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Can Jaden Get Food From the Pantry?

The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. Our website proudly proclaims that "If you live in the Danbury area and find yourself without enough food - for whatever reason - we are here to help." But the reality is a little more nuanced than that. 

As we learned in last month's Newsletter, the food that the Pantry distributes comes from a variety of sources. By far the largest proportion comes from Connecticut Food Bank | Foodshare. That food is hugely important to maintaining our operation, but it comes with some significant strings attached. A minor string is the requirement to ensure we are in compliance with the USDA civil rights training everyone completed recently. That is hardly a string at all, since it is simply about doing the right thing.

More importantly, a large chunk of the Food Bank food is funded through two programs - TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) and CTNAP (Connecticut Nutrition Assistance Program ). To qualify for either,  recipients must confirm that their household gross income is below 235% of the Federal Poverty Level. For a household of one, that is currently $29,986. That limit goes up in a linear fashion for each additional family member so that, for example, a household of eight would have to have a combined gross income of no more than $103,682 to qualify.

Although funding for TEFAP (by far the larger program) comes from the federal government, both programs are administered by the State of Connecticut insofar as Connecticut residents are concerned. That is why we must verify where clients who come to the Pantry live.

So, assuming Jaden lives in Connecticut, can he get food?  If we are still talking about TEFAP/CTNAP food, not necessarily. You will note the test is an income one, not asset-based.  If investment bankerJaden has just made a couple of bad bets in the stock market, he may be out of luck, even if he has also recently lost his job. If chronically unemployed Jaden lives with his brain-surgeon partner, he may also be out of luck. We can argue the merits of such an outcome, but those are the rules.

Not all food from the Food Bank is TEFAP/CTNAP funded. And of course, Daily Bread also purchases a lot of food itself, "rescues" a lot of food, and gets direct donations of food from many organizations and individuals. In general, all of that food is unrestricted, so we could choose to give it out to anybody. But, wouldn't you know it, there are further complications.

 

First off, our current system of inventory control does not always reliably identify what is TEFAP/CTNAP food and what is not. That is our bad, but it does mean we need to be careful about handing out any food to clients who cannot affirm their income is within TEFAP limits. Second, though we usually have plenty of food, and recently have had the money to buy more, our resources are not infinite.  That is why we have a three-visit-per-month policy for a "full distribution". Again, you can certainly argue the merits of such a policy, but our donors and other partners expect, if only implicitly, we will use our resources prudently.

What about ID requirements? As far as I can tell,  there is no TEFAP/CTNAP-associated rule requiring we check ID or request proof of address. However, seeing an ID is very helpful to confirm name spellings and, together with a proof of address,  help identify clients coming from the same household.

Having said all that, I believe we are always guided by the spirit of our website proclamation.  If you do not have enough to eat, or are even concerned you might not have enough to eat, we are here to help.  Whether you cannot work due to illness, spent all your money on a car you can't afford, or even plonked your entire life savings down on red at Foxwoods, is not really our concern.

TL:DR Yes, Jaden is clearly in a jam. We will help him.

P.S. My oh-so-woke daughter, on seeing this page, said "Daaaaad, are you really going to go with the 'Jaden Broke' theme? Not everyone shares your sense of humor you know."

 

She is certainly right on that last point, but here's the thing. Yes, I found the moppet's answer amusing, but I also found it profoundly true.  Its reductive pithiness captures the chilling reality that, when you are down to a few bucks, civilized niceties such as arithmetic and precise accounting become absurd trivialities. By extension, it is an exercise in privilege to assume my concerns and priorities - and quite possibly yours too - are universally shared irrespective of circumstance. 

I rest my case for the defense, your honor.