Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about the food bank? Hopefully you will find the answers to your questions below. If not, send us an email and we’ll get back to you right away.

New FAQs

FAQs from neighbors in need

Where can people go to get food? What programs are available in my area?

If someone is in need of food, our Find Food page is a good place to start. Neighbors in need can also call 2-1-1 for help. 

Who can get food from the food bank?

Our food bank partners with agencies across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to serve neighbors in need. Depending on the type of program, different restrictions may apply. For example, anyone can receive food from a Mobile Food Pantry. Some of our partner food pantries and meal programs have income or geographic restrictions or serve a specific demographic, but generally, if you seek food from one of our hunger-relief partners, you will be served.   

How can everyone be sure the food is safe?

Our staff and volunteers work hard to ensure the food we provide to our partners is safe to eat. We check all items against food safety guidelines, but the large scale of our operation means, at times, an aging head of lettuce or spoiled carton of milk may exit our doors. If you receive something that appears to be expired, check the Food Keeper App to see if it’s still safe to eat. Also, keep an eye out at your local pantry for postings about recalled food. Did you know that many food items are safe to consume long past their best by dates? This is because food manufacturers typically err on the extreme safe side with expiration dates. You can contact the food bank’s Food Safety Officer, Denise Sweet, with questions at DeniseS@FeedWM.org. 

Can I attend a Mobile Pantry outside of my county/city limits? 

Yes, you may attend any Mobile Food Pantries that are convenient for you. Unlike traditional food pantries, Mobile Pantries don’t have requirements—all they ask is that you confirm your need. 

Is there a limit to how many Mobile Pantries I can attend? 

No, no one is keeping track of your attendance. You may attend Mobile Pantries as often or as little as you need to. 

What will I receive at a Mobile Pantry? 

Every Mobile Pantry provides fresh produce and dairy products, but the specific items depend on season, availability and donations. Some of these food distributions also provide baked goods and/or protein, such as frozen chicken or canned salmon. At each Mobile Pantry, you’ll receive 9 to 11 items, which will equal around 4 or 5 days of supplemental food.  

Are there any hunger-relief programs that deliver food? 

Yes, there are various hunger-relief programs across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula that deliver food. To find out if any traditional pantries near you are among them, visit FeedWM.org/FindFood and reach out to the organizations near you directly to ask. Or, see if there’s a Meals on Wheels chapter nearby. These provide seniors who can’t leave home with ready-to-eat meals. Also consider calling 2-1-1 to ask for recommendations.

In some rural communities, the local bus system picks up food from Mobile Pantries to deliver to neighbors who cannot drive themselves. To find out if your local Mobile Pantry host site offers this, you will need to reach out to the sites on FeedWM.org/FindFood directly. 

Can someone pick up food for me? / Can I pick up food for someone else? 

Most Mobile Food Pantry sites allow “proxy pick-ups” but may have some restrictions—e.g. only allowing each car to pick up for three households. Be sure to call or check the website or social media pages of the Mobile Pantry host site you will be visiting to learn their requirements. In order to pick up for someone else, you must be able to provide their name, address and number of people in household—this data is kept anonymous and used only to gauge community need. 

FAQs about food banking

What is the difference between a food bank and a food pantry?

Unlike a food pantry, a food bank has the space and capacity to handle large donations from the food industry. For example, a food bank has room for a donation of thousands of pounds of frozen, bulk carrots in one of its coolers and can safely process that donation into family-sized portions in its reclamation department. Food banks and food pantries work together to fill neighbors’ plates. The food bank sources, processes and temporarily stores large quantities of various foods. Then, food pantries choose the items and quantities they need to do their work.

Does the food bank charge for food?

Our partners are not allowed to charge clients for food, but our partners do pay a “shared maintenance fee” of 16 to 18 cents per pound of food received from the food bank. This helps us cover overhead costs tied to handling food for the food pantry or meal program. When our partners select items we purchased at wholesale cost—to fill the gaps left by donated food—they also reimburse us for the cost of those items.

Why do companies have so much surplus food?

Food waste occurs at every stage of the food system—from the farm to the dinner table. According to the US Department of Agriculture, up to 40 percent of food produced in the U.S is wasted. Reasons for food waste include bumper crops, package misprints, storage and transportation issues, imperfect aesthetics and over ordering. While much of the food waste occurs during production, 58 percent occurs at consumption (in homes or restaurants), according to the World Resources Institute.  

The food system in the United States aims to produce just the right amount of food, based on historical purchasing trends. This means if something suddenly stops selling well, there’s surplus. This showed up in reverse early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many people began rushing the stores to purchase shelf-stable food. The food system hadn’t expected so many sales at once and didn’t have warehouses full of extra waiting in reserve, so the shelves went bare.  

What makes Mobile Pantries unique?  

In 1998, former Feeding America West Michigan Executive Director John Arnold saw a pop bottle truck driving down the street and thought its roll-up side doors would be a great way to distribute perishable items to people who need them. Mobile Food Pantries were born soon after and the model has since been adopted by food banks across the country! Mobile Pantries act like farmers markets on wheels, bringing fresh produce and other food directly to communities in need. In contrast, traditional pantries and other hunger-relief programs often don’t have space or equipment to store fresh produce, so they focus on shelf-stable items.  

What’s your connection to the Feeding America National Organization?  

Feeding America West Michigan is 1 of 200 food banks in the national network. Together, we serve neighbors in need across the entire country.  

Are there other food banks in Michigan?  

Yes! Ours is 1 of 7 Feeding America member food banks serving Michigan. The Food Bank Council of Michigan developed this map to show each food bank’s service area. Our 40 counties are green.  

What is the Food Bank Council of Michigan’s role in hunger-relief? 

The Food Bank Council of Michigan was founded in 1984—through cooperative efforts of the state’s regional food banks—with a purpose to unify the strategy of hunger-relief efforts across the state. They help Michigan’s food banks access food and advocate on behalf of the hunger-relief network to government representatives. 

What’s the government’s role in hunger-relief efforts?  

For every one meal the Feeding America network provides, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides nine. Because of SNAP and other government hunger-relief programs, many neighbors have consistent access to nourishing food. Other programs include: 

  • WIC, which serves young children and mothers 
  • TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), which provides food from farms and other places to families in need, often distributed by food banks 
  • National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs  

All of these programs, and more, work together to mitigate and decrease food insecurity across the country.  

What role do nonprofits fill in hunger-relief efforts?  

Government hunger-relief programs don’t eliminate the need for charitable food assistance. For example, a family who faces unemployment may need charitable food assistance while they wait for SNAP benefits to come through. Or a low-income family may make just a little bit too much to qualify for any government programs. Or a senior living on a fixed income might qualify for only $16 in SNAP benefits. Or children who qualify for the National School Lunch Program during the week may not have access to other government hunger-relief programs on the weekends. In all of these situations, the charitable food system can step in and fill the gaps.  

Do you distribute fresh and nutritious foods?  

Yes! Since the 1990s, practices have gradually shifted toward providing a wide variety of nourishing foods. At Feeding America West Michigan, our volunteers work hard to sort through all the items donated to us and discard what’s unusable, and our staff works hard to prioritize nutritious options. In fact, in 2020, one-third of the food we provided to our hunger-relief partners were fruits or vegetables. And, nearly half of the food provided by our Mobile Food Pantries is fresh produce!  

Today, many traditional food pantries allow clients to shop as if they were at a grocery store, choosing the foods that are right for their families. New models like food clubs are also becoming more popular, where fruits and vegetables are as fresh as anywhere else—and “cost” fewer points than less-healthy options.  

In short, the food bank and our partner food pantries and meal programs work hard to ensure the food we offer our neighbors is worthy of our own dinner tables. 

FAQs from partners, donors and volunteers

We support our church’s food pantry, why should we support you?

We’re happy you support your local food pantry. They may be one of our partners! When you support the food bank, you’re helping many food pantries and meal programs stretch their program funds and access a variety of food in the exact quantity they need. No other organization in our region is equipped to gather and distribute the volume of food that we do. We appreciate every dollar donated and gifts are always used efficiently: 98% goes directly to hunger-relief programs. 

What impact can my financial donation make? 

Every $1 donated to Feeding America West Michigan helps provide 4 meals’ worth of food! If you were to go to the store and purchase the same amount of food, it would cost $10.89. 

Are food drives helpful? 

Food drives are best used as an advocacy tool and as a way to get kids involved in the fight against hunger. It’s true that financial donations create a bigger and more direct impact but we don’t discredit the fact that food drives can elevate our mission. Learn more about food drives 

What is reclamation and what do reclamation volunteers do?  

