One less tough choice: laundry soap program assists families facing food insecurity

Laundry soap ready for distribution at a food pantry.
January 25, 2016
by Virginia Graves

As someone who works in the area of domestic hunger, the statistic that 1 in 7 people in the United States struggles with hunger is always in the back of my mind. But sometimes I stop and think about what that statistic really means, and in that I am truly humbled. If 1 in 7, or 48 million, Americans struggle with hunger, that means they also must make the tough choices or trade-offs that many of us are fortunate enough to never make. For example, should I pay my rent on time or pay this medical bill? Should I buy food to feed my family or supplies to keep my family clean? The examples of questions like these could go on.

Evidence suggests that people facing food insecurity not only struggle to provide enough food for themselves and their families, but that they also struggle to purchase non-food household goods which are considered basic essentials, such as toothpaste, laundry detergent and other basic hygiene products. This means vulnerable households must often make the choice between having enough food to eat or having basic hygiene supplies. That struggling families are forced to make these tough choices time and again is concerning, as research finds a link between cognition and the feeling of having less of something than what an individual believes he needs.[1]  Research would suggest that as households have to make these tough choices and face their scarcities more often, they may find themselves more distracted and less able to think clearly. Take a second and imagine: if you were constantly thinking about how you were going to provide enough food, clothes, medicine, soap, etc. for your family and what you’d have to give up in turn, would you be as productive or be able to think as clearly as if you didn’t face those tough choices?

Luckily, food banks like Food Finders Food Bank, Inc. – a Feeding America member in Lafayette, IN – are aware of the trade-offs food-insecure families face and have programs in place to help. Food Finders, Inc. started a laundry soap program in 2010 to further engage volunteers and the community in their work. Its laundry soap program works as follows: Food Finders collects water bottles from the community to fill with laundry soap, then volunteers clean and label the bottles, mix and cook the soap and fill the bottles with the finished product. The soap then goes directly to food-insecure families via Food Finders’ mobile pantry truck or is available for partner agencies to purchase. The response of the community to this program is positive. According to Kier Crites Scherger, chief operating officer at Food Finders, volunteers enjoy collecting bottles and making the soap and families facing hunger receiving the soap are grateful and overjoyed. When asked about the program, Crites explains, “I think we are often so focused on food, and rightly so, but we forget that if [food-insecure families] don’t have access to food then they certainly can’t afford other basics like laundry soap.”

For the families served by Food Finders Food Bank, Inc., the laundry soap program means they have to make one less tough choice, and just maybe the lifting of one less burden will leave these families feeling a little less bogged down by the daily trade-offs they must make.

*Virginia Graves joined Feeding America in June 2015 as strategic member insights analyst. In her role, she uses quantitative methods to help food banks make informed decisions around strategic planning and other initiatives. Prior to joining Feeding America, Virginia conducted research in Tanzania on the relationship between poverty, cognition and productivity.

[1] Mullainathan, S., & Shafir, E. (2013). Scarcity: Why having too little means so much. New York, NY: Times Books

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Ways to Give , Indiana , Food Finders Food Bank Inc.

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