Title

Giving and receiving : the food pantry experience and the question of empowerment

Publication Date

1-1-2005

Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

Kanthie Athukorala

Abstract

This research paper stemmed from my work at a small non-governmental organization in Elizabeth, New Jersey that includes a food pantry as part of its services to the community. My work has been difficult in that I have struggled with the task of giving to people. Is this the best way to serve them and offer them what they "need"? I decided early on that the poor must be empowered in order to improve their quality of life, and so, I began this research, which focuses on the question of the empowerment of the poor through food pantries: Are people empowered through receiving food? If so, how? If not, why? The research was conducted according to the phenomenology tradition, which seeks to understand a phenomenon as it is experienced from within the psychological structures of the mind. To research these questions, I conducted eight structured interviews with recipients of food at three local food pantries in Elizabeth during the period of September through November 2004. From this research, I have come to the following conclusions. Empowerment occurred when two conditions were met: 1) the physical receiving of food eliminated hunger, and 2) internal emotions created by being in need (i.e. stress, anxiety, depression) transformed through the experience of receiving food. I would like to share this research with the food pantry providers in Elizabeth, as well as throughout New Jersey. While the research was specific, the conclusions are broad enough to be applied to basic needs services in various contexts.

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