Update: Gaming the food shelf for free food?

I posted earlier today on whether some people in this recession are tapping food shelves despite being relatively well-off.

Michael Gmitter, pastor and director of a northeast Minneapolis food shelf and a source in our Public Insight Network, tells us he’s seeing people with full time jobs who own homes, cars and cabins seeking free food from his food shelf. Some are “shrewd/creative, etc. to keep what they have and or get what they want.”

I followed up to get some more detail on what he’s seeing. Gmitter says:

Until recently (the last 6-12 months), we did not have to be concerned about our client’s income. The majority of our client’s live in subsidized housing or no housing at all.

We discover the information people leave on our voice mail does not always match when they fill out our intake form. One week a client will say they have 2 adults and 2 children in their household… another week… they have 4 adults and their intake form may say 1 adult and 1 child… (yes, we do updates).

There are times a family will register under one name. The same week or a short time later, a family member from the family will register under a different name. We find this when we compare information we have in our files.

There are many examples and experiences concerning people in need or not in need. We have done our best to not become a policy over people organization. We try to give every person the benefit of the doubt… however, when they give themselves away… we must take action. I feel personally accountable to get as much food, to as many people in need… as often as I can.

I asked how he knows that some clients have more wealth than expected:

When people come to our food outreach… they tell us their stories. Many feel free to tell us they have cabins, boats, etc. Just last week, one man told me he bought a home in North Branch. He went on to ask if his cousin could get food for him next week because he would be working on his cabin the following weekend.

Again, this startles me. The food shelf is supposed to be the last resort, right? But at a small food shelf in northeast Minneapolis, we find some people who are, as Gmitter put it, “experiencing hardship because they seem unwilling to prioritize their needs over their wants.”

It made me think of a question our friends at Marketplace radio recently asked their national audience: Will your ethics survive the recession?

There’s no doubt most of Gmitter’s food shelf clients need the food and aren’t gaming the system.

Still, is the depth of this recession starting to make us act in ways we would not normally act?

If anyone’s got any experience with seeing this kind of behavior, please drop a line or click here and share a story about it.

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