Want to see “Smiles for Miles”? Help us feed America!

20 Oct

I recently watched a show on TV (I’m sick in bed as I type this and the TV is providing “white noise” in the background) and I heard someone question a waitress about where “his other half sandwich went” when he ordered a meal.

It made me think about where our food goes and how it gets there, especially in times where we ‘re wondering where our next meal will come from. MANY families wonder about this.

Did you know that 1 in 6 people in America are unsure about where their next meal will come from? Folks, people are hungry all year-round, all across America.

As a part of our “Sustainability Practices”, we teach families to stockpile foods in extended pantries. The reason for this is simple; Hard times don’t generally telegraph their arrival. Hard times usually just show up on your front porch, if you’re lucky enough to have a porch in the first place.


With the early onset of the cold season here in the Northwest, we’re seeing a LOT of families going without as they try to navigate unemployment, inflation and hardship. For example, companies here in Montana, already fighting for survival due to the economy are already laying off workers as they prepare for the cold kiss of Obamacare and it’s increased operating costs.

This isn’t going to be an “Obamacare bashing post”, fear not. We’ve written plenty of those already. We honestly don’t feel that ACA is good for America. Our fears about ACA are being confirmed daily.  This post is going to be dedicated to how you can most effectively help those in need, regardless as to WHY they find themselves in need.

FD6Where we live, more than half of those in need are children and the elderly. We’re pretty sure that this is the case in YOUR neighborhoods as well. It’s these groups of people who are the most affected by a compromised or limited diet. We all know that nutrition matters and caring enough to help others in need means that we’re committed to providing the most beneficial foods possible. We believe that fighting hunger by helping to END it requires a focus on what we eat.

One of the best ways to help those in need, especially in the cold… is to insure they have consumed enough calories to stay warm. This means concentrated food distribution. The most common way is by using a food bank as a common point.

FD2As we watch things spinning out of control, many of us want to help, but we’re unsure HOW to do it. We suggest that canned goods are a really good place to start. All of us have a few cans of “this or that” in our pantries that we can put into a grocery bag or a box in order to help others. The hardest part is deciding what to include.

So, here are our thoughts on HOW you can help families in need, simply by looking into your cabinets and pantries;

Most food banks  can use any nonperishable food and they accept monetary donations.

If you prefer to donate food, it’s been suggested (quite often) that you should select shelf-stable food with the lowest saturated fats and refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour). We buy grains, legumes, rice and flours in bulk and then repackage it… so when WE collect foods for distribution, we usually ask people to donate “other” items.

Here are some suggestions:

General food items:

Whole grain pastas
Brown rice
Tomato products
Canned vegetables
Canned fruit, especially those with low sugar (but not artificial sweeteners)
Canned fish or meat
Shelf-stable milk
Beef stew, chili and similar meals with low sugar and saturated fats
Breakfast Cereals

Infant and baby foods:

Baby formula
Canned milk
Infant cereal
Jars of baby food
Powdered or canned milk
We also accept baby diapers

In addition – we collect a lot of canned soups and pasta meals (like ravioli, spaghetti and such). The salt content is a little bit higher, but the meals are well received and easily prepared. It should be noted that our favorite soups are those that you don’t add water or milk to.


Image Credit: Chris Sandys

A lot of the food banks here in Montana also accept fresh fruits and vegetables. Our families grow gardens in their backyards as a part of their “sustainability practices”. This gives us opportunities to give fresh produce to families who need it, as part of our food gifts.

Many of us also raise chickens and collect eggs. This is another opportunity to help with food contribution. Our egg counts frequently exceed our family’s needs.  Fresh eggs are usually “gratefully received”. Check with your local food bank or “soup kitchen” to determine if this is acceptable.

If you have large gardens or orchards, please resist the urge to put an ad on Craigslist telling people to just come pick what they want. This NEVER works. The end result will be trampled gardens and damaged trees.

What we HAVE done successfully is to contact local volunteer groups (mostly comprised of retirees and others around here – youth groups to help in the trees, for example) to pick the produce and then pile it onto tables, where families can retrieve it.

We often combine “food ops” with a big “all you can eat” hot meal served up to locals who are hungry. Soups, stews, fresh baked breads and a fresh apple pie or two go a long way to making hungry people really happy. Check around, because many times a local church will volunteer the use of their meeting hall to host these events.

One of our local farmers planted 20 extra acres of sweet corn for distribution to those in need. In the first year, we harvested 30 TONS of corn with the help of our volunteers. The next generation of this “farm fresh goodness” added acres of squash, beans and tomatoes. End result – we harvested more than 200,000 pounds of food destined to feed families throughout Montana and Idaho.

In the matter of hours, that produce goes from the field directly into the hands of people in need. It’s like MAGIC!

One local enterprising FFA member helped establish a “food raising” kind of operation as a project that not only harvested foods, but then saw to it that families in need received them. It was efficient, effective and didn’t cause unnecessary damage to farm or field.  Helpful family members even used the harvested fruits and vegetables to prepare breads, pies and pastries for distribution.

As an addition; In my “backyard garden” we have many, many different types of herbs. Our meals at home usually start with a quick prowl in the backyard looking for cool herbs to incorporate. Not only does this add tasty goodness to the meals, it gives us the chance to teach our young son to identify these herbs in the yard. A few years from now, we’ll be able to point him into the garden with scissors, knowing he’ll bring back “oregano” and not “crabgrass”…

This “herb gathering” grants us an opportunity to harvest them for distribution as well. The herbs, packed fresh or dried, are a welcome addition to many meals prepared with food bank goods.

If you have thoughts about sharing with those in need, please post your comments below. Remember that every family, every person we help…  helps to heal America.

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Image Credits: To protect the privacy of those less fortunate, we’ve used images from Bing Images, unless otherwise noted.

3 Responses to “Want to see “Smiles for Miles”? Help us feed America!”

  1. Rick Cabral (@rcabral1340) October 20, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Having volunteered at a local Food Bank distribution center, I will add a quick note. If you are going to repackage anything, it is very helpful to include a photocopy of the label from the original bag, front and back if possible. It often includes dietary information and cooking instructions, for those that may not know or are concerned about it.

  2. redhen74 November 10, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    This time of year, when baking supplies are cheap, I like to include in my donations necessary ingredients for homemade baked goods; cookies, cakes, etc… One of the ways I express my love for the people I care about is by baking for them. I like to think I allow another mother hen somewhere the ability to do that.

    • Renaissance Ronin November 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

      There is nothing as comforting as coming home after a hard day and smelling a home full of fresh baked breads and cakes. I used to load up my bread machine every morning before I went to work, just so that the house would smell like a bakery when I got home. Sure, the bread was inedible (I never really got the recipes right and the dog wouldn’t even eat it…) but it sure smelled good.. 😉

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