The Saddest Shopping


Today when I arrived at the grocery store some nursing students from my school were handing out shopping lists for Project Backpack. I was surprised because on the island we have Project Backpack, but it’s in August and it’s all about getting school supplies for students that need a hand. But here we were in Walla Walla, on the first sunny day since I can’t remember when, in February. It couldn’t be about school supplies.

The nursing students explained to me that they were collecting food for elementary school kids who depended during the week on the breakfasts and lunches they got at school. They said that those kids have teachers who will put food into kids’ backpacks for the weekend, because otherwise the kids might not eat anything until Monday.

Then it got worse. They handed me a shopping wish list, consisting mainly of non-nutritious carbs-bordering-on junk. Instant oatmeal, mac and cheese, crackers, granola bars, Cup’o Noodles soup, and a couple of more promising things like peanut butter and little fruit cups. On the island, when I bought food for the Food Bank, I always carefully chose the food for the most nutrition, especially protein, per dollar that I could find. So naturally I thought “This is a crap list! I’m going to upgrade this food. At least I’ll be one person who’s donating some actual nutrition.”

But then I stood in the cereal aisle,looking at the list for a long time, and I realized that all of the foods on the list required, at most, the addition of hot water. The rest could be eaten out of the package. If there were no adult to cook something. If a kid had to eat snack food out of her backpack all weekend until she could get something more substantial in her school meals on Monday.

And so, in the end, I filled my cart with those mostly empty-carb foods, because anyway that’s what the kids are used to eating and spending three times as much for Annie’s Organic mac and cheese would probably result in a kid tossing the weird hippie food and going hungry altogether.

I handed several bulging bags to the young nurses and then I walked through the brimming produce aisle, and went to the local butcher, to do my own shopping. All the while thinking how unbearable it is that kids in this country are going hungry. But then I decided that I had to be honest about it. It’s kids in my small town that are going hungry. Kids just a mile from me that are living out of their backpacks for the weekend. Living on the kind of food that only the most desperate of parents would feed her children. In my own town.

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4 Comments on “The Saddest Shopping”

  1. Ujwala Samant Says:

    Hi Abra, a number of food banks have a weekend backpack program. We changed ours because I learned that if just one sibling got the pack, it was shared with other siblings and simetimes, the family. So we mixed up the packs to include a couple of family friendly items like oatmeal, a plastic jar of peanut butter, a packet of pasta/rice, or a couple of tins of vegs/beans, powdered milk, tuna, etc. We didn’t include any snacks. We also have to make sure it doesn’t weigh more than 3-5 lbs unless they’re teens. We try and include personal hygiene items like toothbrushes and shampoo.
    Most of these families also receive food from pantrues, but usually that’s once a month and doesn’t go very far. Food items that are gold to food banks are tuna, peanut butter, tinned chicken, cereal, shelf stable milk, baby food, formula, 100% fruit of tinned, shelf stable dairy. I’m so glad you took the time to buy nutritious items. I’m sure the organization you purchased for will appreciate it.

  2. Eden Says:

    Kids I know personally use this service because on the weekends they are with their mother who may or may not remember to spend the money she gets from child support and Food Stamps on food for her children. During the week their grandmother takes care of them most of the time and tries to feed them real food where she can, but they are used to the junk food…
    They like eat dry top ramen noodles because sometimes before they moved to Seattle that was all they could get and they either didn’t know how to heat water or weren’t allowed.
    At least their grandmother has trained them to eat (sugary) yogurt and protein shakes so they are getting protein regularly…
    You made the right call.

  3. Judith Klinger Says:

    Well done, well reasoned article. Hope you don’t mind that I shared it on my World-Eats FB page.

  4. Abra Bennett Says:

    Not at all, Judith. I’m happy for you to do so.

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