We all make choices every day about how we spend our money. Do we own a house or do we rent an apartment? Do we depend on public transportation or do we own a car? How nice a car? Are we able to go out to dinner? Are we able to travel? These questions are about how we use our expendable income, money in excess of what we need to meet our basic living expenses. The people served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano don’t have many choices about expendable income because they may not even have it. We see people who have to choose between heating their home and having food to eat, there’s nothing extra.
Senior citizens receiving Social Security know about this struggle. The current average monthly benefit for a Social Security recipient is $1,294 per month, an annual income of $15,528. If I look at what rental and utility costs are for an individual receiving Social Security, those costs in California will eat up most of their monthly income. So how do they pay for medical costs, operating a car (assuming they can afford to own one) or public transportation? Sometimes they go without.
Food is an area where people can make decisions to save some money. Pasta and rice are pretty cheap. I have had people tell me they dilute milk to make it go further. You can make decisions when you choose groceries that save money. People can’t bargain with their landlord or ask the utility company to cut their rates because they are in difficult financial circumstances. People who face difficult decisions can save money as they go through the grocery store, or skip a meal here and there.
Unfortunately, the decisions people make that save them money short term cost them over time. If they cannot feed their children well, the kids don’t succeed in school. If people are not eating well themselves, they harm their health. Good nutrition is medicine; people who do not eat well suffer both physically and mentally. All we know about nutrition and its impact on health tells us we need to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. We need to get exercise and drink water. People know what they should do to preserve their health, no matter what their income.
But if you are poor, vegetables look very expensive compared to a fast food meal. If you are a single parent bringing tired and cranky children home from day care, the drive through window looks good. It is also a cheap meal that puts food into a hungry child’s stomach. What decision would I make at the end of the month when I know my rent is due and the utility bill will be coming to me in a few days? For the people we serve, we hope with the help they get from the Food Bank they don’t have to make as many of those tough decisions.