Lately in the news, we're hearing that the San Francisco Food Bank is hitting hard times with a shortage of money and the need for food for hungry families rising drastically.
SFGate and KTVU are addressing the problem head-on, but what are we really doing to address the underlying problem that hardly anyone has the guts to do?
Sure, the KTVU video shows people selling the food, but a less than two minute segment doesn't hit the issue hard enough.
The problem with our society here in San Francisco is that there's a lot of greed, people who take advantage of church and charity food banks and either abuse it or utilize it in a fashion that would be morally inappropriate.
The Big Problem
My parents volunteer for a local neighborhood church by helping with assembling the grocery bags to those who desperately need the food, but I hear time and time again from them that there's people who abuse the system because when it's "free," people will find loopholes and ways to abuse it. The problem I find:
- People go church to church to take full advantage of the free groceries.
I don't like to be racist, but I have to say, a lot of this abuse stems from older Chinese Americans. I don't exactly understand why, but when I drive by community centers and churches doing these programs, you just see a lot of them waiting there. Even at Glide Memorial Church, a good portion are Chinese Americans, and you can even watch press coverage showing those people who picked-up the items either goes back in line for a second shot or tries to sell it a few blocks away. I'm half-Chinese, but I know that's wrong.
Some of these programs just gives out the grocery bags very blindly. First come and first served. Those who knows how the program works can take full advantage of the loopholes by going church to church. That has to stop. By doing the "church to church" method, there's no cross referencing through a local online database to see if someone has gone multiple times in one day, nor do I notice any type of hand stamp or finger ink to designate that someone has already taken their share.
There are other programs that do it the right way. They register every single person that enters through their door for a bag and limits it to once a month. Now that's powerful stuff, being forced to surrender identification so the name can be screened to make sure that others can at least get a fair chance at getting food, even if it's only a monthly giveaway.
What the State did to End Abuse
The food stamp EBT debit card program has had its share of problems, but when the news media exposed merchants who decided to give cash instead of food to those in need many years ago, the state came in and kicked serious ass. The method was the customer would go to the merchant, swipe the card to find the value, and wipe the value to zero and give money back; thereby the merchant gets a cut of the money, and the customer gets a portion back (say $20 on card, merchant keeps $5, customer gets $15).
Akit's Method to Ending Abuse
I think there's a stronger method that can be used to stem the abuse from these food giveaway programs. It's a combination of a local database, identification checks, limits on how much per a certain time period, and access to resources.
The resources piece is a very important part; by registering a person into the database, the church or community center can make contact with the person or a social worker can help them with finding ways to get out of poverty or the financial troubles they are facing. Some examples would be: City College, getting a GED, where to find jobs (e.g. unemployment office), community service programs, and many others. By making people know and use the resources and becomes successful, they'll not need the grocery bags and it can go to others who now need it more than ever.
What did Akit skip?
Some of you may be asking, why did I skip on the people who sell the stuff? I might be an unofficial public policy consultant, but even I don't know how that can be stopped. Is there a law against it? If there isn't, maybe it's time for some good ol' public humiliation. KTVU did it, maybe other media outlets should shove a microphone in their face and force them to answer why.
Thanks for bringing this issue up. This behavior is not limited to Chinese seniors, many Russian seniors stand in lines for free food too. I know, some of my own relatives used to. To the best of my knowledge, however, they don't sell it for money.
What do these groups have in common? They were both raised under communist regimes, where food was distributed by the governments, did not cost much, was scarce and required standing in long lines. They have no concept of charity - if someone is giving something away, you should take it and then consider whether you need it or not.
The root of the problem might be that many charity organizations do not mind this. It helps them boast about the number of hungry people fed and justify the scale of their operations to their donors. On the other hand, of course, many of them do a commendable job of feeding really homeless and helpless human beings.
I think Eugene's comments are very insightful. I certainly agree the charity organizations are very happy to welcome the crowds of Chinese grandmothers because it justifies their continued importance.
I know some of these grandmothers from my neighborhood and know that they live with their families and are far from want - they may not go out and resell the stuff, but they redistribute it among their not-needy circle of friends.
Eugene's connecting this with the food queues of Communism strikes me as right, but this may also just be a case of the simple attraction of getting something free. Any street fair where there is something, anything free you'll see them lined up too.
I would like to see those who experience need and will use the free food continue to benefit from this program, but people like these who abuse a common good bring about a sensation of compassion fatigue.
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