Applied Cultural Anthropology Health and Medicine Non-Profits

Kyleigh Hoelscher, Hays Country Food Bank

Client Stories Internship for Hays County Food Bank

Kyleigh Hoelscher

 

The Client Stories Internship required a multitude of tasks which pulled from a few different skill sets. As a Client Stories Intern for the Hays County Food Bank during the summer of 2017, my main responsibility was to approach clients (clients are people who come to food distributions for food assistance) and collect “stories,” or interviews from them. I then transcribed these video or audio recordings and coded them for themes. I created a database for other interns and staff members to quickly access stories that matched the qualities they were looking for. Throughout the internship, I primarily concentrated on narrowing the focus of the demographic studied. The existing data comprised of a vast, general glimpse into the lives of the clients. The interview guide consisted of questions covering the client’s personal situation, a memory of preparing the food from the food bank, what the client was able to do with financial resources, and the first time the client attended a distribution. My supervisor and I wanted to continue asking these questions to give longitude to the data and also gain some new knowledge. After I generated a list of topics, we both decided on creating an interview guide focusing on childhood hunger and how children being home for the summer affects the household’s financial resources. Some general knowledge already known is that there is typically an increase in the need for childcare and more food during summer. The food bank was looking for a more in-depth picture that only qualitative methods could offer.

The HCFB’s (Hays County Food Bank) mission statement is to “create a well-nourished community” and to make this happen, there are a multitude of operations in place. For instance, the organization is low on volunteers during the summer, so assisting with intake, answering client questions, aiding new clients, driving the van, and wearing the pea costume for a profit share event (my personal favorite) (see Figure 1) required me to jump into different roles.

I created my own my own topic of focus and an interview guide during summer 2017. The previous intern had conducted many interviews that gave an excellent general look at the population, but I wanted to narrow in on a specific demographic. Eventually, I decided to look further into how families adjust financially to children being home from school during the summer. I created a guide that introduced new questions, but kept existing questions from previous research to make the stories data more longitudinal (see Appendix A). Each interview consisted of at least five questions, and no more than eight questions. The interviews lasted around five to ten minutes, and I conducted eighteen of them over the course of six weeks. Some days, I gathered zero, and some days, I gathered up to three. I would ask the client to fill out the organization’s media release form first, which was daunting for some, but I explained that it looked scarier than it really was. I recorded interview audio files using a clip-on microphone connected to my phone. If the client consented to a video recording, I would set up go-pro video camera that stood on a tripod instead.

I would attend three food distributions per week, splitting my time evenly between distributions and office time. A food distribution is a weekly event that the food bank holds to distribute food for clients, and HCFB holds six distributions per week at various locations. A range from sixty to one-hundred people would attend each one. At each food distribution, I would initially help set up tables and chairs, but then I would set up a private space for interviewing. During the announcements before the distribution would start, I made an announcement about my project and offered help. Eventually, I started making a second announcement in Spanish after the English announcement. Both of these can be found in Appendix C.  I came to find that approaching people and making conversation often lead to an interview. Before, I was letting people come to me, and this was not an effective method.

During the time that I spent at the office, I would first upload all photo, video and audio media onto created folders HCFB’s Good Drive. I would then transcribe interviews onto a Google Doc and place it in the same folder on the Google Drive as the recording and other media. After transcribing, I would code the interview for themes relevant to the food bank. This list of codes I created is found in Appendix B. The codes described categories like demographic information (self-reported), personal situation, job codes, codes for when they spoke about the food bank, codes that depict a certain emotion in the story, and common conversational topics as well. These categories were also the categories for the database in which I organized the stories. This helped to further organize each piece of data in a systematic manner, making it more skimmable for employees. I then inserted a link onto the database to each client’s folder where staff and interns could find everything they would need for their donor thank-you letters, informing the Board of Directors, and for grant proposals.

Before beginning my work with my own interview guide, I transcribed many interviews from the previous intern’s recordings. Throughout these, I noticed several patterns. The patterns that continued to emerge within my own research were the rising housing prices in Hays County, and the prioritization of other household bills over groceries. As one client expressed, “it’s that walking that fine line of being in your home and paying your bills, and still not having enough money for food.” The theme of prioritizing one human need over another remained consistent. Another client summarizes the struggles of high housing prices when they say that most of the clients spend, “probably three-quarters of their income…on housing.”

