Getting food to the homes of families in need across 40 counties is no simple task. That’s why Feeding America West Michigan relies on the generous support of diverse partners to accomplish our mission. This year, we’re taking a deeper look at one of our most essential types of partners—our food donors. These farmers, retailers, manufacturers and “food drivers” help keep our shelves stocked so we can keep meeting the need for charitable food. Every month, we’ll be highlighting one of these amazing food donors who makes our work possible.
For more than a decade, Value-Added Foods has helped Feeding America West Michigan get a variety of shelf-stable foods onto the plates of neighbors in need, quickly and affordably.
While much of the food we distribute comes from donors—like retail stores, manufacturers, farmers and community food drives—30 percent of what we distribute is purchased to fill nutritional gaps. Food banks are purchasing more because donations are decreasing, in part because tech is improving. For example, manufacturers would historically donate foods with misprinted labels; now, fewer items are misprinted in the first place.
Partners like Value-Added Foods help us overcome the challenge of decreasing donations. Ben, the organization’s owner, explained their role:
“We’re basically taking on the role of buyer. We’re doing that work so food bank staffers don’t have to invest as much time and energy into purchasing food.”
Value-Added Foods has relationships with diverse food manufacturers across the globe. This allows them to follow manufacturing trends, and, if needed, they use this insider knowledge to “price protect” foods for their clients—they purchase large quantities of items they know may soon go up in price. This keeps costs low for food banks like ours, enabling us to put more food on the plates of our neighbors in need. This work is particularly essential right now because many foods are becoming harder to access.
For example, Ben explained, the packaging used in juice boxes is becoming scarce. This will likely create a juice box shortage in a few months. Because Value-Added is aware of this, they’re purchasing lots of juice boxes right now, so food banks like ours—and, in turn, our partner food pantries and meal programs—will be able to access them at low costs, even if they’re expensive at the grocery store.
This partnership has the added benefit of saving our food bank time. Instead of our team needing to contact dozens of manufacturers to find juice boxes—and then make space to store them once ordered—we let Value-Added take on this work.
Once we order items like juice boxes, our partner food pantries and meal programs can similarly order them from us, without having to worry what they cost at a store. All they have to do is order the exact amount of juice boxes they want from and pick them up—or even have them delivered!
Ben first realized hunger was a problem in elementary school, when he noticed kids in his class skipping lunch or eating very little. This still strikes him to this day.
“It drives me nuts,” he said. “There’s still way more that can be done.”
Value-Added Foods became focused on food banks more than 20 years ago when Ben’s father visited a food bank and realized the challenges they face purchasing food. Now, the organization serves only food banks—175 of them across the country!
“We all move forward together if we all partake in ending hunger,” Ben said. “We’re giving people a hand up.”
The journey to ending hunger in our community is complex. That’s why the food bank needs partners at every step in the food supply chain. We’re thankful that Value-Added Foods allows us to access a wide variety of items for our neighbors in need—even when donations are slim. Plus, they often donate items to us that are unsellable but perfectly safe to eat!
We’re also thankful for the generous support of individuals across our community. We are able to turn every dollar donated into four meals!
Story written by Communication and Marketing Specialist, Juliana Ludema.