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.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
October 6, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness
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