Most people look forward to the holidays, complete with comfort foods like turkey basted to perfection, mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, homemade biscuits dripping with butter, and freshly baked pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. While most will sit down with loved ones to give thanks for their blessings, there are still those in the lakes area that may need to forego these simple pleasures this year.
Many families continue to struggle financially, especially when it comes to putting food on the table. Grocery prices have skyrocketed due to a number of factors, such as the steady rise in fuel costs and severe weather conditions that have decimated crops this year. But those seeking food assistance to supplement their limited income can count on area food pantries that are doubling their efforts to feed the area’s needy.
Southeast Michigan’s primary food bank and the smaller, local food pantries and cupboards indicate demand continues to reach new heights.
Forgotten Harvest — America’s largest food rescue service that saved a record 42 million pounds of food in 2011-12 — reports that no demographic is safe from hunger. In Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties, one in five children are in need. In those three counties, 500,000 people, including nearly 200,000 children, live in poverty.
Roughly 4 million households in Michigan live at risk of hunger. According to Feeding America’s National Hunger study, the number of individual emergency food recipients who receive food each week in southeast Michigan grew by over 78 percent from 2006 to 2010.
And area food assistance agencies are scrambling to keep up with the constant demand, reaching out to communities to keep food sources flowing to the needy.
Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, an organization that supplies emergency shelters and community relief agencies with food to distribute locally, helms food assistance outreach throughout Michigan. As one of the region’s largest groups of good Samaritans, Gleaners is a crucial source of food that local pantries rely on to keep their own cupboards stocked.
In operation since 1977, Gleaners has steadily increased the amount of food distributed since 2004, when it doled out 19.6 million pounds of food, compared to 36.4 million pounds in 2010 and 40.4 million in 2011. In 2012, it has so far distributed 46.7 million pounds of food to 600 agencies across southeast Michigan, including lakes area pantries like the Open Door Outreach Center, Hospitality House, and Community Sharing.
“The need is still very high,” said Anne Shenk, senior director of advancement for Gleaners. “We measure demand on how much food we can get out, and it’s another record year.”
While other factors come into play for the increase in need, she cites unemployment as the primary cause.
“I think higher prices in food and fuel have made an impact, but the biggest one is the job situation,” she said. “Despite some better figures on unemployment, it’s still high and it’s taking people longer to find work. Until we see job recovery levels (similar to those) prior to the recession, we will still see high demand.”
Prior to the recession, the average amount of time people relied on food pantries was about six months, but now that has tripled to 18 months.
“That’s how long it’s taking people to get back on their feet,” Shenk said.
She added that one in five people in southeast Michigan is struggling to put food on the table.
“There’s no steady source of nutrition and in cases with children, the statistics are one in four are experiencing food insecurity,” she said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in (participation in) the reduced (price) lunch program — that’s 317,000 children in the five area counties. What we send out may be the only food they get at the holidays, so the breaks and summer are tough times. We are trying to make up for those missed meals.”
Gleaners distributes donated and purchased food to soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, senior homes, and other partner agencies. There are five distribution centers in southeast Michigan: Metro Detroit, Warren, Taylor, Pontiac and Howell. They work throughout the region, including in Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Livingston, and Monroe counties.
More than half of Gleaners’ food — about 23 million pounds annually — is distributed at no cost to its partner agencies. The rest is provided at a shared maintenance fee of 18 cents per pound to help offset the costs of handling and transportation.
Much of Gleaners food intake is donated by various conduits, such as manufacturers, farmers, and community food drives. Significant donations are filtered through an affiliate of Feeding America, a national association and network of food banks.
In addition, Shenk said Gleaners relies heavily on food drives spearheaded by churches, corporate offices, and school groups. Government aid, however, has been dramatically reduced.
“We are seeing less meat and chicken because of less support from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and a reduction in government support from getting proteins like beans and peanut butter because the emergency support through the (federal) stimulus package has been significantly reduced. We’re putting a lot of resources toward produce,” Shenk said.
But still, Gleaners puts every dollar to work.
“We are able to provide three meals with every $1 donated and put 94 cents of every $1 toward food programming,” Shenk said. “Only 6 percent is used for administration and overhead (costs).”
