BatchBlue is participating in Blog Action Day this year by partnering with the RI Community Food Bank to raise awareness of the ongoing efforts to fight poverty in Rhode Island. As a part of the effort, we pledge that for every comment posted below we will donate 3 meals to a deserving RI family. No contact information is required, just let us know you care and will help spread the message.
I spoke with Lisa Roth Blackman, Senior Director of Development & Communications at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, about the work that the Food Bank is doing and how others can get involved. Below are her responses.
- The theme of Blog Action Day this year is Poverty. That is a very broad term. From your perspective, what criteria defines poverty?
The Federal Poverty Level for a family of 4 is defined as an income of $21,200 a year. The Federal Poverty Level was developed in the 1960s and measured poverty based on the cost of food. At that time, food costs represented a third of a family’s budget. However, the Federal Poverty Level is now widely recognized as a flawed measurement because expenditure patterns have changed significantly since the 1960’s. For example, costs such as housing and health care have risen much faster than food costs since then.
According to 2007 U.S. Census data, 12% of the people in Rhode Island are poor. The state’s childhood poverty rate is 17.5%.
To put the Federal Poverty Levels in perspective, it is helpful to consider the 2006 Rhode Island Standard of Need (RISN), an alternative measurement developed by The Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College (www.povertyinstitute.org). Every two years The Poverty Institute publishes The Rhode Island Standard of Need (RISN) to show what it costs for families and single adults to pay for housing, food, transportation, health care, child care and other basic necessities. In 2006, the most recent year, the Rhode Island Standard of Need for a two-parent, two-child family is $52,224. This figure shows what a family needs to earn to maintain a standard of living that does not ask them to choose between necessities such as food, medical care, housing, or child care.
While other essentials such as phone, clothing, shoes and paper products are accounted for, the RISN does not take into consideration the need to buy household necessities like furniture, towels, kitchenware, bedding and car seats. It does not include the cost of child enrichment activities like school trips, music, or art lessons. Finally, the RISN does not include any funds for vacations, birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.
- We are approaching a tough time of the year and apparently a tough year for the economy. What do you all do to prepare for a particularly difficult time?
At the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, we often talk about summer being an unknown time of hunger for families because kids are out of school and aren’t receiving free or reduced price breakfast and lunches, so there is an added burden on families. This year, all of our member agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, etc.) are bracing for a very difficult winter. Already, many of our agencies are reporting large increases in the numbers of people they are serving, and people haven’t even started to deal with home heating bills yet. Plus, unemployment in Rhode Island is 8.5%, the second highest in the nation.
This all comes at a very challenging time for the Food Bank as well. Food donations from food producers and grocery stores are down as those industries become more efficient and have less waste. In addition, the cost of food is up, which makes it more expensive for us to purchase the foods we do purchase to make up for the decrease in donations.
To prepare, we’ve been seeking efficiencies in our daily operations, so that we have as much funding as possible to purchase additional food, or to pay the shipping costs on bringing in donated food from other places. We’ve reduced our workforce by about 10%, and we are exploring ways to save money on heat and electricity.
One way we are preparing is by coordinating with the Narragansett Council, Boy Scouts of America, for the 21st annual Scouting for Food Drive. On Saturday, October 25th thousands of Boy Scouts will fan out across the state to leave empty plastic bags on people’s doors. The following Saturday, November 1st, they will come back to pick them up. This is one of our largest food drives of the year, and this year, with so much need in the community, we hope to collect over 200,000 pounds of food.
In addition, we are getting ready to launch our Holiday Meal Drive, during which we hope to bring in an additional five truckloads of food to help people during the holiday season and throughout the cold winter months. We ask the public to donate funds toward the purchase of food, or to donate most needed items, including frozen turkeys, canned hams, stuffing, rice, beans, canned vegetables, and other staples, such as canned soup and breakfast cereal. We can purchase an entire truckload of food for $20,000.
- Blog Action Day is about unifying the power of online journalists to address a particular social issue. Any specific ideas for ways more local bloggers can get involved with the Food Bank?
The best way local bloggers can get involved is to keep the issue of poverty and hunger at the forefront of the online conversations that are happening out there. Hunger is a serious, but solvable, problem—we just need the political will to end it. Bloggers can direct people to our website (www.rifoodbank.org) to learn more about hunger in Rhode Island, and what they can do to help. We also invite bloggers or others interested to get involved with either the food bank or a local food pantry and share the experience with their own audience. These personal stories are a powerful way to spread the word about our efforts.
- Where do we go to learn more about the RI Food Bank and how to get involved?
You can visit our website at www.rifoodbank.org to learn more about the work that we do, the people we serve, and upcoming events. You can also donate online by clicking the “Donate Now” button on our homepage.
Please get involved by leaving a reply message using the form below. For each reply that we receive, we will donate 3 meals to a deserving RI family. And please help us spread the word to as many people as possible by e-mailing your own network and asking them to post a message at: