Michigan startup debuts clothing line to support hunger relief

Live Love Michigan's new Food Bank designs go on sale Monday, Aug. 25, at holdontohope.org.

Live Love Michigan’s new Food Bank designs go on sale Monday, Aug. 25, at holdontohope.org.

August 21, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — Five months after launching their first Hold On To Hope campaign for Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, Live Love Michigan is debuting a second line of clothes to benefit the hunger-relief organization.

Download this press release

The model is pretty straightforward: From Aug. 25 to Sept. 7, Live Love Michigan will donate 50 percent of the sale price of every Food Bank shirt, tank top or pullover they sell. Because Feeding America West Michigan is able to distribute four meals for every dollar donated, that works out to roughly 50 meals per sale. Live Love Michigan’s spring campaign raised $726, the equivalent 2,904 meals.

“The response from the first campaign was one of our best,” said Abbey Ehn, campaign manager for Hold On To Hope. “The fact that a family of four could be fed for a week on just $20-some dollars is not only impressive, it’s something that helps all Michiganders understand that every dollar does make a difference.”

The fundraiser comes hot on the heels of the release of Hunger In America 2014, a nationwide study conducted by Feeding America and its member food banks, which found that the network served one in seven Americans in 2013, including nearly half a million people in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Alarming as those figures are, they are in keeping with the increase in demand Feeding America West Michigan has seen over the past few years. In spite of an economy that is improving overall, unemployment, underemployment and the new prevalence of part-time work continue to make life difficult for thousands in West Michigan.

“The positive side of this is that we’re able to serve so many people,” said Feeding America West Michigan CEO Ken Estelle.

“With enough financial support from individuals and Michigan companies like Live Love Michigan — together with the local farmers and retailers who donate their surplus food — we know we can meet the need.”

To view Live Love Michigan’s new line of Food Bank apparel, visit holdontohope.org.

New study reveals face of hunger in West Michigan, Upper Peninsula

Conducted every four years, Hunger in America 2014 was released Aug. 18, 2014.

Conducted every four years, Hunger in America 2014 was released Aug. 18, 2014.

August 18, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — Hunger in America 2014, a study conducted by national hunger-relief organization Feeding America, finds that an estimated 492,100 people in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula turn to Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank and its network of food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families. This includes 58,200 seniors and at least 119,400 children.

Hunger in America 2014 found that, nationwide, more than 46 million people turn to Feeding America food banks for help each year. Feeding America West Michigan is just one of the more than 200 food banks in that network.

The study offers a snapshot of the people served by Feeding America West Michigan — their circumstances, the challenges they face and the choices they are forced to make living on extremely limited incomes.

“This study shows us that the face of hunger looks a lot like the one we see in the mirror,” said Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan. “Most of us are one or two catastrophic events away from being in the same position.

“There’s a myth out there that those who seek assistance are lazy, that they are choosing not to work. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Estelle said.

The study found that in 30.2 percent of client households, at least one adult had worked for pay in the last four weeks. Additionally, 40 percent had at least some education beyond high school.

The study underscored the fact that food insecurity is generally one of many difficulties facing the people we serve. Among Feeding America West Michigan clients, 18.9 percent of households have no health insurance coverage at all, 65 percent have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or healthcare, and 22.6 percent have been evicted or foreclosed on in the last five years.

“The Hunger in America 2014 findings demonstrate the urgent need for all of us to address hunger in our communities,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America. “This data provides a factual basis for decisions about how we as a nation approach hunger relief and protect our most vulnerable citizens.” 

Facts from Hunger in America 2014

• Feeding America West Michigan serves 492,100 people annually, including 58,200 seniors and at least 119,400 children.
• 76.5 percent of Feeding America West Michigan client households had incomes less than $20,000 per year.
• 25.4 percent of client households include a veteran or current service member, compared to 20 percent of client households nationally.
• 65 percent of clients have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medications or care.
• 70.6 percent of clients are white, 7.4 percent are black and 10.1 percent are Hispanic.
• 9.1 percent of adult clients are students.

Hunger in America 2014 was conducted using rigorous academic research standards and was peer reviewed by a technical advisory team including researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the Urban Institute. Nationally, confidential responses were collected on electronic tablets by 6,000 trained volunteer data collectors.

