My family was a recipient of government surplus food in the 1960s and we were grateful to get it. The cheese was a processed American similar to Velveeta in texture but not taste. It came in a five-pound loaf, impossible to slice. The chopped meat was similar to Spam, but again, and this is hard to say, not as tasty. It would have been bearable, but the same 'commodities' were served up in the school cafeteria, so we had "Spam" and pineapple for lunch and fried "Spam" and gravy for dinner. But we didn't starve.
'Business' booms at welfare store operated by state
By Jack Briggs, Tri-City Herald staff writer
Published on January 27, 1963
"Business was good in 1962 at the only Tri-City food store where customers don't pay a dime.
A total of 948, 557 pounds of food was given away at the state's surplus food store in Pasco to a mixed clientele.
Some drove up in Cadillacs. others walked, trailing a train of tattered-clothes kids.
While a reporter was at the store on North Fourth Avenue drivers of a 1958 Cadillac, 1962 Ford and a 1959 Chevrolet collected their food.
They received butter, cheese, dry milk, beans, rice, corn meal, flour, shortening, chopped meat, peanut butter, wheat and rolled wheat.
Store manager Arch Miner had an explanation for the expensive cars.
"They are owned by men out of work whose income falls within the low-income scale set by the state," he said.
If a single person earns less than $12 a month, he is eligible for free food. The scale goes up to $409 for a 10-person family.
In addition, all persons with cooking facilities who are receiving welfare of any kind are automatically eligible.
Last year was the first full calendar year for the store which opened doors in a $110-a-month rented building next to the State Highway office.
An average of 3,902 persons were fed each month. They came mainly from Benton and Franklin counties, and took about 18 pounds of food per person.
A few turned their noses up at the free offerings. "But only a very few," said Miner. "The majority looked upon it as a blessing -- a blessing which they were embarrassed at having to take."
Most popular item is butter. Hardly anyone shakes his head at that.
They do, however, at beans, corn meal, dried milk and rice. Miner estimates only every other person refuses an item.
A family of four can carry away 69 pounds of food a month. The state values it at $18.46. "Mostly they're staples," said Miner, explaining the low cost.
Miner said he has been impressed by the honesty of his customers. He has not had one case of shoplifting. And there has been only one known case of persons selling their food.
A couple of transients one day collected their rations, and while Miner was watching through the window walked over to Navy Homes and began knocking on doors.
Police couldn't find any law they had broken. But they were given a 30-day suspended sentence for vagrancy and a clear indication their absence would be appreciated.
What's the typical person who collects welfare food?
Miner said he is a person who slinks into the store with his pride hurt that he has to take charity. "I tell them it's not charity," said Miner, who said the food and its distribution is paid for by five per cent of all customs receipts.
"A few are arrogant," said $424-a-month Miner. "But I think they are trying to cover up bruised pride."
When miner bids "See you later" to the late-model-car drivers, he claims the usual response is, "Not if I can help it,"
Some, apparently, can't.