Operations manager Zach Saucier, left, and CEO Ken Estelle discuss Feeding America West Michigan deliveries from the Comstock Park headquarters. Courtesy FAWM
The food safety operations at Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank are getting a boost.
The Walmart Foundation gave a $28,400 grant to Comstock Park-based FAWM to fund advancements in the organization’s food safety operations.
The grants are designed to help Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks continue to meet and exceed food safety standards followed by food processors across the nation.
The funding will be used at the organization’s Benton Harbor and Cadillac distribution facilities, as well as its Comstock Park headquarters complex.
The grant already has made an impact at the organization. Using the Walmart funding, FAWM was able to make the infrastructure improvements needed in its warehouses to pass its first food safety audit from AIB International this June.
The American Institute of Baking, now known as AIB International, is a not-for-profit corporation founded by the North American wholesale and retail baking industries in 1919 as a technology transfer center for bakers and food processors. Today, it is known for its development and promulgation of standards in food and beverage safety through the manufacturing, distribution and packaging processes.
FAWM will use the remainder of the grant to stay current on food safety certification standards put forth by AIB, the gold standard for food safety.
Other Walmart Foundation grants range from staff training about food safety to equipment and operational upgrades that enhance safe food storage. In 2014, Walmart Foundation gave the Food Bank of South Central Michigan $128,000 to acquire a large, refrigerated food truck.
CEO Ken Estelle said the latest grant will help FAWM “meet the growing needs of the people in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula who are struggling to put food on the table. We are grateful the Walmart Foundation is helping equip us with the tools we need to continue to provide safe and nutritious food for more people.”
Andrew Steiner, a spokesperson for FAWM, said it is important for the organization to voluntarily meet the same standards required of the food and beverage manufacturers that donate millions of pounds of food each year.
“It’s important that they know the food they donate to Feeding America West Michigan is stored safely and not compromised in any way,” said Steiner.
FAWM accepts donations of good, surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers, which the nonprofit organization then distributes to more than 1,100 food pantries, youth programs and hunger relief agencies in 40 counties along the western side of the Lower Peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula. Each year, more than an estimated 490,000 people receive food through FAWM.
Experts have estimated as much as 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten, an amount worth roughly $165 billion each year, according to the FAWM website. Reducing food waste by just 15 percent would be enough to feed more than 25 million Americans every year.
Steiner said the infrastructure improvements at the Comstock Park distribution center, as well as the other two facilities, range from repairing a leak in the warehouse roof to putting up permanent bird netting to prevent birds from nesting in the warehouse eaves, which is a contamination hazard due to bird droppings.
The bird netting project “sounds like a simple, cheap thing to do, but actually it cost a chunk of change. We would not have been able to do that if not for this grant,” said Steiner.
FAWM also was able to put in large screen doors in the 55,000-square-foot warehouse shipping/receiving bays. The specially designed screens are readily opened and closed to allow lift trucks in and out. The screens allow FAWM to keep the bay doors open for ventilation during warm weather while keeping insects out.
“That makes it a lot better for our volunteers working in there, to get a little bit of a breeze,” said Steiner.
AIB International is the leading organization protecting the safety of the food supply chain and delivering quality technical and educational programs in the food safety industry. The organization provides the Feeding America network of food banks with food industry standards that include best practices and legal requirements. Ultimately, ensuring and making ongoing improvements to safe food storage capabilities enables food banks to secure and distribute more food to more agencies, pantries and meal programs that serve people in need.
With food insecurity remaining high throughout the country, the ability to safely distribute more food is critical for food banks. According to the USDA, about 49 million people — including 16 million children — in the United States are “food insecure,” which means at some point during the year, they don’t know where their next meal will come from. In West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, one in seven residents is food insecure, according to FAWM.
Through their longstanding commitment to fighting hunger, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation provide donations of both food and funds to Feeding America and its network of 200 food banks. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have set goals to provide 4 billion meals to those in need in the U.S. through 2020.
In 2014, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation gave more than $1.3 billion in cash and in-kind contributions around the world. Global in-kind donations accounted for $1 billion, while $309 million was given in cash globally.