Grim's Grub: Food charity plays vital role in U.S. history

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At this time of uncertainty, it seems wise to reflect on food security, which will always be important to the quality and success of a nation.

Soup kitchens and bread lines are a famous example of efforts in food security thanks to the Great Depression. The kitchens themselves were born of churches and private charities around 1929, as the Depression became evident. Early on, the Capuchin Services Center in Detroit served 1,500-3,000 people a day, a demonstration of their importance.

The kitchens served primarily soup and bread. Soup had several major advantages. First, you can make soup from virtually any ingredients on hand, even if they are poor quality or just scraps. In addition, if a larger than anticipated crowd showed up, soup could be watered down to make it go further.

Al Capone famously started the first soup kitchen in Chicago as a sort of propaganda to improve his public image. His kitchen was a reminder that even bad people do good things, but in such cases you perhaps should look the gift horse in the mouth.

During the Depression, many names originated to squarely place the blame of the market crash on Herbert Hoover, who had the misfortune of taking the reins of the country March 4, 1929. Five months later, the stock market crashed. Though he barely had time to enact any financial policies that could account for the crash, shanty villages in large cities filled with starving homeless were named Hoovervilles, and some soups at the soup kitchens were dubbed Hoover Stew.


Of course, soup kitchens still persist in churches and among other nonprofits; but in addition to school lunches, other weapons have been added in the fight against hunger, one being the food bank model.

The food bank model came from John van Hengel, a St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen volunteer in Phoenix. Van Hengel was familiar with the concept of working with handouts and second quality ingredients, as he was responsible for collecting food for the kitchen itself. His encounter with a mother of 10 gave him the idea of the food bank.

He caught the woman scrounging through food discarded by local grocery stores for her family's sustenance. She said she wished there were a place where she could go (other than the garbages of the stores themselves) to collect unwanted foods. Van Hengel looked through the garbage and found that the woman was right. Most of the food there was still edible.

Van Hengel got a loan of $3,000 from St. Mary's Basilica of Phoenix. They also gave him an abandoned bakery from which to operate and he founded the first food bank in 1967, called St. Mary's Food Bank. They distributed more than 250,000 pounds of food the first year in operation.

Food banks today operate much the same way by developing partnerships with food distributors, though today there are also big food drives to collect donations from individuals as well. Minnesota ust concluded its biggest month for food drives, called Minnesota FoodShare Month. It's hard to deny in times like this that these services provide a valuable service to communities.

Please keep the food shelf in mind in April. As a result of a tumultuous March, the annual FoodShare Month was extended until the end of April. Donations of money or food received during this time will help determine how much assistance your local food shelf will receive from various organizations for the rest of the year.

Hoover Stew

(Inspired by "Food as a Human Right," by William D. Schanbacher)


  • 1 16-ounce box of noodles
  • 1 package of hot dogs, cut into small “coins”
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can of corn or peas (any canned vegetable will do; do not drain the juices)
  • Water (optional, to increase yield)

Inauthentic additions:

  • 2 cubes bouillon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 small onion, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons oil, butter or other fat

Boil the noodles until almost done, then drain them. Return them to the pan and add the stewed tomatoes, hot dogs and vegetables and heat thoroughly. If using the additional ingredients, brown the onion in oil while the noodles are draining, then add the flour to the canned vegetables while cold and mix until dissolved, followed by the bouillon. Heat this until it is hot and thick then serve.

Easy, Variable Food Shelf Casserole

  • 3 cups (8 ounces) uncooked noodles
  • 7 ounces of vegetables (optional)
  • 1 12-ounce can tuna, chicken or pork
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (or other cream-of soup)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings
  • Onion soup mix
  • 1 ½ cups shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs (optional)

Spray a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick spray. Cook and drain your pasta.
In a bowl, or the prepared baking dish, combine all ingredients except cheese and bread crumbs. Fill the baking dish with your noodle/sauce mix. Top this mix with shredded cheese (and bread crumbs, if using) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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