Street Talk: Staying safe at home

Food security.
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While Michigan residents have been urged to stay home and stay safe, staying safe at home has taken a broader meaning for the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. While traditionally laser-focused on the issue of lead and other pollutants in people’s homes, the nonprofit has spread out to address all issues of home safety.

“It’s very much the same message, although we’re challenged to bring additional resources into families’ homes,” said Executive Director Paul Haan. “More than ever, we’re relying on parents and sharing with them things they can do on their own with a little bit of support.”

Healthy Homes suspended all home visiting, community outreach activities and group meetings on March 13 and transitioned its staff to work from home on March 23.

With the increased time everyone is spending at home now, Healthy Homes is staying relevant by sharing information through the “Staying Safe at Home” campaign, a multi-faceted communications campaign featuring tips and advice on how to stay safe and healthy at home.

“In a lot of these homes, what’s really needed is a contractor or code enforcement, and that’s become a challenge,” Haan said. “We started thinking what’s some of the low hanging fruit? Getting a new furnace filter is easy and it can increase your air quality.”

The Healthy Homes Coalition recommends a minimum of a MERV-8 filter to filter out allergens, pollens, irritants and bacteria for better lung health. A MERV-8 filter, however, will not filter out the coronavirus.

Healthy Homes’ limited capacity also has led the organization to reach out and partner with other area nonprofits like Health Net of West Michigan and First Steps Kent, broadening its scope to include not just in-home pollutants, but also mental health, domestic abuse and other issues that arise for the homebound.

“With our messaging, stay safe at home, we’re saying we want our community to be as resilient as possible and that’s about having a safe environment at home,” Haan said.

Recently, Healthy Homes talked with legal experts about renters’ rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many parents are worried about meeting rent payments and being evicted, Haan stressed landlords do not have the right to evict tenants who have been laid off during the crisis.

“You still have to be accountable, but your landlord can’t evict you because you lost your job,” Haan said. “We’re trying to remain laser-focused but we’re partnering to broaden our message.”

Box lunch

The Food Bank Council of Michigan is launching a Quarantine Box Program that will deliver food to Michigan’s senior citizens.

Cautioned to stay at home and in need of daily meals, Michigan’s older population ranks among the most vulnerable residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the Lansing-based nonprofit that oversees pantries in West Michigan.

The Food Bank Council of Michigan recognized this need and created Quarantine Food Boxes specifically for older adults who are unable to access existing food distribution sites.

The quarantine boxes include 22 nutritionally balanced, protein-rich, shelf-stable meals meant to last an older adult 10 days.

“Thus far, older adults represent almost 40% of the over 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan,” said Dawn Opel, director of research and strategy initiatives for the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “It is critical that we minimize exposure of the virus to older adults and stabilize those who are sick or returning from the hospital. Without access to healthy food, seniors in quarantine may suffer not only from hunger but heightened risk of prolonged, more severe illness.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has created an intake form at bit.ly/MDHHSfooddelivery for seniors in need of meal delivery or a daily check-in call.

The Food Bank Council, in cooperation with Gleaners Community Food Bank, is packing the initial 10,000 boxes with assistance from the Michigan National Guard.

“So much gratitude goes to our state food banks during this time of incredible demand, especially for our vulnerable older residents,” said Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “We cannot express how indebted we are to the National Guard for their humanitarian work to make sure no Michigander goes without food.”

Those who want to donate to the Quarantine Food Box program as well as to support COVID-19 efforts by each of Michigan’s seven food banks can visit michiganfooddrive.com.

Face time

Kellogg Company, responding to the pandemic, is releasing a special television advertisement to thank the front-line heroes who play an important role in supporting the global food chain.

“During this time of tremendous uncertainty and deep concern, anything that brings us a little comfort or gives us a sense of normalcy is particularly welcome,” said Steve Cahillane, chair and CEO, Kellogg Company.

“Right now, sitting down to breakfast is more important than ever. That is why we are thanking everyone around the world who is working so hard to bring food to the table, from the farmers to the people who make the food, the truckers and the grocery stockers and cashiers who ensure shoppers have safe access to what they need to feed their families, and food bank workers. All of these men and women are everyday heroes who deserve our sincere gratitude and appreciation.”

Kellogg has shifted thousands of employees to remote work while taking steps to protect the front-line workers who make the food, as well as those who get it to the store shelves.

In addition to keeping grocery store shelves stocked, Kellogg is partnering with global food banks to feed those in need. Kellogg and its charitable funds have donated $7.5 million in food and funds to COVID-19 food relief efforts.

“As a company that prides itself on having a heart and soul, Kellogg has always considered it a vital responsibility to do all we can to combat global food insecurity. That has been the inspiration for our Better Days purpose platform, which is dedicated to delivering critical nourishment to families when they need it most,” said Kris Bahner, senior vice president of global corporate affairs for Kellogg. 

“And during this health crisis, hunger is especially acute. Our food bank partners have told us they are stretched to the limit. That is why we are donating more food and more money to help. We will continue to evaluate the need and respond as best we can going forward.”

Added Cahillane: “All of us at Kellogg would just like to say we appreciate and applaud the hard work and selfless dedication of the countless people who are helping get food to those in need across so many local communities.”

Kellogg’s advertisement thanking everyday heroes in the food industry is available to view at bit.ly/breakfastasusual.

The TV spot began airing on April 8 in the U.S. on NBC’s “Today” show, then subsequently on CNN, Fox News, Univision, BET and more.

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