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.

Vacation vocation: Life as a photographer

Alisha Siebers, Executive Director, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center

When Bill Christiansen retired from a multi-faceted career in production at Pfizer, he never imagined he’d be starting a new vocation as an artist. Now, nine years later, his life is built around the rhythm of the art fair scene as he travels around the country selling his photographs in the summer and then sets out in the fall to find the perfect shots of landscapes and wildlife to expand his portfolio.

Over the years, Bill has developed a sense of what distinguishes an artistic photo from a snapshot. He explains that it helps to have a good camera, but what elevates a shot to art is how photographers add their own perceptions, feelings, and drama to a picture. Bill’s goal is to make the photo reflect what he saw and felt at a location.

When he and his wife Deb head out to the wilds in October to take photos, they will often hire a photography guide who knows the area and can take them to non-touristy places not found in guidebooks. Sometimes they have to return to a spot several times until the light is right or until they capture something amazing, like reflections in water, a double rainbow, or a bird taking off in flight. The difference could be a matter of minutes — one photo looks mediocre, while the next lands on something surprising and fresh. Capturing photos in nature takes patience: time to scout out locations at different times of day, patience with the weather, and willingness to take dozens of shots.

Bill’s tactics are definitely paying off. In 2017 he won first and fifth place for the Michigan History Magazine back cover photo contest and recently four of his photos were accepted for a National Parks exhibit at R Gallery in Boulder, Colo.

Bill also captures exceptional images close to home in South County and throughout Michigan. These images tend to be customer favorites at Michigan shows.

Part of the fun of Bill’s new vocation is travelling with Deb to art shows. They will go early to set up, enjoy a meal out, and meet up with other vendors who work in all kinds of art forms. Bill appreciates the variety of beautiful works at the shows and the way all of the artists want each other to do well. It’s been a great experience to meet other artists and to be able to discuss his work with folks who visit his booth.

The art fair season kicks off soon! After their first show Memorial Day weekend in Walloon Lake, you can visit Bill and Deb at their next show: The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Fair in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park on Friday June 2 from noon to 8 p.m., and Saturday June 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Stop in and let them know you saw this article in the South County News.

Vicksburg Rotary celebrates water quality initiatives

Program team, left to right: Mike Gallagher (Gull Lake), Melissa DeSimone (Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, Lee Philport, and Dr. John Wilks,(Indian Lake) and Mark Mitchell (Vicksburg Rotary Membership/Program Co-Chair).

Local and state clean-water advocates gathered for a Vicksburg Rotary Club meeting in March to honor the service club’s commitment to water quality and highlight work of local residents to protect South County’s lakes.

Rotarian Lee Philport assembled a “boatload” of advocates, including Dave Maturen, president of Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, and Melissa De Simone, the association’s executive director.

Association board member John Wilks provided an overview of the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP) and its work on Indian Lake. Board member Mike Gallagher shared Gull Lake’s monitoring program. Members of the Barton Lake monitoring team and residents of Sunset Lake were also in the audience.

The biggest challenges to a lake’s water quality are usually attributed to farm run-off, outflow from septic tanks and poor lawn fertilization practices around the lake. All add nutrients to the water which can lead to a “natural” eutrophication of the lake. Polluted inputs from rivers and creeks also can introduce challenges.

Indian Lake and Barton Lake residents have volunteered many hours over many years as members of CLMP to monitor these local lakes. The use of trained volunteers throughout the state broadens the collection of data that would otherwise be difficult or too expensive to gather.

The Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps) is a network of such volunteer water quality monitoring programs. It assists the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) in collecting and sharing water quality data for use in water resources management and protection programs. Kalamazoo County has five lakes actively being monitored: Barton, Gull, Indian , Paw Paw and Woods. Barton Lake has been providing water quality reports since 1976 and Indian Lake started in 1981.

Indian Lake and Barton Lake residents have volunteered many hours over many years as members of CLMP to monitor these local lakes. The use of trained volunteers throughout the state broadens the collection of data that would otherwise be difficult or too expensive to gather.

Those interested in state and local programs can visit MiCorps.net to review the data collected on lakes across the state and could consider joining the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association. Membership includes a subscription to The Michigan Riparian Magazine, devoted exclusively to covering issues relevant to the protection, preservation, and improvement of Michigan’s inland waters.