Feeding America West Michigan to expand fresh food distributions with CSX, Conservation Fund grant

Feeding America West Michigan's CSX/Conservation Fund grant will fund Mobile Food Pantry distributions like this one.

Feeding America West Michigan’s CSX/Conservation Fund grant will fund Mobile Food Pantry distributions like this one.

CSX and the Conservation Fund announced today that Feeding America West Michigan is one of 10 charitable organizations in the South, Midwest and on the East Coast to receive grants to improve the transportation and distribution of fresh, healthy food to communities in need. Each organization will receive $10,000 to enhance food delivery services so that they can bring fresh, nutritious food to their communities.

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In many underserved communities food distribution organizations, such as food pantries, encounter difficulty getting fresh, healthy food. Many producers and organizations also face challenges retaining quality and safety as they sell, store, package and distribute fresh food. As a result, more than 23 million Americans across the country have limited or no access to fresh produce, dairy, meats and seafood.

Feeding America West Michigan will use its grant to purchase a refrigerated straight truck, which will expand its program capacity and broaden Mobile Food Pantry distribution to additional individuals within communities in need of fresh food in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Food Pantries are particularly effective in areas where there is inadequate “hunger infrastructure,” such as a lack of food pantries or pantries that are limited in hours or refrigerated storage capacity. The refrigerated straight truck will bring 21 new distributions of fresh food annually to more than 7,000 underserved, food-insecure individuals in the Upper Peninsula by January 2017.

As a leading supplier of efficient rail-based freight transportation in North America, CSX recognizes the integral role that transportation plays in connecting communities.

“At CSX, it’s our job to connect communities through transportation every day, so we are proud to work with the Conservation Fund to support the local distribution of healthy and fresh food across many of the communities where we work and live,” said Tori Kaplan, assistant vice president for corporate social responsibility at CSX. “Partnering with local organizations helps us live our commitment to improving the health and wellness of communities across our 21,000 miles of track.”

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding conservation solutions that balance environmental and economic needs, has partnered with CSX to help address gaps in local food distribution and enhance delivery capabilities.

“With CSX’s partnership, we’re not only helping to connect America’s families to fresh fruit and produce but we’re also supporting our local farmers and working farms,” said Kris Hoellen, vice president of sustainable programs at the Conservation Fund. “The Healthy Food Transportation Grant Program is a clear win for American families and farmers.”

The grant program supports organizations that distribute fresh produce and perishable food in the 23 states where CSX operates. Combined, the 10 recipient organizations provide 118,000,000 pounds of nutritious food, the equivalent of 98,000,000 meals, to approximately 6 million people per year.

The other grant recipients include Capital Roots in N.Y., the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and Feeding America Tampa Bay.

Food Club brings new hunger relief model to Grand Rapids

Food Club member Robert checks out on opening day, Tuesday, Jan. 27. Compared to a traditional food pantry, he said, "this is what I would call definitely an upgrade."

Food Club member Robert checks out on opening day, Tuesday, Jan. 27. Compared to a traditional food pantry, he said, “this is what I would call definitely an upgrade.”

Last week Tuesday was a big day for hunger relief in West Michigan, but you can be excused if you didn’t notice. That’s because Jan. 27 was the soft opening of the Community Food Club of Greater Grand Rapids, based at Home Repair Services.

Rather than another food pantry or community kitchen, the Food Club is a membership-based, grocery-store-style resource providing educational programs and a wide variety of foods to Grand Rapids residents with incomes under 200 percent of poverty. Each member pays $10 per month and receives an allotment of points based on household size that can be redeemed for groceries.

Food Club programs manager Holly Anderson stands with Ryan Van Maldegen of Feeding America West Michigan in the Food Club's location at 1100 South Division Ave in Grand Rapids.

Food Club programs manager Holly Anderson stands with Ryan Van Maldegen of Feeding America West Michigan in the Food Club’s location at 1100 South Division Ave in Grand Rapids.

