May 30, 2008


The Sacramento homeless and poor population that I live in the midst of is inordinantly interested in food. Among the people I know, none is starving -- nor hungry for long -- yet many are keenly interested in what the main course of their next meal might be.

There's a bit of excitement when the rumor spreads at the Union Gospel Mission that the evening meal might feature chicken or barbeque or tri-tip [The tri-tip rumor turned out to be a false one, spread by a prankster on staff]. Likewise, when the free lunches at Loaves & Fishes break from the ordinary that sparks discussion in Friendship Park.

A homeless adult Sacramentan will eat OK, just from the free meals that Loaves & Fishes and Union Gospel Mission* provide every day. There are many other places, as well, that provide food or distribute food to homeless or poor people in greater Sacramento. A broke Sacramento adult or child can find sustenance. It's out there.

One thing lacking in the central-Sacramento homeless diet is adequate servings of vegetables. While there is usually one vegetable with each meal at L&F and UGM, it is usually lettuce with thin shards of carrot, maybe a bit of cabbage, and dressing. Fresh fruit is commonly available, however. From recent meals, I've had bananas, mangos and strawberry-peach compote at UGM and oranges, peaches and plums in L&F's diningroom.

Loaves and Fishes gathers a huge assortment of desserts and pastries that visitors to Friendship Park there enjoy with their coffee in the morning. [It's more than a guess that these are day-old, or expired, baked goods from Safeway or local bakeries.] UGM serves its sheltered men breakfasts of eggs, sausages and toast and/or the really big muffins that I've seen on sale at Raley's. [Poppyseed, corn, chocolate and blueberry comprise the usual selection of muffins.] Also, the desserts with the UGM evening meal are usually excellent. Usually they serve cake or pies from bakeries that didn't sell when they were optimally fresh.

In addition to all the food I've described, many homeless -- including me -- receive food stamps they can use through a special ATM card that the Department of Human Assistance makes available to eligible adults.

Use of these food credits is very restricted -- no tobacco or alcohol can be purchase with them, of course, for example. And with their use comes an exemption from any sales tax.

A person can use food stamps to buy unprepared food, but not restaurant or otherwise-prepared food -- which creates some ironies. One thing you cannot buy at convenience stores is hot coffee, but you can buy a cold $2.79 bottle of Starbucks Frappachino there. You can't buy a one-dollar McDonald's double-cheeseburger, but you can buy a three-dollar packaged ham-and-chedder sandwich at Rite Aid. You can buy a packaged, prepared salad at Safeway or Trader Joe's, but not something similar at Wendy's.

Also, a bit of a curiosity is that homeless people cannot make use of those fake grocery-card club discounts. Without a home, you can't complete the club membership application so you can't get the generous discounts that come with most items.

Being homeless, we often find food given to us is past its expiration date. [This is often safe. Properly refrigerated milk should last five to seven day past it date before becoming blinky.] L&F has given us bottles of Gatoraid nearly a year past the expiration date. [Was the date a misprint and is that why the bottles were not saleable? or does a very old bottle of Gatoraid merely lose some of its oomph yet remain safely drinkable? or should the item not be consumed!?] Similarly, at UGM, we recently got small bags of potato chips two months past their expiration date; they were noticably stale, but still enjoyable.

O, to be homeless. And to dream of pizza, made to order, with mounds of stuff, piled high.


* The mission provides a meal to any adults who attend their evening church service. Men who are staying in the mission's shelter also get breakfast the following morning. Loaves & Fishes serves lunch every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day.


Anonymous said...

Hey Tom, Have you ever thought of being greatful? Or do you get joy out of finding fault with those who desire to serve the poor and or homeless in our community? Maybe you should give gratitude a try....

Tom said...

I AM grateful. But in jobs I've had, I have always also been grateful to anyone who can suggest changes and improved methods.

I WELCOME anyone who wants to complain [to my boss, or as comments in my blog] about my work. I CELEBRATE good ideas.

Frankly, there is A LOT that is inefficient and more-than-somewhat wrong with what I've seen at Loaves and at UGM. Far too many carbohydrates and sweets are served and far, far too few vegetables. The Jun 23 issue of Time magazine discusses the poor diet of children in these respects and how it affects health. The community being served at Loaves is "being subjected" to a diet that will shorten their longevity.

The staff at Loaves have created a junk-food culture. The morning give-away of huge amounts of cakes and pastries is alarming. These things need to be examined, and I think that Libby and her staff are complacent.