Halloween is over, as all the ghosts and goblins, princesses and super heroes have all turned back into children and are now enjoying their annual candy haul. However, with the end of one holiday, the attention has now turned to two more: Thanksgiving and Christmas. And if some are still preoccupied with Mars bars and candy corn from their children’s candy bags, they won’t be able to ignore the holiday season for long as stores have already begun to pull out Christmas merchandise and radio stations have begun playing Christmas carols.
As these two holidays approach, naturally thoughts turn to food — especially Thanksgiving dinner with its turkey and stuffing, green bean casserole and potatoes, and, of course, pumpkin pie.
However, while some families are beginning to plan their holiday meals, others in the lakes area are wondering how to put food on their table. And not just for the holidays, but for each day.
Gleaners still working to help feed the region
As the economy continues to remain stagnant, many families are seeing an increased need for food — which has been noticed not only among local food pantries but by Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, as well.
Gleaners, one of the oldest food banks in the country, has been “nourishing communities by feeding hungry people” for more than 33 years by distributing food to over 552 partner pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston, and Monroe counties.
“We measure demand primarily in terms of pounds of food we distribute,” said Anne Shenk, the senior director of advancement for Gleaners. “For the last fiscal year ending in September, we distributed 40.4 million pounds of food, which was up from 36.4 million pounds the year before. Our goal this year is to distribute even more next year by the end of September with about 45 million pounds, which is another significant increase.”
The main reason for the increased demand for emergency food, according to Shenk, is the economy.
“It’s the economy, the prolonged recession. The slowness in recovering jobs in the area is really making it necessary for us to provide more emergency food,” she said.
While unemployment remains high almost everywhere around the United States, Michigan remains one of the hardest-hit areas in the country.
“When you look at unemployment and poverty in the area, it’s high and has been high,” Shenk said. “But historically, we are on the higher end of the unemployment and poverty levels, which always makes the situation worse. Southeastern Michigan is still one of the worst-off areas economically. The situation here is still critical compared to other areas that don’t have as high unemployment and poverty levels.”
Despite the current economic woes and the continuously rising need for emergency food, Shenk said Gleaners hasn’t noticed a decrease in donations.
“We are meeting our fund-raising targets. And we’re very happy about that. We are working hard to raise the money to do the work we need to do,” she said.
Shenk said monetary donations primarily go toward food, with 95 percent of it going to food programs and food distribution.
“We are able to provide three meals for every dollar donated,” she said. “Our distribution is in the form of pantry staples, such as proteins, fruits and vegetables, and a wide range of foods.”
All the food gathered by Gleaners is inventoried online. Local pantries can order from that list, and then Gleaners will put the pantry orders together. Half of the orders are distributed by Gleaners’ fleet of 13 trucks. The pantries go to Gleaners to pick up the other half.
Gleaners acquires food from a variety of sources. About 23 percent of the food Gleaners distributes comes from grocers and retailers, such as Sam’s Club, Costco, Meijer, Kroger, Whole Foods, and the Detroit Produce Terminal. They normally pass on overstock and slightly damaged but still safe goods to Gleaners, which provides roughly 4.6 million meals each year.
Community gardens, local food drives, and the statewide Food Bank Council of Michigan all contribute food to Gleaners, as well.
Government sources of food, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Federal Emergency Management Agency, also provide about 15 percent of Gleaners’ stock by providing non-perishable, nutritious foods high in protein.
National food manufacturers and food retailers, including Kellogg, Kraft Foods, and Pepperidge Farms, also donate food to Gleaners. However, the trend of manufacturers and retailers becoming more effective in reducing waste has led to a decrease in the amount of such food donated to Gleaners.
Consequently, this has hiked Gleaners need to purchase food with volume discounts. In fact, Gleaners now purchases around 32 percent of the food it distributes, which in turn affects local food pantries and the prices they pay for certain products.
“There’s really three ways agencies get food from us,” Shenk said. “Any free food we get goes out for free. For example, food we get from food drives. About half of the food we distribute goes out for free. Then, there’s also the food we get that we have to pay shipping and handling fees. We have to pay for trucking. We pass a small portion of that fee onto the agencies, which is about 10 cents per pound for food that comes from that source.”
The third source is the food Gleaners purchases with donations.
These three ways of acquiring food means the prices of certain foods varies depending on how the goods were acquired.
“There are a variety reasons why prices for certain goods increase,” Shenk said. “For example, for peanut butter, it depends where we get it from. If we have to purchase it, then it will be a different price to agencies than if the peanut butter was donated.”
And although Gleaners has plenty of food to provide to local pantries, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an everlasting supply of in-demand goods — especially those that have been affected by the rising cost of food.
“Protein goods are expensive, so they’re not donated as often, which makes them harder to come by,” Shenk said. “But we have a lot of produce right now as it’s harvest season, and we get donated goods like fresh apples and squash.”
Nevertheless, more donations are always needed.