The reclamation department is where we process food donations. The projects reclamation volunteers are assigned vary throughout the year. Some common projects include: breaking down bulk product—like cereal or diced carrots—into family-sized portions, sorting food drive donations into 25-pound food boxes, and repacking Pop-Tarts boxes.  

Is there a dress code for volunteering in reclamation? 

Yes, find it here. 

Who can volunteer in reclamation?  

Anyone age eight or older may volunteer, although those under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. We encourage both individuals and groups to get involved and we have a variety of projects for our volunteers to do. See all our volunteer requirements here. If you’d like to learn more, visit our volunteer page.  

Can my food pantry or meal program partner with the food bank?  

If you’re located in our service area, probably! Learn about our agency partnership requirements or Mobile Pantry partnership requirements. 

FAQs about the people we serve

Is there really a hunger crisis in the U.S.? 

Yes. Hunger looks different in America than in other parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We use the term “hunger” because it’s easily understood—we all know what it’s like to feel hungry—but what we are usually referring to is “food insecurity.” Someone who is food insecure can’t always access or afford enough food to live a healthy, active life. As such, not everyone who is food insecure is chronically hungry.  

Around the world, there are places where people have no food and no way to get any for days on end. Usually, food-insecure Michiganders can access or afford some food or even enough calories throughout the month, but need to make trade-offs or use coping mechanisms in order to do so. Neighbors may skip medications, defer loans or buy cheaper—and often less nourishing—food in order to feed their families. They may cope by using programs like SNAP, receiving help from friends and family or receiving food from a food pantry or meal program. 

That’s why it’s helpful to think of food security as a sliding scale. Marginal food security is when someone can access and afford the food they need right now, but only just barely. These neighbors may still rely on consistent access to resources like SNAP or even a food pantry or meal program in order to eat. Low food security is when someone is struggling to be able to access and afford food—especially food that is nutritious or desirable. However, they may be able to fill their plates when using coping mechanisms like those described above. They may miss only a few meals a month, if any. Very low food security, in contrast, is when someone is forced to skip many meals each month. Only a small percentage of people in our service area experience very low food security. Supporting food banks like Feeding America West Michigan and advocating for strong hunger-relief programs like SNAP helps keep very low food security at bay in our community—but there’s still more work to be done if we want to end hunger for good. 

Who does the food bank’s hunger-relief network serve?  

Our hunger-relief network serves people from all walks of life including disabled veterans, grandparents raising grandchildren, families experiencing unemployment, children facing summer hunger, neighbors without homes, low-income workers and many others. Meet some of these neighbors on our blog, and learn about the need here. 

Does having a job prevent food insecurity? 

No. As of 2019, nationally, 51% of food-insecure households had at least one family member working full-time, with 10% working part-time, 15% retired and 16% not working because of a disability. This means that 61% hold jobs that simply don’t pay enough to make ends meet, or that pay just enough to live paycheck to paycheck. In the latter situation, one unexpected expense can rob them of their self-sufficiency. 

Do people in need of food care about nutritious options? 

Yes! A survey of Kent County residents asked participants of all ages and incomes how much they would enjoy a buffet full of only fresh fruit or vegetables. There was no correlation between income and a participant’s desire for fruits and vegetables. Even at the lowest income bracket, 80% said they would enjoy a fruit buffet and 74% a vegetable buffet “a whole lot” or “quite a bit.” Similarly, in 2020, 90% of surveyed Mobile Pantry clients in our service area said they were interested in eating more fruits and vegetables.  

Do people who access charitable food always need help?

Americans rarely experience chronic hunger, but rather experience bouts of it. This means our clients are constantly changing as people fall in or out of need. A USDA study found that 51% of families who experienced food insecurity within a period of 5 years were only food insecure during 1 of those years. Only 6% of families surveyed experienced food insecurity in all 5 years.  

Is hunger most frequently found in cities?

While it’s true that inner-city residents face unique challenges when it comes to accessing and affording enough healthy food, as a whole, in Feeding America West Michigan’s service area, the seven urban counties we serve have lower food insecurity rates than the 33 rural counties we serve—11.3% vs. 13.3%. Over the last 40 years, the economies of rural communities have shifted dramatically. As industrial jobs have disappeared, many businesses have closed and young people have left in search of work. Elderly neighbors and others who stay behind face increasing challenges such as higher priced food, especially fresh food, and distance from grocery stores and other resources. Ironically, rural communities are the backbone of our food system and home to most of our country’s farms. Neighbors from these communities should not struggle to put food on their own families’ plates.