By Keeley Benfield, a 2021 SECU Public Fellows Intern with the Foothills Food Hub in Marion, NC
During my internship, I have learned a great deal of information that I would never had thought about before I came to work at the Foothills Food Hub. Along with the little things I have learned, like driving the delivery truck and how to use a palette jack, the most surprising of all is that there is still such a stigma about food insecurity.
I can remember my first day at the internship and my boss, Heather, was explaining to me how we do distributions. She said she hooks up the speaker and plays music, greets the people with a smile and a few questions, and most importantly that it is our job to remove the stigma. I think that a really important thing for me to realize is that for people to come to our distributions, they are choosing to be vulnerable and allow us to help them. That is why it is so vital to not only have good food to give them, but to also show them our good attitudes and make it a place in which they can be comfortable and not feel ashamed.
Julie, the manager at the Hub, who has also been my go to person for life advice, is constantly reminding everyone at the Hub that we must meet these people where they are. We cannot make them want to change their lives, but we can give them a smile and a food box and let them decide what to do next. You cannot understand what a person is going through by having a five-minute conversation with them, but you can build relationships with them.
When a car pulls up, often Julie will remind us that these people really like sweets, or that these other people don’t want any sweets but they like to have extra bread. If the stigma is present at distributions, people may be shy to speak up for what they need. When we can, we give as much as possible because you can never give too much.
One day, a guy came to the Hub from Raleigh and told us that he is making a documentary about food insecurity in North Carolina. He had been interviewing a few people the previous day that I wasn’t there, and I was nervous when he said he wanted to interview me. He began the interview with an easy question: “Why did you want to work here?”
I paused for a second and thought back to my first day with Heather. I talked about how the pressing issue that people tend to forget about food insecurity is the stigma that follows it. You cannot help provide people with the necessary resources if they do not feel comfortable to come to you and receive them.
I went on to talk about the fact that along with providing the necessary resources to those in need, awareness must also be increased. For those who have never experienced hunger or food insecurity, and do not know anyone who has, those will be less likely to become a part of the conversation about food insecurity.
We must make those aware who are able to help with the process, and make those who need help, assured that we are there to serve them, not to judge them in any way.