Comstock Park, MI — April 5, 2016 — In January, Feeding America West Michigan announced its transition to a new food distribution model in the Upper Peninsula. It’s been three months. So how has it gone?
In the first quarter of 2016, Feeding America West Michigan distributed 697,000 pounds of food in the Upper Peninsula, the equivalent of 581,000 meals — a 53 percent increase over 2015.
The organization has set a goal of increasing total food distribution in the Upper Peninsula by 50 percent over 2013, the last year before new distribution methods were introduced. So far this year, distribution is 68 percent ahead of 2013.
“This was a big change,” said Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan, “but we made it because we truly believe it will get more food to people in need, and we want people to hold us accountable to that.”
“We believe our numbers clearly show the transition is working,” Estelle said.
So what changed? At the end of March, Feeding America West Michigan officially closed its branches in Ishpeming and Sault Ste. Marie and is now serving the Upper Peninsula through its Mobile Food Pantry program and by shipping food directly from its headquarters near Grand Rapids, the main hub for charitable food donations in the region. In bypassing the branch warehouses, which had very limited storage capacity, the new methods make it possible to distribute far more fresh produce, dairy and meat in the UP.
“To us, it’s all about getting more food to more people and increasing the quality and nutritional value of that food,” Estelle said.
The transition was not made overnight. It began in 2014 with a few Mobile Food Pantry deliveries at agencies like the Luce County Community Resource and Recreation Center in Newberry, which hosted its first Mobile Pantry in November of that year.
“It used to be like for Thanksgiving we could [serve] 20 families where now we can do 200,” said director Mary Archambeau. “It is astronomically different and helps so many more people.”
Estelle acknowledges that a few agency partners have expressed concern over the transition, citing lack of volunteer support or inability to drive to delivery locations that in a few instances will be farther from agencies than the branches were.
“We’re working with these partners on a case-by-case basis,” Estelle said. “We truly believe this will be a great improvement for those agencies and the families they serve.”
If Feeding America West Michigan’s new distribution model is going to work, it needs the support of new funders in the Upper Peninsula. The Community Foundation for Delta County began underwriting and coordinating Mobile Pantries last year. They’ve sponsored 12 Mobile Pantries so far, including one last Wednesday at the UP State Fairgrounds, and executive director Gary LaPlant says he hopes to fund another 12.
“I want to keep doing this until the economy is better and people aren’t lining up for free food — and we have a lot of people lining up for free food,” he says.
LaPlant encourages other local foundations and businesses to get involved with Feeding America West Michigan. “Why? Because [Feeding America West Michigan] can get people fed. That’s the best reason I can think of.”
Currently, Feeding America West Michigan is operating six to eight Mobile Pantries in the Upper Peninsula each month. The organization hopes to run a total of 100 Mobile Pantry distributions in 2016.
For her part, Mary Archambeau plans to bring another Mobile Pantry to Newberry in early June. She says she’s working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to target the distribution at low-income families whose kids will not be able to access school meals during the summer.
“I’ve had so many thank-yous from so many people in this and the surrounding community,” Archambeau said. “I highly appreciate what the Food Bank does for this community.”
About Feeding America West Michigan. Serving local families in need since 1981, Feeding America West Michigan reclaims safe surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. We distribute that food through a network of more than 1,100 food pantries, youth programs, and other hunger-relief agencies in 40 counties from the Indiana border through the Upper Peninsula. Each year, an estimated 492,100 people receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. For more information, visit FeedWM.org.