I was startled several times by the remarks made and the attention our three heavily laden carts gathered. "Gee, you think you got enough?" "Are you going to leave any for other people?" "You gonna make it with all that?" and so on. In every case, I took the time to explain our mission and that Spokane has record numbers of hungry people--time I don't typically spend in response to basely rude remarks from people I do not know. From the encounters we had today at Costco, it's clear to me that the time has come to have a community wide converstion about hunger and to acknowledge that we don't have enough, we shouldn't leave a thing on the shelves, and that we just won't make it as a community until everyone is fed. And most importantly, Second Harvest Food Bank, Catholic Charities and the neighborhood centers should be only incidentally responsible in feeding all the people of this community; the real responsibility lies with each person that pulls out a cart as they shop in preparation to celebrate one of this country's most sacred rituals: thanksgiving. It's all too ironic.
And so I am grateful, but sad, and worry that the resources to fix the problem exist. And I hope, hope, hope that that one family, that one hungry family who has somehow slipped through the cracks, will have someone who will appear on their doorstep to help so that they, too, will sit down to a table of Thanksgiving plenty, just in time.
The 'Kan EWA