Good Works

Hand to Mouth

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes combats food insecurity

Every Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter features a story of someone who has been helped by one of its more than 60 distribution sites and 20 pantries in Kalamazoo County — a young student whose working father couldn’t afford to put food on the table, a single mother whose child’s medical condition devastated her finances and forced her family into hunger — people who, despite their best efforts, don’t always know where their next meal will come from.

The face of hunger in America has changed. Since the Great Recession, underemployment, stagnant wages and an increased cost of living have contributed to a new widespread state of hunger labeled “food insecurity.” According to the USDA, food insecurity occurs when a person’s access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money or resources.

“There’s hunger all around you, and a lot of times you may never know that the person next to you at work or the child who goes to school with yours is hungry,” says Greta Faworski, resource development director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.

Faworski says many working-class families are still experiencing the effects of the economic downturn. In Kalamazoo County, nearly 38,000 residents suffer from food insecurity,10,500 of them children, she says.

Hunger extends throughout Michigan, where one in every six people lives in hunger, according to the 2014 Hunger in America report. One of the most prevalent problems for those suffering from food insecurity is having to choose between food and other basic needs like housing, gas and education.

“And there’s the physical and emotional aspects of it as well,” says Faworski. Food insecurity causes daily stress that seeps into the lives of those who experience it, affecting work performance and general well-being. “No one is 100 percent when they are skipping meals,” she says.

Food banks are an important resource for those grappling with hunger, and Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes has been providing that resource for thousands since it was established in 1982.

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes receives food from community donations and food drives and uses monetary donations to buy food in bulk to give to those in need. In its new facility at 901 Portage St., volunteers work in a clean room to repackage bulk food items for distribution. Distribution sites include the organization’s Portage Street facility and 25 food pantries at nonprofit organizations like Ministry With Community, the YWCA Domestic Assault Program Shelter and the Salvation Army. Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes also distributes food at churches throughout the county to mobilize efforts in rural areas. Amazingly, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes can provide food for one person for one day for $1.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes’ in-house Mary K. Melzer Food Bank provided enough food for 275,000 meals, averaging about 1,100 meals a day. The Melzer Food Bank looks like a grocery store — shelves are stocked with dry goods, and a center area features local produce and meat. Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes also provides milk vouchers to local grocery stores. The organization focuses on healthy eating and distributes food based on the national health guidelines.

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes runs primarily on volunteer power — it employed 20 part- and full-time employees in the 2012-13 fiscal year and relied on 450 volunteers each week to collect, process and distribute the food, answer the organization’s help line and coordinate food drives.

Since the organization helps anyone who declares they are in need, increased food insecurity has put a strain on its resources. As the organization moves forward, says Faworski, it is looking for more community support to help meet this increasing need.

“We’re really nothing without the support of this community,” says Faworski. “I’ve just been amazed at the generosity of our community.”

To donate to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, visit KZooLF.org. For food assistance, call the Need Food Line at 343-3669.

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Who are the hungry?

Hunger doesn’t look like it used to. Food subsidies and higher prices often mean those in need are eating unhealthy, processed, refined carbohydrates instead of healthful produce and protein, according to Feeding America, a national network of 46,000 agencies and food banks serving more than 37 million people.

The result is that a face of hunger can look well fed even when the person has escalating health problems due to poor nutrition and stress from food insecurity.

For its 2014 report, Feeding America surveyed clients of its national network to outline how hunger in America affects all races, ages and education levels. According to its survey, 89 percent of client households with children are food insecure, while 79 percent of all client households and 84 percent of client households with children report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food to feed their families.

With regard to households that receive food through Feeding America’s network:

  • 20 percent have a member who has served in the military
  • 41 percent have a member with a post-high-school education
  • 54 percent were employed in the last year
  • 69 percent had to choose between food and utilities
  • 66 percent had to choose between food and medical care
  • 31 percent had to choose between food and education