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Some Facts About Our Food Bank
Food For Thought
Joan Dauber thinks about food almost constantly. In fact, she'd readily confess that she even dreams about food as Thanksgiving approaches each year, when visions of roast turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy sometimes wake her up in the middle of the night.
Although Joan has been a registered dietician for over forty years, it's not the caloric content of the turkey or the fat in the gravy that troubles her sleep. Instead, Joan finds herself worrying whether the families she works with in the outpatient clinics will be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal at all.
As a dietician, Joan knows that food can be a serious concern for clients who must go on special diets because of illness, allergies, or weight issues. But long ago, she began to realize that food can be a difficult issue for another reason: some people simply don't have enough. "You cannot assume anything until you start talking to a patient," Joan explains. "You can't just assume they have food." She says she became alerted to the problem early on in her career, when she was working with pregnant women. "I noticed that my clients really were struggling to make a go of what they had available," Joan recalls. "I felt that if a pregnant woman didn't have the right foods to eat, how could she have a healthy baby?"
How It All Began
That's when Joan began to stock a closet in her office with a few food items for clients in need. "Then it went to doing something special at Thanksgiving and Christmas," she recalls. The food and supplies were there for people who found themselves in need for a wide variety of reasons. "It's a horrible feeling not to be able to have the basics," Joan says. "We see people who have been ill and then they've lost their jobs. You can lose everything. It's like a domino effect." Word of what Joan was voluntarily doing slowly spread throughout the former Mount Sinai Hospital community, and the supply of food in the small closet in her office began to grow.
That closet at Mount Sinai in 1976 was the beginning of what has become the Joan C. Dauber Food Bank at Saint Francis, the only hospital-based food bank in the country. The food bank helps supply food to clients at the outpatient clinic, and people in the community who have been referred from other agencies. Some have to modify their diets because of illness, but may not be able to afford the foods they need. Some have a temporary need for help because of a downturn in the economy. And some suffer from the severe economic burden that catastrophic illness levies on families.
Joan knows that downturns in the economy directly affect her ability to work with those people who have had employment hours cut back, or who have lost their jobs entirely. She has watched clients run out of money and be forced to face the fact that they don't know where they will live, or where their next meal is coming from. "If they don't have food, clothing and shelter, how can we teach them how to take care of themselves?" she asks.
Joan reports that in recent years, the Food Bank has noted an increase in the number of people affected by harsh economic conditions. "It's the working class that's really getting hit," she points out. "It's people who are just above the poverty line." It pains Joan to see people under duress in tough times being forced to make difficult choices about where to cut back, often resorting to tactics such as skimping on prescription medications in order to be able to afford food.
Other people have ongoing needs, such as the seniors at ten local housing communities served by the food bank. Joan and her team of volunteers deliver perishable and non-perishable food to over 700 seniors, allowing them to benefit from the food bank without the need to travel and carry heavy bags.
For Joan, who recognizes that most people would rather not have to ask for help, the way in which the service is provided can be as important as the food itself. She emphasizes that any family can be hit by catastrophe, and she is committed to preserving the dignity of clients who are served by the food bank. "The thing is to make people feel comfortable," she says, "and recognize that that person could be you or me."
Last year, the Joan C. Dauber Food Bank at Saint Francis distributed over 116 tons of food, as well as clothing, toys, and household items. In fact, Joan's closet seems to be almost bottomless. "We always have somebody who can use something," she reports. "Bottom line: it's trying to help meet the basic needs. Because if we can help you have those things, then we can educate you and you become a more productive citizen."
When asked exactly where the tons of food come from, Joan laughs, "I run with a hope and prayer sometimes." She explains that about three-quarters of the food is obtained through Foodshare. Founded in 1982, Foodshare is the local affiliate of Feeding America, a national network of food banks around the US. Feeding America started in the 1970's in Phoenix, and is now headquartered in Chicago. The Joan C. Dauber Food Bank at Saint Francis receives free donated food, and purchases bulk food at low cost through Foodshare. Trucks from the Environmental Services department at Saint Francis transport the goods from Foodshare to the food bank's location on Tower Avenue. "If it wasn't for Foodshare, there would be no way we could exist," says Joan.
Other food comes from efforts such as the annual Walk Against Hunger, and donations collected by U.S. Post Office mail carriers, who add about 10,000 pounds to the Food Bank each year. And Joan is quick to point out that there is abundant evidence of generosity all around: volunteers who help with the program, stores that donate bags, Saint Francis employees who regularly contribute food and money and quietly take care of finding an odd refrigerator, some shelving or a set of double doors for the food storage room. Then there are all the people who have been helped by the food bank who return with donations for someone else. "Whatever I don't have to buy is a blessing," she says.
For Joan Dauber, talking about food is not only her profession, but also a means to help her understand clients' needs better. As she explains, "We're here in a place at Saint Francis that provides lots of services. Food can be the first avenue of saying, 'Hey, there's a problem.'" Working to help supply people with food can uncover other needs -- health needs, or needs for housing, employment, or mental health services -- and other ways to reach out to people in the community. "We're here; we're an urban hospital. We have to show we care, and this is a unique way," says Joan.
Joan retired in January, but could not stay away from the Food Bank. She continues to manage the Food Bank and its army of volunteers. "I started and I can't stop," she reports, adding that if she weren't involved with the food bank, she'd do something else to help. "I guess I was meant to do this. It's like an extension of my family."
Meanwhile, it's Joan Dauber who's doing some worrying. When the holidays approach, she estimates the food bank will have about a thousand families in need of a good meal. Saying she just wants to be able to provide others with the kind of meal she and her own family will enjoy, Joan concludes that the spirit of the food bank boils down to one very simple rule for her: "I treat people the way I would like to be treated."
To Make a Donation
If you would like to donate to the Joan C. Dauber Food Bank at Saint Francis, please call (860) 714-5174 or email Whitney Dionne at email@example.com.
To Volunteer Your Help
If you would like to volunteer at the Joan C. Dauber Food Bank at Saint Francis, please contact Joan Dauber at (860) 714-2845.
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