Volunteers unload fresh produce for a pop-up food pantry at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield Aug. 27.

Volunteers unload fresh produce for a pop-up food pantry at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield Aug. 27.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


‘Pop-up’ pantries provide food assistance in West Bloomfield during pandemic

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 3, 2020

 Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield has started a pop-up food pantry. One of the services volunteers provide is to help load food into vehicles.

Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield has started a pop-up food pantry. One of the services volunteers provide is to help load food into vehicles.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Wren Hack, left, and Rabbi Daniel Schwartz are pictured at Temple Kol Ami. As part of her work for Hazon, which is a Jewish nonprofit organization, Hack helps make deliveries to food pantries.

Wren Hack, left, and Rabbi Daniel Schwartz are pictured at Temple Kol Ami. As part of her work for Hazon, which is a Jewish nonprofit organization, Hack helps make deliveries to food pantries.

Photos by Patricia O’Blenes

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Life looks a lot different for Milford resident Wren Hack than it did a year ago at this time.

As the director of Hazon, which is a Jewish nonprofit organization, she was primarily working in the field of environmental sustainability.

But with so many people now struggling to get enough food, a large amount of Hack’s focus has shifted to “sustainability at its most basic level — making sure people have enough food to eat.”

“The pandemic has caused such a break in the food system,” she said. “People have lost their jobs.”

Realizing the severity of the situation, Hack said, “We needed to jump into it.”

In March, she began making deliveries to food pantries in the region of rescued food from box stores, restaurants and other pantries.

Deliveries have been made via Hack’s pickup and a truck that was loaned to Hazon.

After receiving an Oakland County United Way grant, Hazon was also able to lease a high-ceiling cargo van and hire a part-time driver, with deliveries being made in Oakland, Livingston and Wayne counties.

Volunteers have also helped make deliveries.

“We’ve moved over, what is it, 115,000 pounds of food since June 24,” Hack said. “In June, we had 17 pantries we were delivering to, and now we have 45. … A number of them are pop-up pantries. They are people, just like you or myself, who’ve seen the need and decided to do something about it. So they create a pantry out of their garage (or) yard.”

Hack discussed the kind of food that is being delivered.

“It can be produce, nonperishables and, oftentimes, meat,” she said. “We have a warehouse very kindly allowing us to store 17,000 pounds of chicken, which we were able to get and stockpile.”

Hack said “thousands and thousands” of people are being fed and supplemented.

One of Hack’s delivery stops is Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, which recently started a pop-up pantry of its own.

“The congregation saw a need in our local community,” said West Bloomfield resident Jill Gutmann. “There’s such a high rate of unemployment, so they got together with Hazon. … It’s a pop-up in the sense that it’s temporary to fill a need in the crisis.”

Volunteers from the temple put food into the vehicles of community members who can use assistance.

Masks are also included with bags of food.

The pantry operates from approximately 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Thursdays for those who sign up at tinyurl.com/tkacfp.

Despite the wealth it is known for, even West Bloomfield is not immune from the effects of the pandemic.

“People think West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills and Bloomfield Hills are very wealthy, but what they don’t realize is that people here also have lost income,” Gutmann said. “There is also need in West Bloomfield. … We had never taken on something like this because people presumed that the need was elsewhere, but there’s obviously need here, too. … At least it’s something that we meaningfully can do as a community, both to serve our own community and also to serve the wider community.”

West Bloomfield resident Lee Schottenfels is also part of the congregation at Temple Kol Ami and has assisted in providing food for community members.

“It has been disheartening and heartening at the same time,” Schottenfels said. “The disheartening thing: that the situation for so many people is bleak at the moment. It’s heartening in that we can do something.”

The pantry at Temple Kol Ami began in July, with the “initial idea” of having it for six months, according to Schottenfels.

However, he said,  “If there’s need longer, we’ll consider staying longer.”

As for those who can use some assistance in order to be properly nourished, Gutmann said, “We’re their neighbors, and we’re here to help them. That’s what community’s all about.”

The role Gutmann and others have taken on would not be as effective if it was treated as a solo project.

“As one person, it’s hard to do something, but as a community, you can really make an impact,” Gutmann said. “There’s an immediate gratification in giving someone food and hearing their stories. You’re putting a face to the situation.”

Hack shared an example of one woman’s story.

“She came to pick up her food,” Hack said. “She was crying because she had not received her Social Security check and hadn’t eaten in two days. And that’s what we hear, continuously. This is not just like, ‘Oh, thanks for the extra food, this is great.’ This is, ‘I haven’t been able to eat because I have no money. I can either pay for my mortgage or pay for my rent, or I can eat.’”

Hack’s intent is to eventually get back to focusing on environmental sustainability. She would like for another organization to take over what has been started with food assistance.

But in the meantime, there is still more to be done.

“We’re not trying to take the place of Forgotten Harvest; we’re not trying to take the place of Gleaners,” Hack said. “We’re picking up the crumbs, and it just so happens that the crumbs become tons.”

Despite Hazon being a Jewish nonprofit, Hack said, “This is not just a Jewish thing. This is a community solution.”

“It’s gratifying to see so many of us involved in making sure that this community, this state, this county, these counties, don’t have people who have hunger,” she said. “That’s huge, because when you’re hungry, so many other things come along with that. You can’t think straight, you’re sad, you’re depressed. … It has felt really wonderful to be doing something during this crazy period.”

For all that has already been accomplished in helping to feed community members, larger numbers of people willing to help could lead to even less hunger in the area.

“I think that if you see a need, you should figure out how you can do it,” Gutmann said. “There’s strength in numbers, so get your congregation involved or your community involved. Don’t sit idly by; do something.”

Hazon can both pick up and take food donations. For more information, call (248) 535-7110.

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