When one turns from one street into the parking lot of the grocery store where I shop, or out of it in another direction onto the coastal highway, there always are “homeless” men positioned there, holding hand printed signs on ratty old cardboard, stating they are out of work, and need money for gas, food, or whatever. There are considerable rumors circulating around town about these guys, the property they own, and the amount of money they make begging from tourists and kind hearted locals.
Personally, I do not think on those things. Every time I pass them, I want to remind them there are public assistance programs available to meet both their food and medical needs. If they have children, there are cash assistance programs available to help support the kids. I worked in public assistance programs for many years, so I have a pretty good knowledge base in those areas.
Yet, shared knowledge for what is available to someone is useful only for a while. Eventually, the time allotted for particular services or provisions runs out, or requirements to participate change. For most programs there is no life long guarantee for assistance. The needs seldom change, but the rules are akin to a revolving door. And lest anyone think otherwise, one must be poor by the rules.
As I have been thinking on how the food or hunger problem could be better managed, I pose a recurring challenge to myself. What would it take for a partial to complete paradigm shift in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for short, or Food Stamps by tradition?
It would take no more than an investment in some equipment, brief training on how to use the equipment, and either centrally located resources, or community transportation on certain days to reach resources. And what exactly is it? Equipping people to grow, gather, catch, or dig much of their own food; or at least access what is available in the area they live.
I remembered all the towns in which I have lived over the years, and there has not been a single one where I did not have reasonable access to a lake, river, stream, ocean, bay, bog, field, park, empty lot, or back yard. In each of those places, I fished, picked berries or fruit, gleaned cranberries from a bog after the harvest, grew every vegetable that would thrive in the area where I lived at the time, and loved every minute of all the above activities. It was not hard, nor was it unpleasant.
So, if one needed assistance, how about issuing a fishing pole, gear, tackle box, and a schedule for the means by which to get to where the fish are? And how about man made lakes or ponds in urban areas where fish could be stocked, regularly? How about a collaborative agreement with farmers to receive some form of remuneration or tax break if they allowed people to glean fruits or vegetables after harvest? A shovel and bucket could be provided for digging clams, or a crab pot for crabs for those who live near a bay or the ocean. Take portions of public parks, where it looks pretty, but is otherwise fairly useless, and turn those areas into public gardens where people can cooperatively grow the vegetables they need for their, or their family’s good health. Provide seeds, starts, saplings, manure, water. Tap into community resources for teachers who can instruct those who have no idea how to bait a hook, or plant a zucchini seed.
The point is, anyone can learn to fish, pick, garden, or dig. They just need a nudge in that direction if they have never done such a thing before. It could begin by issuance of licences at the time of certification for Food Stamps or cash assistance, and registering for classes to learn how to get ones own food from the land or water. There could be facilitators who would encourage, aid, and problem solve along the way. Everyone who needed help would have the opportunity to learn and become successful at providing, to a certain extent, their own food for themselves and those in their care.
I am not advocating elimination of assistance in the ability to purchase other items people eat. Although I do believe recipients of public assistance should think twice about purchasing subway sandwiches from a particular sandwich franchise, or ready made pizzas to take home to bake. One can buy a lot of beans, rice and flour for what it takes to purchase those one-meal-only treats. There are a lot more choices out there which are affordable, nutritious, and delicious. The only caveat is one needs to cook. But the benefits are so much greater than how good a prepared, over the counter, semi-fast food tastes.
It seems a bit trite and cliche; however it is true. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”