Several trends emerged solely from my own field work as well. Exactly half of the eighteen interviews I conducted were from parents. With each family came its own circumstances, but approximately one-third of families interviewed only attended distributions during the summer. Another pattern that emerged is that throughout all nine parent interviews, many reported that their kids were appreciative as one mother stated in her interview: “it’s really a learning lesson for them. So, they do appreciate the food, and they don’t look at it like they’re poor.” Additionally, many of the parents commented about how they do not particularly care for the food served by public schools. Some parents commented about how the food bank allows them to pack healthy lunches, and some expressed distaste for the school rushing the children to eat.  Lastly, many parents noted how hunger, or food insecurity affects their children. As one mother described, “it kind of makes her insensible. She sort of loses it when she’s hungry. Yeah, she just gets out of control.” Another parent reported on the perspective of a parent in that situation by saying how, “It affects them a great deal, because they’re wanting food, and wanting specific things [that] we can’t give them.” In each situation, the parents emoted gratitude for the food bank’s services and the community it fosters, no matter how unique their situation.

I not only experienced and conducted Anthropological field methods, but also noticed many areas of self-growth. For example, this internship pushed me to confront my shyness for the sake of my success as an intern. I continuously exerted myself in approaching people and trying to hold substantial conversations with them to build rapport. Even if they weren’t so receptive to my pestering them, I always offered help carrying bags or answering questions, which seemed to help. Many of the client stories touched me, but one in particular made me cry, and I had to hold back my feelings to finish the interview. I eventually found that I fell into a groove, and each group got more comfortable with my presence. Opening up myself to listen to their stories also opened the floor for clients’ complaints. They often used me as a place to list their concerns, which in turn was beneficial toward my general knowledge.

My Spanish language speaking skills also improved. I often translated short messages both in person and over the phone. Even the ability to produce basic sentences was a large aid in serving the food bank client population. And even if it wasn’t perfect, many were still appreciative of my efforts. I am immensely grateful to have this opportunity to practice with native speakers, which is something that has lacked in my academic career.

On a personal level, I enjoyed getting to know more about how a non-profit functions, and how to maintain healthy and supportive work relationships with the staff, but my favorite interactions were with the clients. Because I became a part of their environment, they began to trust and confide in me more throughout interviews and conversations. I eventually gathered a few favorites that would talk with me more comfortably each week. This experience was my first look at Anthropological research, and I did have a few mildly difficult adjustment periods, but it gave me an understanding of my capabilities. Researching in this field for a short time has been highly fulfilling. When I remember and summarize this experience, I definitely grew in my Anthropological methodology and personally, noticed growth within myself as I spoke more Spanish, became more outgoing, and made lasting connections with people. This internship lead to a temporary paid position after it ended. I continue to volunteer and visit with clients I met during this internship.

 

Appendix A

This is the interview guide for the Summer 2017 Client Stories Internship for HCFB that I used for six weeks. After brainstorming and deciding on a topic, I formed the first five questions, and my supervisor revised them. The second question serves as a filter question; if they did not have children within their family, I skipped to question six. Questions six through ten are from the old guide a precious intern used. The organization wanted to continue gaining responses for them for continued study purposes. Lastly, I thought the last question would be a fun one to leave the interview on a positive note. Most of the time, this was true.

 

ALWAYS ASK:

  1. What is your name?
  2. Do you, your family, or extended family have children?
    1. Probe: Can you tell me more about how the financial resources/childcare responsibilities are different during the summer?
  3. How does being hungry affect the lives of the/your children?
    • . Probe with phrases:
      • “Is eating at school different than eating at home? How?”
      • “Can you give me some examples of foods that your kids have access to (at school vs. at home)?”
  1. How do your/the children feel about getting food from the food bank?
    • . Can you tell me about a time they understood they were getting food for free?
  2. Tell me how you feel about your child’s diet and nutrition based on the food you get from the food bank:
    • . What could the food bank do to help you feel better about your child’s nutrition?

IF STILL INTERESTED, YOU CAN ASK:

  1. **What kind things are you now able to do with your financial resources that you weren’t able to do before receiving food assistance?
  2. Can you share a memory of a time when you used the food provided to you by the food bank to prepare a meal in your kitchen for yourself or your family?

IF STILL INTERESTED, YOU CAN ASK:

  1. As you probably know, the HCFB looks to serve the local community in the fight against hunger. How would you say hunger has impacted our community?
  2. Food insecurity is a common term used to describe hunger. What does the term food insecurity mean to you?
    1. – Possible probe: What does food insecurity look like in your life?
    2. – Possible probe: Can you tell me a little bit about your personal situation?
  3. What was it like for you the first time that you received food assistance?

ALWAYS CLOSE WITH:

  1. What is your favorite food?

 

Appendix B

Formal Set of Codes for Summer 2017 Client Stories Internship for Hays County Food Bank. This is a list that I created and constantly edited throughout the coding process.

