Feeding West Michigan one Food Pantry at a Time

By: Mike DeWitt

What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Do you think of time spent with the family in front of the TV watching football? How about the food? Oh my goodness, yes, the food! Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and so much more. Thanksgiving is a time to carb-o-load and slip into a deep food coma.

For a holiday meant for giving thanks, it’s one that can easily be taken for granted.

Feeding America West MichiganOne in seven people in our region are affected by food insecurity, or an unreliable access to healthy food. Those who are considered food insecure regularly have to skip meals or buy cheaper, less nourishing food because of a lack of funds.

After 34 years and counting, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank is looking to end that problem.

Feeding America West Michigan is a nonprofit organization that supplies food to more than 1,100 food pantries, youth programs, and other hunger-relief agencies in 40 of Michigan’s 83 counties. The food bank acts as the main supplier to the front lines of hunger all across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

When it comes to food, Feeding America West Michigan can pack a punch – and a lunch! Last year, in 2014, the organization distributed over 26.5 million pounds of food. That food serves around 492,100 people, with at least 119,400 of them being children.

The majority of food donated comes from corporations, manufacturers, grocery stores, distributors, and farmers. In all, over 220 companies donate to Feeding America West Michigan. A handful of those companies donate over a million pounds a year.

In order to run efficiently and make sure all that food is delivered on-time and in good shape, the Food Bank makes fine use of its volunteers. On average, 40-50 volunteers help at the Food Bank each day. Volunteering opportunities include processing donated food, filling orders, cleaning, and re-packaging the food that arrives. If you can’t donate your time, there are other ways as well, every dollar donated provides four meals.

Volunteers repackaging cereal
Volunteers repackaging cereal

“The need is not going away. We still see more people needing help,” explained Feeding America West Michigan CEO Ken Estelle on the need for a food bank and food donations. “It’s a lot of working families. We see folks that have jobs, that are working trying to make ends meet but they just get to the point where at the end of the month there’s just not enough to pay all the bills.”

Year to date, Feeding America West Michigan is on pace to distribute more food this year than ever before.

The inability to pay the bills and afford healthy, nutritious food is a struggle for a large majority of the family that utilize the food pantries that Feeding America West Michigan supplies. Over 30 percent of client households had at least one adult member working for pay within the past four weeks before visiting a food pantry.

Here are some other numbers to chew on:

•    72% of client households choose between paying for food and utilities
•    72% of households choose between paying for food and transportation
•    65% of households choose between paying for food and medical care
•    58% of households choose between paying for food and their rent or mortgage
•    23% of households choose between paying for food and education

This Thanksgiving season, remember to give thanks for what you have and to give back to the communities you live in!

For more information on volunteer at Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, click here.