Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Day Old Bread and Pastry Day

At my campus, we are always looking for ways to make life better for our students, and not just in academics and future jobs.  Many of our students have a variety of issues that make it difficult for them to complete their programs.  I can't solve all of them, but I'm always on the lookout for ways to help.

I know that Publix, our local, large grocery store chain, gives away bakery goods that are at their pull date.  Once, long ago, I did the bakery run for our church's food pantry.  I was amazed at the amount of bakery goods given to our food pantry.

A few weeks ago, I was in the Publix by my school to buy cookies for an event, and the bakery manager was shelving some products.  I asked if she had people picking up the day old baked goods every day, and she said once they had, but now, they had very little interest because they all went to the bigger Publix.  She told me the simple procedure to follow to be allowed to get the baked goods before they were thrown away.

I wrote the letter and had the campus director sign it.  I took it to the Publix, and I was told that I could show up any time either after the store closes at 11 or before it opens at 7.  Last Thursday, I showed up, but there was nothing set aside.  The manager suggested I call next time.

On Sunday, I called to see if they would have anything Monday morning.  The person on the other end of the phone said, "Oh sure."  I half expected to arrive to find nothing again.

I was wrong--two carts of food were set aside for me, enough to fill up the back of my Prius hatchback.  It all had a pull date of yesterday.  I set out a lot of it in our student break room:  lots of donuts, various types of bear claws, some rings with pecans, 6 kinds of muffins, 5 boxes of croissants, and a bag of bagels.  I put the loaves of bread in the freezer, with a sign that invited people to take a loaf, if that would be helpful.  I put aside some cookies for an event today.  I put other pastries in the freezer of the fridge in the other break room.

Most people were enthusiastic to arrive at school to find a variety of treats.  Some groaned about the weight they might gain.  But I know that some of our students have food and financial instability.  It's not the most nutritious food that we offered yesterday, but it's food.

I had thought I might go back again tomorrow, just to see if a Wednesday haul is different from Monday.  Did we have so many treats yesterday because the bakery manager planned for more sales on a week-end?  Is that what they throw away every day?  Surely not--it's a small Publix.

I think I'll just go once a week, unless I perceive that people would benefit from more bread.  I had hoped for more bread to give away, as it's more nutritious than pastries and it can last several days.

It's a shame that there's no shelter that needs the food.  It's a lot of food, and I know there's lots of hungry people out there.  There are days we won't be picking up the food.  There's enough to share.

Through the morning, as I threw away the packaging once the food was eaten, I reflected on the waste not only of the food that might be thrown away, but the packaging--so much packaging.  In my quest to feed a hungry campus, we filled up one big garbage bag with cardboard, plastic, and foil.

I can't solve these problems.  We live in a society where for most of us, it's cheaper and takes less time to buy baked goods at the grocery store, which means that we'll have a surplus of bakery items and the packaging that makes it possible to sell bakery items.  We live in a society where many people experience food scarcity, even as enormous amounts of edible food are discarded.  I cannot redistribute all that food by myself.

So I will do what I can do.  I will pick up a load or two of bakery items each week.  I will hope that it makes the campus a more cheerful place to be (which hopefully will help our retention numbers).  I will hope that some of the food gets to our students who genuinely need the calories.  I will hope that those of us who shouldn't eat those calories are able to resist them.  I will hope that the good outweighs the problems.

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