“The need is still really high for emergency food. We’re working hard to meet that need, and we appreciate any support we can get,” she said.
And there’s a variety of ways to help and support Gleaners, the first of which is donating funds.
“This directly helps our mission to get food to those in need,” Shenk said.
Holding a food drive is another option.
“Churches, businesses, or schools can put together a food drive,” Shenk said. “We have a lot of resources for you to do a successful food drive. It’s a great way to help.”
And of course, there is always volunteering your time.
“We need volunteers at the distribution center — to help pack pantry boxes to go to the food pantries, to sort food donated from food drives, and to assemble orders that pantry partners place,” she said.
To volunteer or offer a donation, call 1-866-GLEANER or go to the Gleaners website at www.gcfb.org. Gleaners is located at 2131 Beaufait in Detroit.
Hospitality House sees increase in demand for help
Local food pantries have seen first-hand the need for food increase in west Oakland County. And they have to contend with not only rising demands but rising food costs as they attempt to alleviate some of the hunger pains in the community.
“Demand is definitely still on the rise,” said Kristy Hutson, director of Hospitality House in Walled Lake. “But our biggest concern right now is the rising cost of food and the limited availability of certain foods.”
When Hospitality House first opened its doors eight years ago, the organization served approximately 200 families a month in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District. Today, the need has grown to an average of 650 families a month.
The number of families that are helped grows around the holidays. Last year, Hospitality House helped approximately 800 families through the holidays. This year, Hutson anticipates helping close to 900 families.
Hospitality House distributed around 430,000 pounds of food this past fiscal year, which is up from 400,000 pounds of food the previous year.
Hutson said there are a number of reasons for the increase in demand.
“(No. 1), the economy, and (No. 2), people are learning about us more and more,” she said. “They are talking to their friends at church or workers at schools or people in the neighborhood. There are a lot of people finding themselves in need of food and help when, in the past, they never needed help. But word about us gets out and more families know we are available to offer assistance.”
She has also “definitely” seen a change in the demographic of Hospitality House’s clients.
“A lot of people who come in have never been in this situation before,” Hutson said. “They’ve never had to ask for help with food before. They have never got to the point where they couldn’t eat. We are getting a lot of people whose unemployment (benefits have) run out.”
She said she is concerned that the number of clients is going to increase even more in January.
“We’re concerned about the rise in demand we are going to get in, I think, January, when food stamps and bridge card benefits for families registered with the state Department of Human Services are cut off after they’ve been with them a certain period of time,” Hutson said. “We are anticipating an increase in clients at that time.”
Adding to her concern is the rising cost of food.
“We purchase food from Gleaners, and their food availability of main staples has been down,” Hutson said. “And the cost of those we have been able to get have gone up. Last year, we were able to keep our costs at below 35 cents a pound, and in the last three months, we have doubled that. Overall across the board, I have noticed the price of food going up. I’ve noticed it in grocery stores. And this just makes it harder for us when trying to feed families and keep the costs down.”
In addition to purchasing food from Gleaners, Hospitality House also receives food from Forgotten Harvest and food drives by local churches, community and youth groups, and schools. All three Walled Lake Consolidated School District high schools — Central, Northern and Western — are doing food drives.
Currently, Hutson said food donations have been down this year, as well. Last fiscal year, Hospitality House received 198,000 pounds of donated food compared to this year’s 174,000 pounds.
And while donated food is definitely appreciated, cash is preferred.
“Cash goes further, so we actually prefer it because we can purchase food at much lower rates than people who donate food purchase it for. So donations of cash go further,” Hutson said.
The food situation is “definitely dire,” which can be felt even more keenly around the holidays, according to Hutson. She said the agency was “swamped” last week when it started the sign-up for the holiday program.
“A lot of families were in a crunch last year and knowing what the holidays did to them, they are trying in advance to get food for the holidays,” Hutson said.
For Thanksgiving, Hospitality House offers free dinners to registered clients.
“They can sign up to have a frozen turkey with all the fixings to have a turkey dinner at home with the family,” she said.
Hospitality House is also looking for volunteers and new gifts appropriate for newborn children to 18-year-olds for the organization’s Santa Shop on Dec. 10.
To donate or volunteer at Hospitality House, call 248-960-9975 or visit the website at hospitalityhousefoodpantry.org. They are located at 1600 West Maple Road, Suite B, in Walled Lake.
“We thank everyone who continues to support and help us help families in need locally,” Hutson said. “We could really use help this year with cash donations and new toys for our holiday program because of the increase in the amount of families we will be helping.”
Open Door Outreach Center confirms hike in need
Sharon Josephson, executive director of the Open Door Outreach Center in Waterford Township, said she too has seen more people requesting help as well as less availability of certain food products from Gleaners.
“We’ve seen maybe about a 30 percent increase in the amount of people requesting help,” Josephson said. “And with less availability from Gleaners, we have to buy some food products from retail (stores), which means the food will cost more.”
