Food Bank partners with schools to solve childhood hunger

Volunteers bag onions for local families at Baldwin Community Schools' first Mobile Pantry on April 17.

Volunteers bag onions for local families at Baldwin Community Schools’ first Mobile Pantry on April 17.

Grand Rapids, MI — May 18, 2015 — Michigan’s economy is improving, but thousands of Michiganders still struggle to meet their basic needs. The need is especially high among children. In fact, 1 in 5 kids in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula is at risk of hunger. Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank believes it’s time to change that.

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Funded by a partnership between the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and the Food Bank Council of Michigan, Feeding America West Michigan is expanding its distribution of fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other food items to local schools. Beginning with Dickinson Academy in Grand Rapids in 2013, the Food Bank’s School Mobile Pantry program has expanded to 18 campuses in six counties. The grant is also funding Mobile Pantries at three senior centers.

Marilyn, a mother of two, receives food at Fennville Elementary School in April.

Marilyn, a mother of two, receives food at Fennville Elementary School in April.

New to the program this year is Baldwin Community Schools. Located in Lake County, home to the highest child food insecurity rate in Michigan, Baldwin’s student population has a poverty rate of close to 50 percent. Superintendent Stiles Simmons said the Mobile Pantry is a good complement to the meals offered during school:

“Knowing that our students are going to have nutritious food provided for them at home, not just at school, is comforting.”

The program is making a big impact in Grand Rapids too, where monthly Mobile Pantries are being delivered to 14 schools in the metro area.

Union High School principal Karl Nelson says that getting nutritious food to students is an essential part of education. “Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” he said. “Once we take care of the basic needs, we can ask [students] to do more and expect more.”

Martell Flowers, a single mother with two boys at Union, is currently out of work as she waits for an operation to repair a hand injury. As someone who loves to cook, she appreciates the quantity of fresh produce available at the Mobile Pantry.

“This is a wonderful truck,” Flowers said at Union’s April distribution. “I can’t really afford vegetables. You think about cabbage. It’s two bucks a head. And here they give you four.”

She pointed out the other vegetables on offer: broccoli, prepared salads, large bags of carrots and potatoes. “That’s a big variety, and I think it’s awesome.”

The Food Bank’s school pantry coordinator Elianna Bootzin says that, in spite of the meals served at school and the presence of afterschool backpack programs at some locations, the Mobile Pantry program is still needed:

“We know that these families are facing a substantial meal gap. Even with what’s being provided to the school-age children, there’s still a need for food with the rest of the family. That’s where we come in. This program provides an opportunity for the entire family to get products and ingredients that fill in those gaps,” Bootzin said.

In April, the program distributed a total of 81,796 pounds of food, its biggest month to date. Current grant funding will support the program through 2016.

About Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. Serving local families in need since 1981, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank reclaims safe surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. We distribute that food through a network of more than 1,100 food pantries, youth programs, and other hunger-relief agencies in 40 counties from the Indiana border through the Upper Peninsula. Each year, an estimated 492,100 people receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. For more information, visit FeedingAmericaWestMichigan.org.

Stamp Out Hunger brings in nearly 60,000 pounds of food in Grand Rapids

Food Bank staff members Ryan VanMaldegen and Katie Auwers unload donations during Stamp Out Hunger 2015.

Food Bank staff members Ryan VanMaldegen and Katie Auwers unload donations during Stamp Out Hunger 2015.

Grand Rapids, Michigan — May 12, 2015 — The 23rd-annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive collected nearly 60,000 pounds of food in Grand Rapids on Saturday. The food, which ranged from boxes of cereal and pasta to cans of soup, will be distributed to food pantries and other hunger relief agencies by Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

Stamp Out Hunger is coordinated by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Volunteers Lisa and Evan Plite helped Katie Auwers and other Food Bank staff during Saturday's food drive.

Volunteers Lisa and Evan Plite helped Katie Auwers and other Food Bank staff during Saturday’s food drive.

“The total was down from last year,” said Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan, “but we want to emphasize the fact that, overall, West Michigan is giving more toward hunger relief than ever before.”

All told, Feeding America West Michigan was able to distribute a record-setting 26.5 million pounds of food in 2014, most of it donated by farmers, retailers and manufacturers. Year to date, the Food Bank is currently 11.5 percent ahead of last year in total food received.

Though they make up a small percentage of the whole, food drives like Stamp Out Hunger provide an assortment of nonperishable goods that are not often donated otherwise.

“As they do every year, the Grand Rapids letter carriers put in an enormous amount of extra work to make this happen, taking time out of their busy work days to haul bags of food through the rain and help us load them onto our trucks. We’re grateful to them and to everyone who gave this year,” Estelle said.

To get involved with the ongoing effort to solve hunger, visit FeedingAmericaWestMichigan.org.

About Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. Serving local families in need since 1981, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank reclaims safe surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. We distribute that food through a network of more than 1,100 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in 40 counties from the Indiana border through the Upper Peninsula. Each year, an estimated 492,100 people receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. For more information, visit FeedingAmericaWestMichigan.org.

About the National Association of Letter Carriers. Founded in 1889, NALC is the union of city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service, delivering mail, six days a week, to more than 150 million homes and businesses in every city, suburb and town in America. For more information, visit NALC.org.

Rockford American Legion remembers Randy Ingraham, vet, husband, and father who made a difference

Clyde Sinclair reads a resolution of memoriam in honor of Randy Ingraham at the American Legion's April 28 Mobile Food Pantry.

Clyde Sinclair reads a resolution of memoriam in honor of Randy Ingraham at the American Legion’s April 28 Mobile Food Pantry.

On April 28, the Rockford American Legion held its 64th Mobile Food Pantry in honor of longtime Legionnaire Randy Ingraham, the man who helped get the hunger-relief program started six years ago.

