When Mid-South Food Bank volunteers deliver food to needy people this holiday season, the packages won’t arrive in tinfoil or tinsel.
They will, however, arrive in boxes that package dignity along with nutrition.
This past year, International Paper donated 250,000 custom corrugated boxes to deliver meals to more than 400,000 people in the Mid-South. While International Paper has been a major contributor in helping the food bank combat food insecurity in the region – among other things, it donated $1.25 million in 2016 to help it modernize and consolidate three warehouses and to improve its refrigeration capacity – the gift of the boxes is particularly special.
Estella Mayhue-Greer, president and CEO of Mid-South Food Bank, said that before the gift of the boxes, food was delivered in used boxes that not only cost too much, but often had labeling that didn’t reflect the contents.
Now, the new boxes bear the logos of International Paper and Mid-South Food Bank.
No confusion there.
“Before International Paper, we were paying 35 to 45 cents per box,” Mayhue-Greer said. “The boxes were used, and many times, they were mislabeled…we had a box labeled for beer going to a church…
“Imagine, a box labeled for beer going to a church.”
Tom Cleves, vice president of global citizenship for International Paper, said that because it makes one out of every three brown boxes in the nation, creating the boxes – as well as food boxes with handles for the youths who participate in the food bank’s Kids Café program – fit perfectly with its mission.
“We saw them using Budweiser boxes and used banana boxes,” Cleves said. “We didn’t want the food bank delivering food in liquor boxes, but we really didn’t want them to use dirty boxes.
Yet, while being able to deliver food in new boxes gives struggling people more of a sense of dignity in knowing that they aren’t getting food in boxes that weren’t intended for them, and that their esteem isn’t an afterthought, there’s another reason why the gift of the boxes matter.
They make it easier for the food bank to package nutritious food to poor people instead of food that just fills their bellies, Mayhue-Greer said.
“They’ve designed boxes specifically for us to deliver produce, protein products and entrees,” she said. “That helps us to help people eat healthier.”
And that’s important – if Memphis and Shelby County is to ever put a dent in its obesity and its food insecurity problem.
Because Memphis is the second fattest city in the U.S., there are those who doubt that nearly a quarter of Shelby County’s residents are worried about where their next meal will come from. After all, obesity isn’t exactly a symptom of starvation.
An elected official, in fact, once told Mayhue-Greer that because he saw obese people in line with food stamps, that they couldn’t possibly be concerned about hunger.
“He said, ‘They aren’t missing any meals,’” Mayhue-Greer recalled.
But here’s the thing.
While obesity isn’t a symptom of starvation, it is a symptom of food insecurity – because what it means is that when people who struggle to buy food get it, they buy a lot of unhealthy and fattening foods that they can stretch to stave off hunger.
Also, when people have gone for a long time without food, or are unsure about when they will eat next, that fear will cause them to overeat.
Which leads to obesity – and other ills.
“In 40 percent of the households that we provide services to, people have high blood pressure and diabetes,” Mayhue-Greer said. “Those are diet-related issues, and those are food insecurity issues.”
That’s why, for some time, the food bank has been focused less on collecting canned goods and staples and more on providing produce, perishables and nutritious foods. And that’s why this Christmas, it is especially grateful for the gift from International Paper.
To help needy people deal with their health as well as their hunger. And their dignity.
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