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Food for Homeless People

What's better to bring to the homeless shelter, a bag of apples or a tray of lasagna?

Probably the apples. But the good-hearted, well-meaning folks who donate food to shelters often choose otherwise. So says Juliette Tahar, founder of the nonprofit organization Healthy Living, Inc. and the subject of this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column.

Tahar tries to help people living in homeless shelters learn how to eat more healthfully. But, she says, her education efforts extend beyond the residents to include the volunteers who bring them food.

"It's an important issue in the shelter system," Tahar says. "A lot of volunteers bring a lot of comfort food. There's a perception that that's what [people in shelters] need. But how do you tell a volunteer who's prepared that tray of lasagna with love and caring that that's not what we want?"

Tahar encourages the people she counsels to build new relationships with food, to understand why they eat the things they do and to make more healthful choices when possible. She believes in their taking "baby steps" toward a more nutritious diet, substituting water for soda, for instance, and keeping an eye on portion size.

But those new habits are harder to adopt when there's a big cheesy casserole staring you in the face.

So Tahar tries to establish trust with the volunteers who help out at the shelters she works with; once that trust is in place, she talks with them about the possibility of their bringing more healthful foods -- and offers suggestions for items that fit the bill. "Some volunteers have been coming for a long time," she says. "It's harder to have the conversation with them. With the new ones, it's easier."

Tahar says the best way to make sure your food donations are meeting shelters' (and food banks') needs is to call and ask. Here's a nation-wide guide to shelters and food banks; click through to find phone numbers.

One way or another, please consider donating. The need for donated food is great right now; many food banks report that they're serving more people than ever but that their shelves are nearly bare.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 6, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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This is really foolish. People who are really down on their luck to be bullied by "health fanatics". first most once out of the shelter need other things like enough calories to get thru the day. So some power this is decides on "healthy foods" that cannot be sustained when a good comfort food may do wonders helping them feel better. What they don't say is it is much more expensive to eat "healthy" than to have the high fat diet that many crave. Tahar would be better served by lobbying for tax relief even subsidizing "healthy foods" so they are cheap to buy. Also a crackdown on added water and salt. Yes portion sizing is important but when you are held captive by a system whose real feelings are "why don't you just go away.
It does not help when the help is worse than the situation. There is little to no housing and we in this country want to build ghettos and slums so the well to do can point and say there are the poor people" (3rd class citizens).
Too many "good ideas are co-opted by the exploitation of the people that they supposedly want to help.
First reform the housing o there are no more "ghettos" or buildings for "only the economically challenged"(laid off, poor,pensioners,etc), Get rid of our bigotry toward other people and the mindset that everyone should be just like us!

Posted by: vx24 | October 6, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Our church makes bologna sandwiches for a homeless shelter once a week and I must say I feel there's something wrong with providing cheap, fatty, salty food that I wouldn't eat myself. It's a dilemma. No money to provide higher quality food and the recipient doesn't have the option of choosing something better either.

Posted by: Afriend3 | October 7, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I have also distributed soup and bologna sandwiches and have wondered to myself about nutritional value. I also think that homemade lasagna is a perfectly acceptable food donation for someone who might not have had a meal otherwise. There are many people in the world who subsist for many years to a lifetime on processed "comfort" foods such as those available to homeless shelters. If the gov't would like to subsidize homeless services, such that shelters could afford chefs, such as Juliette to run their meals program, and fresh ingredients, I'm sure that would be beneficial to the recipients but perhaps less palatable to the taxpayer. I think when homeless shelter donations overflow, they can afford to set higher food standards but not probably before then.

Posted by: skate4fun | October 8, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

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