While she classifies the situation as “not critical” overall, there are a few exceptions.
“There are certain foods that are very expensive that we haven’t been able to get from Gleaners, which makes our need for funding greater,” Josephson explained.
Among those foods are cereal, peanut butter, fruit and apple juices.
Open Door, located on Cooley Lake Road between Williams Lake and Hospital roads in Waterford, serves families in Waterford, White Lake, West Bloomfield, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Commerce, Walled Lake and parts of Wixom by providing food, clothing, referral information, and other services to those in need.
The majority of its support and funding comes from individuals, local businesses, corporations, and religious and civic organizations.
While Josephson said she is unsure exactly how much demand has increased, she said she does know that it has increased.
In 2009, Open Door served 135,59 pounds of food to over 3,400 families. This time last year it had already surpassed that mark.
Josephson attributes the increase in demand to more people losing their jobs.
“We’re seeing people that used to be at a higher income level now needing our assistance,” she said. “We’ve even had a couple former donors become clients. We’re seeing more families and have seen more homeless people trying to get help with temporary food assistance.”
Open Door accepts perishable foods like milk, eggs, meat and produce, as well as non-perishable items. The organization also accepts gift cards, gas cards, hygiene items, and cash.
The cash is used not only to purchase food, but to help families who need utility bill and rent assistance.
“We appreciate whatever people can give us,” Josephson said. “Need is always present, not just around the holidays. We need help year-round.”
Open Door is always looking for donations, as well as volunteers, especially now, to pass out Thanksgiving and Christmas bags.
It normally provides Thanksgiving turkeys for 165 client families and around 100 Christmas dinners for senior citizens and adults living alone.
For more information or to find out how you can help, go to the website at opendooroutreachcenter.com or call 248-360-2930 and ask for Sharon or Tammie.
Community Sharing food bills are on the rise
Those working with Community Sharing Food Pantry, headquartered in Highland Township, have noticed the rise in the cost of food, as well.
“We have probably almost doubled our food bills in a year,” said Community Sharing Board Member Barbara Maher.
Community Sharing helps about 325 families a month. While she said these numbers are similar to last year, she noted that the families who are coming in are different — a fact which she attributes to families moving around to find work or their homes being in foreclosure.
The food pantry offers families enough food every week to provide 21 meals per individual in the family.
While Community Sharing gets the majority of its food from Gleaners, donations from churches, businesses, and individuals within the community are also instrumental to Community Sharing’s cause.
The organization accepts any kind of food, including boxed meals, frozen foods, baby food and formula, pasta, produce, canned goods and soups.
“We really need cereal because we are having a hard time getting it on a regular basis, and it’s very expensive to buy,” Maher said.
The agency is also looking especially for canned soups and canned meat.
However, donations are down, a dip which has led to a fairly dire financial situation, especially as the cost of food continues to rise.
“The cost of food has risen astronomically,” Maher said.
Community Sharing used to spend $2.40 per case on peanut butter from Gleaners, which has since risen to $18 a case.
“Cash is our No. 1 need so that we are able to buy what we need at any given moment,” Maher said.
Cash donations are used for purchasing and delivering food to families that can’t make it to the outreach center. Community Sharing also assists clients in avoiding utility shutoffs.
In addition, Community Sharing accepts in-season, gently-used clothing and hygiene products.
Everything is free to their clients.
“Our mission is to provide food, clothing, education, and emergency financial assistance to those in need while respecting their dignity and fostering their independence,” Maher said.
Community Sharing is located in the Apollo Center at 2029 N. Milford Road in Highland Township. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 405, Highland, Mich., 48357. For more information on how to help, call 248-889-0347 or visit www.community-sharing.org.
“The need is there and it’s constant,” Maher said. “It’s not just the holiday season. We are so overwhelmed with need.”
Grace Church working to Outrun Hunger
If you’re looking to help provide holiday dinners for those in need while getting a head start on burning all the calories you will consume this holiday season, you can participate in Grace Church’s first Outrun Hunger 5K run event beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Commerce Commons Pathway right outside of Commerce Township Hall.
There will also be a one-mile run/walk for children.
The church is partnering with Hospitality House in Walled Lake and the Open Door Outreach Center in Waterford to assist families in the lakes area in need of food for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The inaugural “charity fun run” aims to feed 100 families this holiday season.
All proceeds from the race will be given to Hospitality House and Open Door.
It costs $20 to register for the 5K run and $5 for the one-mile event.
For more information on Outrun Hunger event, call 248-887-3700 or go to gracechurchinfo.net/events. You can also look them up on Facebook.
Waterford Goodfellows seeking families in need
The Waterford Goodfellows is encouraging families served by the Waterford School District who are in need of holiday assistance to contact the organization at 248-618-7555. Sign-up for holiday assistance is limited to the first 300 families. Sign-up will be in person on Dec. 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Waterford Parks and Recreation Department.