Feeding America West Michigan receives $15,000 grant from Caterpillar Foundation

The Caterpillar Foundation is awarding $1.5 million in grants to Feeding America member food banks this year to support hunger relief across the country.

The Caterpillar Foundation is awarding $1.5 million in grants to Feeding America member food banks this year to support hunger relief across the country.

This spring, the Caterpillar Foundation granted $15,000 to Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank to bring more food to people struggling with hunger.

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The grant, part of a $1.5 million investment the Caterpillar Foundation is making in food banks across the country, will be used to source more food for pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in the Food Bank’s 40-county service area, where food insecurity affects 1 in every 5 children.

“We believe that Michigan has more than enough food to meet the need. The true barrier isn’t food. It’s funding. This grant will do much to ease the pain of hunger in our region,” said Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan.

The donation is especially timely, according to Feeding America’s newly released study Map the Meal Gap 2014, which shows that 317,000 people face food insecurity in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

But as great as the challenges are, the region has also seen more private support for hunger relief than ever before. Last year, Feeding America West Michigan distributed 25.6 million pounds of food — the equivalent of 20 million meals — setting a new record for the 33-year-old organization.

To learn more about the Caterpillar Foundation, its goals and initiatives, visit caterpillar.com.

Announcement from Ken Estelle, CEO: Food Bank reaches new milestone

Karr Vander Baan-apple picking-cropped

On March 18, 2014, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank distributed its 400 millionth pound of food.

The story of how we got from our first pound more than three decades ago to 400 million today is a story of compassion and tenacity. It’s the story of thousands of volunteers, donors and advocates who saw us through three moves, four recessions, hundreds of truck repairs and an expansion from one county into 40. But most importantly, it’s the story of all those children who were able to grow up and live out their dreams because hunger didn’t hold them back.

I’d like to look back at our history and recognize just a few of the dreamers who got us here.

John Arnold, Feeding America West Michigan's longest-serving executive director.

John Arnold, Feeding America West Michigan’s longest-serving executive director.

West Michigan Gleaners, Inc. was incorporated on April 23, 1981, under the direction of Betty Jane Alkema. At that time the Food Bank was operating in 5,000 square feet of rented space on Logan Street in southwest Grand Rapids and distributing about 8,000 pounds of food per month. But it wasn’t long before the idea of food banking took off.

“We had that big warehouse just across the river from downtown Grand Rapids,” said former executive director Gretchen Bouwsma, who oversaw the move to the Jefferson location, “and someone gave us a whole truck full of onions. And the only thing wrong with them [was] they had a little black you had to wipe off.”

When another farmer dropped off a truckload of carrots soon after, the then-revolutionary idea of reclaiming surplus food took root in West Michigan.

The Food Bank distributed its 1 millionth pound of food under Gretchen’s leadership in November 1983, and the following year, our Food Bank tapped in to the national food system by joining the fledgling Second Harvest network.

1989 saw the beginning of John Arnold’s tenure as executive director. In the succeeding decades the Food Bank grew and changed, stretching into the Upper Peninsula and pioneering new ideas like client choice and Mobile Food Pantries that would become hallmarks of American food banking.

Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan since 2011.

Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan since 2011.

Since I had the daunting task of stepping into John, Gretchen and Betty Jane’s shoes, Feeding America West Michigan has dedicated more resources to sourcing healthy foods, brought Mobile Food Pantries to the UP for the first time, forged new partnerships with local schools and added Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan to our network of warehouses.

But for as much as the Food Bank has changed over the years, our mission has remained the same: to get food to our neighbors in need. For as long as hunger threatens people in our communities, Feeding America West Michigan will be there to lend a hand.

We hope you’ll be there too.

Michigan startup sends 2,900 meals to local families

Trifecta-Three Designs

After a two-week campaign, Lansing-based startup Live. Love. Michigan. raised enough money to send 2,900 meals to local families through Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

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Through its Hold on to Hope campaign, the company designed a line of shirts, sweatshirts, pullovers and tank tops expressing the core themes of Feeding America West Michigan’s mission. Fifty percent of each sale was donated to the Food Bank.

Over the next year, Live. Love. Michigan. will design more apparel for the organization, donating 25 percent from each sale. A new campaign for the Baldwin Center in Pontiac began on Monday.

To learn more about Live. Love. Michigan., view the Feeding America West Michigan collection or nominate a nonprofit, visit holdontohope.org.

Late thaw and soggy soil: Food Bank Farm looks ahead to year two

The Food Bank Farm team discusses the season ahead. Left to right: Katie Auwers, food sourcing specialist for Feeding America West Michigan, Dr. Adam Kantrovich, MSU-Extension educator, and Matt Hehl, West Michigan Agricultual Education Center board member.

The Food Bank Farm team discusses the season ahead. Left to right: Katie Auwers, food sourcing specialist for Feeding America West Michiga, Dr. Adam Kantrovich, MSU-Extension educator, and Matt Hehl, West Michigan Agricultual Education Center board member.

It’s March, and even though the fields may still be covered in snow, Feeding America West Michigan has its eye on planting.

The Food Bank Farm project, begun last year with the help of the West Michigan Agricultural Education Center, is entering its second season. As we did last year, we’ll be growing sweet corn. The hope is that, with the help of WMAEC and our volunteers, we’ll be able to get an even larger yield than the 17,192 pounds harvested in 2013.

Simple to plant and fairly resilient in Michigan’s unpredictable weather, sweet corn is one of those vegetables that’s adored by almost everyone. All it takes to prepare is a burner and a soup pot, and it’s packed with fiber, a nutrient sorely lacking in many processed foods. Plus, it comes with its own wrapper.

What has this winter’s relentless snowfall mean for planting?

“Well, we’ll have to wait and see,” said Dr. Adam Kantrovich, a farm management educator with Michigan State University-Extension and a WMAEC board member.

“The positive to having a heavy snowfall is hopefully it will infiltrate into the ground for more ground moisture,” he said

The problem is that a late thaw could throw us off schedule. The soil needs to reach 50 degrees before the seed is planted, or it could rot in the ground.

At this point, Kantrovich estimates that planting will begin in early June. So whether this tough winter turns out to be a blessing or a curse for Michigan corn growers, we’ll have to wait and see.