When Randy’s daughter, Feeding America West Michigan volunteer coordinator Dena Rogers, came to the Legion in 2009 and proposed the idea of hosting a Mobile Pantry, Randy, his wife Shelia and their good friends Jim and Val Poot were the first to step up. The two couples each donated $250 to kick off a partnership that would become a major force for hunger relief in northern Kent County.

To date, the monthly Mobile Food Pantry at American Legion Merritt Lamb Post 102 has provided over 400,000 meals and remains the only Mobile Pantry in Rockford.

Volunteers and Mobile Pantry clients listen to resolution in honor of Randy Ingraham.

Mobile Pantry volunteers and clients listen to resolution in honor of Randy Ingraham.

April’s Mobile Pantry included a large selection of fruits, vegetables, beverages, and baked goods, as well as a hundred pounds of food collected by the Land of Lakes Association, to which Randy and Shelia belonged.

Before the food was distributed, former post commander Clyde Sinclair read a resolution honoring Randy’s legacy, adding, “It’s only through the donations and service of people like Randy and Dena and Shelia that this pantry is possible.”

After leaving the Air Force, Randy went into the heating and cooling business, eventually becoming part-owner of B&V Mechanical in Wyoming, Michigan. Randy and Shelia starting dating as sophomores at Cedar Springs High School and were together 50 years.

“They did everything together from morning to night,” Dena said.

The couple had a special fondness for Harleys. “Every summer we would take our motorcycle to go on a two-week trip somewhere,” Shelia said, recalling how they would pack their bags and decide where to go on the fly.
One year, they made it as far as Nova Scotia: “We’d come out of the driveway, flip a coin, and say, are we going to go right or left, and we went left.”

Dena stood in the Legion hall with her mom as the families gathered to receive food. She said her dad’s example of generosity influenced her decision to work in hunger relief.

“To just look out and see the faces, it’s just impactful to know that I’m in the right place and doing the right thing.”

To be a part of the solution to hunger in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, consider making a donation or volunteering your time at Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

Shelia-Clyde-Dena

Hunger rate rises in West Michigan, Upper Peninsula according to new report

Released April 14, Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap report concluded that 49 million Americans struggled with hunger in 2013, including one in seven people in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Released April 14, Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap report concluded that 49 million Americans struggled with hunger in 2013, including one in seven people in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Comstock Park, Michigan — April 20, 2015 — For the first time in five years, the percentage of people struggling with hunger in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula has increased, according to a new study by Feeding America. Hunger threatens one in seven people in the region, including one in five children.

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The researchers behind Map the Meal Gap 2015, released April 14, brought together the latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau to determine that 49 million Americans were at risk of hunger in 2013. The national rate of 15.8 percent is down from 15.9 percent in 2012.

Volunteers bag onions for local families at a Mobile Food Pantry at Baldwin Community Schools, April 17.

Volunteers bag onions for local families at a Mobile Food Pantry at Baldwin Community Schools, April 17.

The report finds 330,910 people at risk of hunger in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, the region served by Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. That represents an increase in the food insecurity rate from 13.4 percent in 2012 to 14 percent in 2013.

While that rate is lower than the overall state figure of 16.4 percent, Feeding America West Michigan’s service area contains some of the highest-need communities in Michigan. Rural communities in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are especially vulnerable with Lake County laying claim to the highest childhood food insecurity rate in the state at 31.4 percent.

“Even as the economy improves, far too many people are still struggling to meet their basic needs,” said Feeding America West Michigan CEO Ken Estelle. “This report provides further evidence that more work needs to be done on this issue.”

The need for food assistance has grown greatly in the last decade, and Feeding America West Michigan has grown with it. Sourcing food from hundreds of farmers, retailers and processors, the Food Bank distributes millions of meals to people in need each year through a network of more than 1,100 food pantries, soup kitchens and afterschool programs. In 2014, the Food Bank distributed 26.5 million pounds of food (a record for the organization) and is currently trending 5 percent ahead of 2014 after the first quarter.

“It’s never simply about the volume of food,” Estelle emphasized. “We want to make sure we’re getting the right kinds of food to the communities where need is highest.”

Beginning in 2013, Feeding America West Michigan expanded its distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables to two high-risk population groups: local schools and rural communities in the Upper Peninsula. Fifteen schools are currently enrolled in the Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry program with another five expected to join by the end of the school year, while Mobile Food Pantry distribution to the Upper Peninsula began in 2013 and reached 300,000 pounds last year.

“The economics of need are very complex, but the bottom line for us is simple: None of our neighbors should have to face an empty cupboard when they come home at the end of the day. There’s enough food to feed everyone in our state, and with enough community support, we can make that happen,” Estelle said.

Findings from Map the Meal Gap 2015

• Average Cost of a Meal in the U.S.: $2.79
• Average Cost of a Meal in Michigan: $2.57
• 49 million Americans are food insecure
• 15.8 million American children are food insecure
• 1.6 million Michiganders are food insecure
• 480,490 Michigan children are food insecure
• 330,910 people are food insecure in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula
• 113,890 children are food insecure in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula

Data from Map the Meal Gap 2015

Data from Map the Meal Gap 2015

About Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. Serving local families in need since 1981, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank reclaims safe surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. We distribute that food through a network of more than 1,100 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in 40 counties from the Indiana border through the Upper Peninsula. Each year, an estimated 492,100 people receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. For more information, visit FeedingAmericaWestMichigan.org.

About Map the Meal Gap. Map the Meal Gap 2015 is based on an analysis of statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation as well as The ConAgra Foods Foundation and Nielsen. The lead researcher is Dr. Craig Gundersen, professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, executive director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group. To view the data, visit Map.FeedingAmerica.org.