Each mobile pantry offers fresh produce, baked goods and dairy products for between 100 and 200 households. Courtesy Feeding America West Michigan
For the last three years, the work of Feeding America West Michigan has been off the charts.
Feeding America West Michigan is a Comstock Park-based food distributer that reclaims surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers and redistributes it through a network of more than 1,100 food pantries, youth programs and other agencies in about 40 counties from the Indiana border to the Upper Peninsula.
Feeding America West Michigan gives food to an estimated 492,100 people annually, but in the last three years, its work has been unprecedented.
The distributer announced it recently finished its third record-setting year in a row, distributing about 27.6 million pounds of food in 2015. That’s about 22 million meals. 2015 saw an increase of 1.1 million pounds from 2014 when it distributed 26.5 million pounds of food.
Feeding America West Michigan also saw an increase in what kind of food it distributed: Fresh fruits and vegetables grew from a quarter to more than one-third of the food bank’s output.
This was largely thanks to the expansion of its Mobile Pantry Program, according to Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan.
“I’m incredibly proud of the work our staff, volunteers and partner agencies have done to make this happen,” Estelle said. “It truly is a testament to the creativity and generosity of our community.”
Last year, Feeding America West Michigan received a Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant to bring mobile pantries to schools and senior centers in West Michigan and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Each mobile pantry offers fresh produce, baked goods and dairy products for between 100 and 200 households. The pantries are designed to work in an urban or rural community that doesn’t have good access to a grocery store or a traditional food pantry.
In 2015 alone, Feeding America West Michigan had more than 1,600 mobile pantry distributions. Estelle is pushing to increase that number this year, particularly in the Upper Peninsula.
Last year also saw online giving grow by 23 percent from individual donors.
It’s all made Estelle feel excited for what could happen in 2016.
“We’ve seen what can happen when communities are united on the issue of hunger,” Estelle said.
“Too many of our neighbors still struggle to afford the basics, but more and more, we’re seeing that people get it. They understand the need and they want to get involved.
“I firmly believe that if businesses, foundations, churches and individuals come together, we can solve hunger in our region.”