 

DEMOGRAPHIC: (AS REPORTED IN INTERVIEWS)

MALE

FEMALE

GENDER NON-CONFORMING

HOUSEHOLD SIZE (NUMBER REPORTED)

AGE (NUMBER REPORTED)

MARITAL STATUS (SINGLE, MARRIED, DIVORCED, WIDOWED)

SINGLE PARENT (M/F)

PARENT (M/F)

STUDENT (TRADITIONAL/NON-TRADITIONAL, FULL/PART TIME)

LEVEL OF EDUCATION (SPECIFY)

RELIGIOUS

VETERAN

IMMIGRANT (WHICH COUNTRY IF THEY SAY)

RETIRED

SENIOR (65 and older)

ATTENDED TIME

 

PERSONAL SITUATION CODES:

ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

ADDICTION (DRUGS/ALCOHOL/PRESCRIPTION)

UNEMPLOYED

LIVING COSTS (HOUSING, UTILITY, CAR, GAS, ETC.)

LACK OF TRANSPORTATION

MOVED

CAR REPAIR

JAIL TIME/ON PAROLE

FLOOD DAMAGE

HOMELESSNESS

HEALTH COMPLICATIONS/DISABLED

DEBT (SPECIFY TYPE)

LACK OF INSURANCE

LIMITED INCOME (DEPENDS ON RESOURCES OR OTHER SOURCES)

PERSON PASSED AWAY (SPECIFY IF MONETARILY SUPPORTIVE)

 

JOB CODES:

LIMITED HOURS

PART-TIME

FULL-TIME

SINGLE INCOME

MULTIPLE JOBS

OCCUPATION (SPECIFY)

VOLUNTEERS AT FOOD BANK

VOLUNTEER WORK

CARETAKER

 

RESOURCES:

DISABILITY

SOCIAL SECURITY

MEDICARE

FREE/REDUCED SCHOOL LUNCH

WIC/TANF

UNEMPLOYMENT

FOOD STAMPS/SNAP

FEMA COMPENSATION

FAMILY

DENIED

OTHER (NOTE WHAT THEY REPORT)

 

EMOTION:

EMPATHY

GRATITUDE

JOKE/SARCASM

OPINION/BELIEF

HOPEFUL

RELIEF

REGRET

SADNESS

REALIZATION

 

OTHER TOPICS OF CONVERSATION:

FIRST DISTRIBUTION VISIT

HOLIDAYS

FAMILY AND CHILDREN

HUNGER/FOOD OPINIONS

FOOD COMMENTS (POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, OF-FACT)

MENTAL HEALTH

FINANCES/LEFTOVER MONEY/BILLS

FOOD PREPARATION

WAR/VETERAN

FOOD BANK COMMUNITY (TRADES, SHARES, TRANSPORTATION, ENVRMT, ETC.)

PRIORITIZATION OF ONE BILL OVER ANOTHER

DIETARY RESTRICTION (VEGETARIAN, VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE, ETC.)

GOVERNMENT FUNDING

CHILDHOOD HUNGER

SUMMER FINANCES

MALNUTRITION/NUTRITION

FAVORITE FOOD

 

FOOD BANK:

DONATIONS

OPINION ABOUT FOOD BANK (POSITIVE, NEGATIVE)

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT (SPECIFY TYPE)

COMMENT ABOUT STAFF/VOLUNTEERS

PROGRAMS/SPECIAL EVENTS/GARDENS

 

MISCELLANEOUS: (SHOULD INCLUDE THESE FIRST WHEN LISTING OUT CODES)

EXCELLENT STORY FOR LETTERS

GOOD QUOTE

INCLUDES PHOTO

 

PERMISSIONS:

VIDEO

PHOTO

VOICE

STORY

 

Appendix C

Announcements for Summer 2017 Client Stories Internship for Hays County Food Bank

English Announcement:

Hi everyone. My name is Kyleigh, and I’m an intern at the food bank. My most important job is talking with you and listening to your comments about the food bank and your experiences. If you would like to have a conversation, the interview takes about five to ten minutes, and I would really appreciate any information you would like to share. Thank you.

 

*Spanish Announcement:

Hola, buenas tardes. Me llamo Kyleigh, estoy una interna al Food Bank. condujo las intrevistas para el Food Bank y hablo con ustedes. Me gustaria oir sobre sus opiniones y sus experiencias. Van a estar alli a la mesa. Muchas gracias.

(Hi, good afternoon. My name is Kyleigh, and I’m an intern at the food bank. I conduct interviews and talk with you all. I would like to hear about your opinions and your experiences. I’ll be over there at the table. Thank you so much.)

 

*Because I am only a beginning/intermediate Spanish student, I was only able to say a certain amount in Spanish. I attempted to keep the most important aspects of my English announcement within the content of the Spanish announcement.

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