West Michigan food pantries, including the one at Mel Trotter Ministries pictured above, are running short of supplies ahead of the holiday season. Courtesy Mel Trotter Ministries
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Nearly three-fourths of the way into its annual Fall Food Drive, Mel Trotter Ministries announced it was 40,000 pounds short of its 50,000-pound collection goal.
Abbey Sladick, director of communication for Mel Trotter, said possible factors for the shortage might have to do with warmer fall weather.
She said more donations tend to come in when the weather turns cold and people are thinking more about how homeless and food insecure people are faring.
She also said Mel Trotter made changes this year to its marketing campaign, which may have had an impact.
She said previously, the organization has had a significant response to its direct mail campaign, but this year, Mel Trotter decreased its paper advertising and increased its digital marketing and social media efforts based on feedback it received. That may have dampened the response.
“We have an older generation of donors who have been faithful to us,” she said. “It’s a balance between direct mail marketing and online.”
Last year during the same time period and with the same goal, Mel Trotter brought in 53,000 pounds in food donations.
Whatever the reason for the sluggish start, Sladick said the need for food donations and monetary donations continues to grow.
Mel Trotter typically sees 110-120 individuals and families weekly at its food pantry, which is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Thursdays.
She said the week before Thanksgiving, 197 individuals and families shopped the pantry, which she called “a significant increase.”
She also said by midsummer this year, Mel Trotter had served 400 more people than during the same time period the previous year.
Sladick noted Mel Trotter’s pantry operates as a supplementary service for people who may have a financial hardship during a particular month or stretch of months. She said people are invited to visit the pantry once a month to fill a cart but don’t rely on it for all of their food needs for the month.
Sladick said since 2008, there has been an increase in families who are homeless or in need of pantry services.
“We are definitely trending up, and we are trending up with families. By that, I mean more families are coming to us rather than individuals,” she said. “The face of homelessness is changing. It’s more families in need, and we see that with housing, as well. Most of those coming to our pantry are working poor.”
She said oftentimes, a family finds itself in need because of an unexpected expense, such as a car repair or a higher heating or electric bill, forcing them to make hard choices on where to spend their money.
Andrew Steiner, media coordinator at Feeding America West Michigan, agreed.
“We saw the need spike definitely at the beginning of the recession,” he said. “It wasn’t people who were destitute or had been poor their entire lives, but it’s people who’d lost jobs, homes or income, that was a big wake up call in hunger relief. Anybody can find themselves in need.”
Feeding America West Michigan is a food bank that serves 40 Michigan counties through its work with partner agencies, such as Mel Trotter. It works specifically with food producers and grocers in Michigan and serves as a mediator between those businesses and hunger relief agencies. It also does some of its own distribution through its mobile pantry and at churches and schools.
Steiner said Feeding America West Michigan had a hand in serving half a million people last year through its efforts. The organization distributed 2 million to 3 million pounds of food each month, with a record total of 27.6 million pounds by the end of the year.
Steiner said when looking at the data, the number of people in need actually is trending down, but food distribution still is increasing.
“Our numbers, as far as number of pounds, continue to go up,” he said.
He said that is likely due to the fact hunger relief organizations never have been able to fully meet the need in communities, and now as the number of people in need might be starting to decline, the agencies are helping those remaining at an increased distribution rate than before.
Steiner and Sladick said the end of the year typically is the most important time for hunger relief organizations.
Steiner said Feeding America West Michigan receives one-third of its monetary revenue in December, and Sladick said 60 percent of Mel Trotter’s budget is derived from donations that come during the fourth quarter.
“This is a crucial time for us, not only for our food pantry but also for donations,” Sladick said.
Mel Trotter does not receive direct government funding. It relies on corporate support, individual donors, foundations and churches.
Sladick said Mel Trotter did see a slight decline this year in corporate support for its food drive.
“We had a couple of companies drop off of participation this year,” she said, noting corporate support is important to the organization.
“When we partner with businesses, it’s better for the community, so we can always use more corporate partnerships for sure.”
Steiner said Feeding America West Michigan relies on corporate partners, as well, but wasn’t sure what those numbers currently look like. He did say the organization is seeing its financial donations increase overall, especially in the area of online giving.
“Our online revenue is up about 50 percent from last year,” he said.
He said those donations typically are smaller, individual donations.
Sladick said since getting the word out last week about the shortage in donations, Mel Trotter has seen several hundred pounds of food donated, and the organization has decided to extend its Fall Food Drive through the end of December in hopes it will meet or exceed its 50,000-pound goal, which Sladick is optimistic still could happen.
“We really have a generous community,” she said.
She noted the organization received 1,400 turkey donations ahead of Thanksgiving, which was a “huge success.” The turkeys are available through the pantry during the holiday season and likely will be shared with other food pantries, as well.
Mel Trotter also provides an average of 394 meals per day through its kitchen and, since 2014, has helped 617 people secure housing and 340 people obtain jobs.
To find out more about becoming part of the Fall Food Drive, visit meltrotter.org/fall-food-drive.