I really shouldn't be amazed any longer over the number of clients we serve in a month. Yesterday afternoon, I watched my pile of pink re-registration forms shrink down to nothingness. It's not that difficult to make more, just a little time consuming. Because I number all forms, I had a rough idea of how many people I've seen this month. That number is put into focus when I realized that I totally used up a ream of paper. That's 500 families who have recertified this year. In addition to the recertifications, we have all the families registering for the very first time.
The month isn't over yet either. The last week of the month is, typically, the busiest (and we have an extra Monday tacked on too). Foodstamp (food assistance) money has run out and there is just too much month left.
Thankfully, we've stretched our food dollars this month. Bless Second Harvest. I don't know what we'd do without them. The USDA commodity hamburger finally arrived. Kudos to ChrisP for letting me know that I could tell Bev I was waiting for it. When it came up on the list, Bev let me know and we jumped on it. For the curious, the cost was $0.04/pound or $48 dollars for 1200 pounds of hamburger. Compare that to co-op prices of $1.55/pound. The same 1200 pounds of hamburger would have cost us $1860.
This aspect of my job is new. In the past, while we haven't been flush (by ANY means), I haven't had to really worry about spending money on product. The money has been available. We've still had to watch our nickels and dimes so we utilized cooperative purchasing but we were always fairly sure we could set enough aside each month that we could do our annual Thanksgiving program. In 2004, lack of funds meant that we were only able to serve about a third of the requests we had for Thanksgiving baskets. Now the budget is even smaller.
We had more funds to use in past years. We've been under mandates to use them. I could look at the shelves and tell the boss what we needed and then order it. Sometimes we've used the co-op. Other times we made purchases from Second Harvest. I see the bills so I always know how much money is being spent. I do the data entry, so I know how many pounds of food we are distributing. Still, it wasn't as imperative. Now, saving those pennies is imperative. There is no more wiggle room in the budget. This is "back against the wall" food shelf budgeting.
It's fascinating and amazing and horrifying all at the same time. Just looking at the raw numbers, I'm a bit staggered. It's one thing to know, academically, that purchasing at $0.04 a pound will save you tons of money. It's another thing to run the numbers (a simple task) and see the savings mount.
Because one of our funding sources gives us lump sums of money but requires that they be spent over a finite period of time, we will still, likely, have to make some purchases through sources other than Second Harvest. I'm still awaiting contact from our food broker. If his prices are competitive, it's likely he'll be one recipient of those time-stamped funds. Second Harvest will likely get some too, if they have the purchase product (co-op purchases) items that we need.
For me, this all boils down to being able to serve families. It means I won't have to face the nightmares that come after having to turn away a worried parent. It means that I can go home at night and sleep, secure in the knowledge that the little children I saw throughout the day will have dinner and go to bed with full tummies.
Those nightmare nights have been rare here, but I still wake up with them. I still remember, clearly, the first time I had to turn someone away because we had empty shelves. I remember tossing and turning all night long because all I could envision was the five-year old child with her going to bed hungry. It's impossible to eat dinner and then sleep when you're afraid you just made a small child sleep with hunger pangs.
Try sleeping at night after that image is burned into your mind.