Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes supports the community

The Vicksburg Rotary Club recently hosted Greta Faworski, associate director of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, as a guest speaker. She described the organization and how it meets needs in the county for four decades.

“Loaves & Fishes has been promoting a hunger-free community since 1982,” Faworski told Rotarians.

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes (KLF) is an independent food assistance organization. It is in the top 300 Food Bank List for the State of Michigan with $8 million in revenue, including in-kind food donations.

“The organization has the capacity to source, store and distribute food like a food bank, but maintains a client-focused program model of food pantries and direct social service programs. As such, anyone in Kalamazoo County and surrounding communities can self-declare the need for food assistance.

“No IDs or income verification are required for service. In fact, self-declaration of need is a founding ‘stake in the ground’ for the organization,” Faworski said. “This recognizes that there are many reasons someone might need food assistance and KLF wants to respect and serve anyone who cannot consistently put nutritious food on the table.”

She described local needs from 2019 data in “Feeding America: Map the Meal Gap.” It shows 32,300 individuals, 12.3% of the population, experience food insecurity, including 6,620 children. Eight percent of the county’s local seniors live on less than $12,000 per year. Every school district in Kalamazoo County has at least 25% of its student body eligible for free/reduced meals. It is estimated that these numbers have increased by at least 25% during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, KLF operated 30 pantries using an in-person shopping system that provided four-days’ worth of food for each order, using the KLF Call Center to make the appointments. In addition, KLF completed five mobile food distributions , 600 weekend food packs per week to 11 schools, and partnered with 8-10 agencies to provide food for congregate meals, emergency pack and pantries.

Since the pandemic, Faworski said, KLF now operates 19 pantries with curbside pick-up at most locations providing approximately seven days’ worth of food per participant. Mobile food distributions more than doubled and up to 60 home deliveries are arranged and completed each day. The number of partner agencies for congregate meals, emergency packs and pantries increased as well.

Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes distributes both perishable and non-perishable food and is a direct distributor of USDA food, which is approximately 35% of its inventory, but very volatile. The agency purchases between 45-50% of its inventory to meet its service commitments. Other sources of food include local farmers, grocery stores, and community food drives, such as the South County Annual Postal Food drive each May.

“Due to the amazing generosity of its supporters, KLF now owns a large warehouse on Portage Road just north of Vicksburg. This enhances its reach and ability to serve approximately 27,000 unduplicated individuals and 10,000 households every year. Both Generous Hands and South County Community Services have been long-time partners with KLF. Their directors (Sheri Louis and Drew Johnson, respectively) are grateful for the amazing support KLF provides. In addition, Vicksburg United Methodist Church operates the KLF monthly mobile food distribution in South County,” Faworski said. A client survey in the spring of 2021 showed that 70% of clients preferred curbside pick-up and would like to see it continue. It also became clear that many people had no way to travel to a pantry to obtain necessary food. As a result, the agency decided it was time to invest in two refrigerated vans and software to optimize delivery routes. Each van is able to make about 30 deliveries each day. When asked how the agency could afford such an investment, Faworski noted that 75% of its operating budget is funded by community contributions — and that its long-standing history of support from the community has allowed it to grow and pivot to meet the emerging needs of KLF families.

“We look forward to collaborating with our community to reach people in new ways, strengthen and broaden our partnerships and make appropriate investments for the next 40 years,“ Faworski said.

Editor’s Note: The South County Annual Postal Food drive is scheduled May 14.

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