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

Apple Crate-cropped

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.

    Download the Press Release

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.

Go Santa Go 5K spreads holiday cheer, fights hunger in Grand Rapids, December 6

The Go Santa Go 5K comes to Grand Rapids on Dec. 6 in support of local hunger relief.

The Go Santa Go 5K comes to Grand Rapids on Dec. 6 in support of local hunger relief.

November 3, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — On Dec. 6, Grand Rapids’ Millennium Park will be overrun by a mob of Santa Clauses, elves and maybe a few reindeer, all in the name of hunger relief and holiday fun. Proceeds from the Go Santa Go 5K run/walk will be donated to Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank to provide food for families in need this holiday season.

“We were approached with this idea back in the spring, and we loved it,” said Food Bank CEO Ken Estelle.

A combination 5K race and costume contest, Go Santa Go encourages participants to dress up in their snappiest Christmas-themed attire. Prizes will be awarded to the best-dressed individual and team.

Registration is online at Eventbrite.com with Striders in Grandville serving as the packet pick-up location.

NR Road Racing, the team behind Go Santa Go, has a knack for grabbing attention. Based in Indianapolis, they’ve held events like the Glow in the Night 5K and The Chocolate 5K across the country to the benefit of organizations including the Autism Society of Alabama and Gilda’s Club Louisville.

Estelle says the need for community support at Feeding America West Michigan has never been higher.

“Last year, we distributed more food than ever in our 30-plus-year history, and 2014 is going to surpass that total by a significant margin,” he said. “The truth is that so many people are still struggling to make ends meet — working hard but coming up short at the end of the month.

“This is about making sure none of our neighbors go hungry this season.”

Download the Press Release

100 millionth pound distributed through Mobile Pantry program

Volunteers from St. Thomas the Apostle coordinate Mobile Pantries at Congress Elementary School in Grand Rapids each summer.

Volunteers from St. Thomas the Apostle coordinate Mobile Pantries at Congress Elementary School in Grand Rapids each summer.

October 20, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank’s 16-year-old Mobile Food Pantry program reached a new milestone in the fight against hunger this September, distributing its 100 millionth pound of food.

(Download the Press Release)

Developed in 1998 by Feeding America West Michigan’s former executive director John Arnold, the Mobile Pantry model provides a way to quickly distribute perishable foods like dairy, baked goods, and fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need wherever they live. This West Michigan idea spread quickly throughout the hunger-relief community and has been adopted by food banks from San Diego, California, to Portland, Maine.

“Mobile Pantries allowed, for the first time, large amounts of perishable product to be distributed to clients. Prior to that, these foods were hard to distribute in a normal pantry environment,” said Feeding America West Michigan CEO Ken Estelle.

In 2014, the Food Bank has distributed an average of 809,000 pounds of food per month on Mobile Pantries, making it very likely that this will be the program’s biggest year yet.

Today’s Mobile Pantry trucks are loaded with 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of food and delivered to a remote site, often a church or school parking lot. The food is displayed on tables in the manner of a farmers’ market where it can be collected by neighborhood families. Because Mobile Pantry distributions can be set up almost anywhere and generally take less than two hours to complete, the model has allowed Feeding America West Michigan to increase its outreach to communities, especially in the Upper Peninsula, where food pantries and community kitchens are scarce.

The model has also given non-hunger-relief organizations a chance to get involved. The American Legion post in Rockford has hosted a Mobile pantry for five years, serving thousands of Rockford-area families.

“We don’t have the facilities” to accommodate a traditional brick-and-mortar pantry, said post commander Clyde Sinclair. “This allows us to help.”

Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Pantry program has grown by 42 percent from 2008 to 2013 alone. Estelle attributes that growth to three factors: the increased quality of the food available on Mobile Pantries, vehicle grants that have grown the Food Bank’s truck fleet and extensive underwriting from foundations and individuals.

Those underwriters include the Allegan County Community Foundation, Archer Daniels Midland, Berrien Community Foundation, ConAgra, Darden Foundation, Fremont Area Community Foundation, Greater Ottawa County United Way, Mercy Health Partners, Morgan Stanley, Pokagon Fund, Tripura Foundation, Upton Foundation and Walmart Foundation.

For Estelle, the program is also personal. He and his wife, Kathy, helped bring one of Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Pantries to their church more than 10 years ago. Volunteering at the distributions was something of an epiphany for him.

“The thing that struck me was that these people were very much like me. Any of us are maybe one or two life events away from being in a position of needing help,” he said.

“They’re not different. They’re just our friends and neighbors.”

To meet a few of the people who have benefited from Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Pantry program, visit feedingamericawestmichigan.org/realstories.