Food distribution needs grow with pandemic, schools reopening

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published September 17, 2020

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METRO DETROIT — The 11th year of the “Mow Down Hunger” campaign may be the most important of them all.

The campaign, composed of a partnership between Gleaners Community Food Bank and Weingartz, began Sept. 14 and concludes Oct. 6. Weingartz, a Michigan-based and family-owned retailer, will match donations dollar for dollar, for up to 1 million meals.

Each dollar donated to Gleaners provides six nutritious meals to hungry children across five counties in southeast Michigan: Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Livingston and Monroe.

Stacy Averill, vice president of community giving and public relations at Gleaners, said Weingartz approached the food bank 11 years ago to start the campaign to put a dent in hunger and food insecurity. The campaign kickoff is aligned with when schools reopen.

More than 310,000 children in southeast Michigan rely on free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunches at school, Gleaners said. That extends into the School Food Mobile pantries program, which provides healthy food options to students and families at more than 80 area distribution sites.

Averill said that, during every visit, between about 75 and 100 families are provided with supplies like fresh milk, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein that supplement said families for one month. The program includes nutritional education, such as cooking demonstrations, food tasting and recipes.

“Those items help families stretch their budgets and stretch their dollars each month, to provide support they may need to get through,” she said. “Right now, that support is more important than ever because the pandemic has hit households in an economic way.”

School districts work individually with Gleaners to determine rates of need, with relationships maturing over the years to give Gleaners a better idea of social determinants. Each district handles the mobile pantries differently, based on need.

Averill said that, since the pandemic began, a number of additional distribution and mobile sites have been set up. The food bank is also discussing other options “to maximize efficiencies and effectiveness.”

Over time, needs fluctuate, Averill said, “but since the pandemic, things spiked.” She said that child food insecurity will rise to nearly 24% in southeast Michigan, putting one in four children at risk of going hungry. That number usually hovers around one in seven children.

“I imagine that households right now are focused on trying to make sure their kids are getting the school that they need and having a lot of uncertainties has got to be stressful,” she said.

There are distribution sites and/or school food mobile pantries in municipalities that include Clinton Township, Roseville, Harper Woods, Eastpointe, Hazel Park, Warren, Center Line, Mount Clemens, Sterling Heights, Troy and Southfield.

Those interested in benefiting can visit www.gcfb.org and view a list of distribution sites, a calendar and a map. They can also call 211 and allow for operators to gather more information. Anyone can benefit from the program, and there are no qualifications necessary. The only question asked will be how many members are in the household, which is used as a statistic to better understand the totality of food hunger.

Anyone interested in donating to “Mow Down Hunger” can visit www.mowdownhunger.org or call (855) 315-3663.