Food Club members must be referred by a founding partner; the partners are Westminster Presbyterian Church/Downtown Food Pantry, United Church Outreach Ministry, Salvation Army Social Services, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Access of West Michigan and Home Repair Services.

Twelve members visited the Food Club on its first day. One of them, Robert, was shopping for himself and his wife. He filled his cart with a bag of apples, a dozen eggs, canned vegetables, bagels, peanut butter, a large box of cereal and a bottle of honey, among other things.

“It’s clean. I like that. It’s set up really nice,” he said of the Food Club. “Our income is very limited, so this helps a lot. This is a blessing.”

For people like Robert who have some income but still struggle with food insecurity, the Food Club provides a way to give as well as receive. That provides members with a greater sense of ownership, an aspect that drew programs manager Holly Anderson to the project when she first heard about it.

“I think what’s magical about the Food Club is it’s promoting food security, along with consumer choice and dignity, and those three dynamics together are a really strong force in improving the food landscape in Grand Rapids,” she said.

Feeding America West Michigan provides most of the groceries available at the Food Club, and Food Bank staff will be assisting with the programming throughout the Food Club’s first three pilot years.

Learn more at communityfoodclubgr.org.

Feeding America West Michigan marks second record-breaking year for hunger relief

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It’s official: Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank just closed out its second record year in a row for food distribution. In 2014, Feeding America West Michigan distributed 26.5 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 20.7 million meals.

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That food, the majority of it donated by farmers, retailers and manufacturers, was distributed to nearly 1,200 food pantries, soup kitchens, after-school programs and senior centers across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Never in its 34-year history has the organization distributed more food than in this past year.

“This is just further evidence that the need for food assistance has not decreased in our community,” said Food Bank CEO Ken Estelle. “Too many of our neighbors are still battling underemployment, joblessness, rising food and healthcare costs. In many cases, this isn’t a one-time emergency. It’s chronic need.”

A family collects food at a Mobile Pantry in Hesperia in August.

A family collects food at a Mobile Pantry in Hesperia in August.

This year’s distribution was up 4 percent over 2013, itself a record year for the organization. More than one third of that food was distributed through the Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry program, which brings produce, dairy and baked goods directly to communities where fresh foods are often difficult to come by. With huge expansions in the Upper Peninsula, the Mobile Pantry program grew by 10 percent to distribute a total of 9.9 million pounds.

Distribution of fresh produce itself increased by 14 percent, due in large part to new partnerships with farmers in the region. Among them is VanSingel Farms, located in Grant, which donated 150,000 pounds of sweet corn to the Food Bank this year. Co-owner Cal VanSingel says he’s motivated to give in large part because of his wife, whose family struggled financially when she was growing up and who taught him to empathize with those who have less.

“I realize God’s given me so much, I just need to give back,” VanSingel said.

Each year, Feeding America West Michigan serves just under half a million people. These people include Brandy, a healthcare worker in Sparta, Artie, a senior on a fixed income in Grand Rapids, and Jon and Elizabeth, an Army couple in Escanaba. Estelle hopes that as his organization addresses their need for food, they are also able to dispel some of the myths about hunger.

“So many of our clients are working hard, maybe one or more jobs, and yet they’re simply not making enough money to meet all their basic needs,” Estelle said. “An injury, a job loss, education costs, a divorce — these are things that can and do happen to people from every background.

“We would all hope to find a helping hand if we were in the same situation, so let’s do everything we can for those who are.”

To get involved in the fight against hunger, consider making a financial contribution or volunteering at the Food Bank.

Remembering friend and colleague Michelle R. King

Michelle R. King-croppedOur friend and colleague Michelle R. King passed away last week at her home. Our thoughts and prayers are with her children, grandchildren, her parents, and friends. Over the last year, she endeared herself to our entire team with her warm smile, her hard work, and her generosity. She is missed.

The family requests that memorial gifts be made to support the education of Michelle’s granddaughters. Checks can be made out to Ashleigh Berger and sent to Langeland Family Funeral Homes at 622 South Burdick Street, Kalamazoo, MI 49007.