What is the best food to feed to homeless people?
At first is sounds like an odd question, perhaps even a bit rude. But then considering the conditions in which homeless people live, there are some things that should be taken into account.
The Food Pyramid is the best place to start. Fruits and vegetables, the natural foods rich in vitamins and minerals, are most needed. Meat and bread, not so much. But this is all common sense.
Homeless people are humans!
LOL, yes, it is a silly statement, but you'd be surprised by the number of people who think of the homeless as something less. But, when it comes to food, what is healthy for one human is more than likely healthy for all humans. AND health concerns are equally represented in the homeless population.
There are some special dietary needs of the homeless that people feeding the homeless should consider.
- Hydration - More than anything else, homeless people need water, and plenty of it. The usual drinks, coffee, beer, colas, etc., are all diuretics, meaning that they dehydrate people. Forget the sodas and energy drinks and caffeine and stick with good ol' water, especially in hot weather. (reusable bottles are best)
- Soft foods are preferred - Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that homeless people have little access to good dental care, and because of this their teeth are not in the best shape. Many homeless are missing teeth, and what few remain are broken jagged remnants. Foods that are hard, or require a lot of chewing, are often passed over by the homeless.
- Vitamin B12 - Alcoholism causes vitamin deficiencies, most especially vitamin B12, a lack of which can cause serious brain damage. Other deficiencies caused by alcoholism are, Folate, Vitamin A, and Calcium. Foods high in these vitamins are best for homeless people.
- Conveniency - If you do not have a kitchen and dining facility in which to properly prepare and serve food, it is best to make the food as travel friendly as possible. Canned and processed foods are unhealthy, but they can be easily carried in backpacks. Also, considering that homeless people do not have proper storage facilities (no pantry or refrigerator), it is best to not overload the homeless with too much food. The food will likely go bad before it is consumed and will be wasted.
- Availability - Funding is a major consideration when feeding the homeless. The cost of food must be weighed against the number of people being served. This makes it all the more important to be creative in developing food sources, and you might be surprised at who would be willing to donate food and other goods to your project. Grocery stores are often willing to donate fruits and vegetables that are still good but have cycled out, bakeries often donate day old bread, even Starbucks has been known to donate unsold pastries and coffee beans, etc.
Independent groups and individuals wanting to feed the homeless should be warned about one thing in particular. More and more cities are requiring that people use codes-approved facilities that have been inspected by the city, in preparing the food that is served. If you set up in a city park or on a sidewalk near where the homeless congregate, expect to receive a visit from the police. Even if you have not broken any laws, the police may attempt to intimidate you, to get you to stop feeding the homeless. There is a misguided belief that feeding homeless people actually creates homelessness. Of course this isn't true, but that won't stop the police from trying to shut down your feeding program. THE MORE COMMUNITY AND POLITICAL SUPPORT YOU ARE ABLE TO GENERATE FOR YOUR WORK WITH THE HOMELESS, THE LESS LIKELY THE POLICE, OR OTHERS, WILL BOTHER YOU.