Several weeks ago the Bucks County Opportunity Council, the anti-poverty organization in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and the Hunger Nutrition Coalition sponsored a Morning Conversation titled “White Bread, It’s What’s for Dinner.” Morning Conversations are a means for community members who have participated in Bridges training to continue the conversations about poverty, keeping them engaged and continuing our collective learning and relationship building. More than 30 volunteers and advocates from our food pantry network attended this Morning Conversation about food insecurity.

The food insecurity rate in Bucks County is 10%, equating to 62,440 individuals who are food insecure and are likely ineligible for federal food assistance programs. These people are thus dependent upon charitable food programs.

Food insecurity, as defined by the USDA, is a “lack of access to nutritious food that can sustain an active, healthy life for all household members.” Food insecurity often results in families needing to make “tradeoffs” between paying for an important basic need and purchasing food. A 2014 state report for Pennsylvania indicates that 55% of client households have chosen between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage at least once in the past 12 months.

mental model for poverty

Mental model developed by Phil DeVol; reproduced here from Workplace Stability by Ruth K. Weirich.

Food insecurity and the tradeoffs associated with it are all about survival. The three driving forces in poverty are survival, relationships, and entertainment. Decision making in poverty is often related to these three driving forces.

As we examined the mental model of poverty, we emphasized that relationships play a primary role. People are important—people help us get by and get ahead. Key discussion points in “White Bread, It’s What’s for Dinner” included:

Food, required to survive and sustain life, seems to go hand in hand with relationships. The meal table is often the place where conversation begins and relationships are fostered. Eating and conversing are intimate, personal opportunities where trust and learning are the fruits of our efforts.

As Dr. James Comer says, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

Food is a conduit to relationship building, which in turn opens the door to the possibility of change. The conduit is unique and provides an opportunity for pantry volunteers to be the “first responders” in building bridges of hope and possibility.

If you have volunteered in a food pantry, how does the act of giving food, of providing another with a means to survive, impact your work? Does it shift your thinking, change your approach?

If you have never volunteered, consider contacting your local pantry today.

I look forward to sitting with you at the table!

Tammy B. Schoonover, ACSW, LSW, is director of community services with the Bucks County Opportunity Council. Tammy was originally certified as a Bridges trainer in 2007 and in 2013 achieved lifetime trainer certification.