The study was funded by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

The report for West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula can be viewed at feedingamericawestmichigan.org. The full national report is available at feedingamerica.org.

Food Bank luncheon provides 192,000 meals for local families

Judge Sara Smolenski, right, talks with guests at the Many Hands Against Hunger fundraising luncheon. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

Judge Sara Smolenski, right, talks with guests at the Many Hands Against Hunger fundraising luncheon. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

June 12, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — At its Many Hands Against Hunger fundraising luncheon Tuesday, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank raised $48,000, enough to provide 192,000 meals to food-insecure families in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Judge Sara Smolenski gave a keynote speech that wove anecdotes from her years on the 63rd District Court together with a plea to care for those struggling in our midst.

Judge Smolenski and Owen Ronning banter on stage. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

Judge Smolenski and Owen Ronning banter on stage. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

To cap the program, Smolenski invited nine-year-old Owen Ronning to join her on stage. Ronning talked about how receiving food at a Mobile Food Pantry motivated him to become a Food Bank advocate. Last year, Ronning raised money to sponsor his own Mobile Pantry in Jamestown Township, feeding 117 families. His third grade class is now selling popsicles to bring a second distribution to the community.

If a nine-year-old can make a difference in the fight against hunger, Smolenski said, imagine what all of us can do.

The program also featured a performance by local artists Rebekah Rhys and Mark Sala, and an award presentation that honored Buist Community Assistance Center, Golden K Kiwanis, Country Fresh and the Northwest Food Coalition for their partnership with Feeding America West Michigan. Sysco and Kiolbassa Provision Company donated food for the event.

Many Hands Against Hunger was underwritten by Meijer with support from Metro Health Hospital and Star Truck Rentals.

9-year-old anti-hunger advocate to join Judge Smolenski on stage at luncheon

Nine-year-old Owen Ronning, center, raised money to bring a Mobile Food Pantry to his Hudsonville community last summer.

Nine-year-old Owen Ronning, center, raised money to bring a Mobile Food Pantry to his Hudsonville community last summer.

May 30, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — On June 10, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank is hosting a fundraising luncheon to support hunger relief in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

    Download the Press Release

The event, called Many Hands Against Hunger, features an encore appearance from Judge Sara Smolenski as keynote speaker. This year, she’ll be joined by nine-year-old Owen Ronning, one of the Food Bank’s strongest advocates.

Last summer, Owen had an unusual birthday request: Instead of an Xbox game or a new bike, he asked for a Mobile Food Pantry. With his parent’s encouragement, he went door to door until he had collected enough money to give 5,000 pounds of fresh produce and other goods to families in need in his hometown of Hudsonville.

“We think it’s going to be a powerful moment,” said Food Bank CEO Ken Estelle. “He’s a living example of something we say all the time in food banking, that everybody has something to offer, whether it’s time, money, or passion. In Owen’s case, he’s given all three.”

In 2013, Feeding America West Michigan distributed more food than in any previous year: 25.6 million pounds, or approximately 20 million meals.

Judge Sara Smolenski of the 63rd District Court will deliver the keynote at Many Hands Against Hunger on June 10.

Judge Sara Smolenski of the 63rd District Court will deliver the keynote at Many Hands Against Hunger on June 10.

“In spite of all the positive economic signs, the need is growing,” Estelle said.

As the recent debate over Michigan’s minimum wage illustrates, thousands of Michiganders have gone back to work but aren’t making enough to get by. That means private organizations like Feeding America West Michigan continue to play a pivotal role in making sure that the 1.7 million people who struggle with hunger in the state can get enough to eat.

“As long as there’s a need for our services, we’ll be there to help,” Estelle said. “And we couldn’t do that without the financial support of people in the community.”

To reserve your seat at the luncheon and join Feeding America West Michigan in the fight against hunger, visit FeedingAmericaWestMichigan.org/Luncheon. The cost is $25 per person. Registration closes at noon on June 6.

Many Hands Against Hunger is being underwritten by Meijer with support from Metro Health Hospital and Star Truck Rentals.