By Sue Moore
More people may be seeking food assistance in 2015 because of federal cuts in food assistance programs, said Greta Faworski, resource development director for Loaves and Fishes, the largest provider of emergency food in Kalamazoo County. That may mean a 12 to 15 percent increase in the number of people served by the agency which currently helps between 13,000 and 15,000 people a month.
The mission of Loaves & Fishes is to provide supplemental food for those who need it, not to provide all of a family’s nutritional needs, said Faworski, noting that about 38,000 people in Kalamazoo County deal with food insecurity each day, with about 10,500 of them being children.
“There is a strong connection between hunger and poverty,” she said. “All it takes is one small thing to throw a family off and they may find they need our help. We would like to imagine what a hunger free community might look like but until then, we are hitting new levels of need every month.”
To meet the needs in the community, Loaves & Fishes has 24 satellite locations in the area, including one at South County Community Services in Vicksburg and the Schoolcraft food pantry located in the Eagle’s Nest. Other locations are in area churches or community centers.
“We don’t want to make it harder for recipients,” Faworski said. “We don’t have the hoops of other programs or the red tape. Recipients can receive a four day food order per month, with self- declaration of need, they can receive additional food orders if they have a referral from a case worker.”
Loaves & Fishes indirectly partners with the well-known national food assistance program Feeding America, the overarching authority for these types of service agencies, said Faworski. Feeding America is divided into direct distribution organizations (DDOs) or regional distribution organizations (RDOs) which is how Loaves & Fishes is structured.
The Food Bank of South Central Michigan is a DDO and provides low-cost food to nonprofit agencies in seven counties in this area, she said. They are able to buy at substantially lower prices and in bulk from manufacturers, and, in turn, sell to all the other nonprofits providing food to the public.
About one third of the food at Loaves & Fishes comes from the Food Bank, another from relationships with local grocery stores, and the rest from food drives, such as the USPS food drive locally and the Christmas drives sponsored by local churches and charities, she said.
Monetary donations gives Loaves & Fishes greater purchasing power because they can buy larger amounts at a lower price, she said.
About 20 staff members assisted by over 400 volunteers run the agency each week.
Training is provided for the volunteers who are often retirees or employees from local corporations. They drive food trucks, sort and tag food. One of those volunteers is Glenda Greanya Fouch, a former Vicksburg resident, who works once a week at the agency.
“This is an awesome agency that helps a lot of people,” she said. “No questions are asked of the many people getting help. They do have to go through our intake call center that logs their name, but they are not turned down.”