From March 2020 to summer 2021, Francesca Almonte trained nearly 160 members of the Michigan National Guard to fight. Fight hunger, that is. As the food bank’s reclamation coordinator, Frank trained soldiers and airmen of all ages and ranks to work in a food bank’s reclamation (food rescue) department. Most importantly, she shared with them her passion for Feeding America West Michigan’s mission and equipped them to fight hunger, not only during their time at the food bank but also after they returned to their daily lives.
“It was very challenging working with so many personalities,” she said, “but it was one of the best experiences of my life. We could not have done so much to fight hunger during the pandemic without them.”
Frank does a great job educating people on the realities of hunger across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Many of the soldiers and airmen had never before realized that hunger exists in our community, or they assumed most people in need were those without homes. As with everyone she trains, Frank emphasized how 1 in 8 of our next-door neighbors faces hunger — and they may not be who you expect.
“Our demographic includes seniors, veterans, young people, college students and single parents just like me,” she said. “That’s why our mission is so important.”
Frank has worked at the food bank for five years, first taking a part-time position as a janitor. At the time, she was a single mom who needed food support herself. Her situation was part of what inspired her to apply. Soon, Frank fell in love with the reclamation department — and with the food bank’s mission. She was honored to share her passion with the soldiers and airmen, two of whom recently took jobs at the food bank.
“Watching someone change and grow and fall in love with this mission and want to be a part of it is what happened to me, so to watch that happen to someone else was amazing,” Frank said.
When it became possible for regular volunteers to safely return to their duties, Frank returned to directing the amazing work they do each year: reclaiming millions of meals’ worth of safe, surplus food donated to the food bank. 30 percent of all the donated food we distribute first passes through the reclamation department before filling our neighbors’ plates.
“I tell my volunteers every day that ‘I just work here. You guys do the work!’ Our volunteers feel good knowing projects that we did today are going on dinner plates the next day.”
Francesca exudes passion and care for the neighbors in our community who are in need. For those currently in that position, she’d say:
“If you need help, ask. There are programs out there to help you. Don’t ever feel embarrassed. You took the responsibility to come and ask for food — and we are going to give it to you.”