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.
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.”
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.”