Shenk encourages people to get involved by donating money online or calling and donating over the phone. Call 1-866-GLEANER, or visit its website at gcfb.org. Donations can also be mailed to Gleaners Community Food Bank at 2131 Beaufait, Detroit, Mich., 48207.
Forgotten Harvest gets food by collecting surplus, prepared and perishable food from a variety of sources such as grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, dairies, farmers, wholesale food distributors, and other approved sources. This donated food, which would otherwise go to waste, is delivered free-of-charge to emergency food providers throughout Metro Detroit.
“Our role is to assist agencies serving on the front line with food on a daily basis,” said Russ Russell, chief development officer for Forgotten Harvest. “We deal with perishable and time-sensitive food like dairy, juice and meats, unlike Gleaners, which is a food bank.”
During the Thanksgiving holiday, Forgotten Harvest will deliver up to 2,000 turkeys across southeast Michigan. The agency has a fleet of 34 refrigerated trucks that deliver six days a week.
Russell said 96 billion pounds of food that could feed America enters landfills every year.
“It’s a logistical problem,” he said. “We eliminate waste by delivering good food that isn’t getting into landfills and kids and the elderly are getting food that’s healthy and nutritious.”
Russell concurs that demand has increased from last year all around the area.
“Ninety-two percent of 52 organizations have a waiting list because demand has increased. They don’t have enough food and 34 percent must turn people away,” he said. “Our operation had quadrupled in three years because the need is so great. We have seen a 120 percent increase in Oakland County this year.”
Last year, Forgotten Harvest delivered 44 million pounds of fresh food to families. Russell attributes the demand to several factors, such as rising grocery prices and the struggling job market.
“There are those on fixed or restricted incomes like the elderly, or more of those earning minimum wage, termed the ‘working poor,’” he said. “Seventeen percent of the workforce work two jobs. Many must get some assistance because food prices are up and the Bridge Card doesn’t provide as much.”
For those who want to help with Forgotten Harvest’s cause, on Sunday, Nov. 18 from 1 to 5 p.m., every Kroger in the tri-county region — 80 stores total — will be collecting turkeys and providing a list for patrons to pick up grocery items to buy and donate to Forgotten Harvest to fill food baskets for needy families.
Open Door Outreach Center, a food pantry on Cooley Lake Road in Waterford Township, receives donations from Forgotten Harvest and food from Gleaners. The pantry also receives donations from individuals, churches, retailers, scout troops, and schools.
Akin to Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest, Open Door Outreach Center Executive Director Sharon Josephson has seen an uptick in need again this year.
“We have seen more demand, definitely more this year,” she said.
The pantry will need 8,000 pounds of food to distribute this holiday season, although cash is always welcomed.
“Cash is better. Every $1 is worth $3 of buying power from Gleaners, and Gleaners has been been sparser because their own donations are down, so they don’t always have what we need,” she said. “We must buy meat. We get very few turkeys and hams, and we have 300 families to buy meat for.”
Josephson estimate she would need $11,000 to feed 300 local families Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year.
“We give food baskets filled with meat, trimmings and desert, and try to give snack items, too, for kids during the weekend,” she said. “Demand is higher because people are losing their employment benefits and food is much more expensive and will be because of the weather this past summer and could further be affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
The public can chip in by donating food or cash, or by volunteering to pack food bags.
Open Door will be partnering with West Bloomfield Township and the township’s Fire Department in the fight against hunger from Thursday, Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 by accepting non-perishable food items at West Bloomfield’s three fire stations.
Visit opendooroutreachcenter.com for a list of needed items and hours of operation.
In Walled Lake, Hospitality House, a food pantry that serves the greater Walled Lake area stretching into West Bloomfield, is again experiencing a heightened demand this year.
“We usually get about 100 new families every quarter, but this quarter we had 140, so there’s a pretty significant increase,” said Executive Director Kristy Hutson. “We just started holiday sign-up for families Nov. 1. Demand for Christmas is on the rise.”
She also noted that former clients, usually displaced workers, are again signing up for assistance.
“I’ve observed a trend of former clients reactivating their accounts, saying their unemployment ran out or they’ve been laid off,” she said.
Hospitality House provided 326,000 pounds of food to the public in 2009, whereas in 2008, it gave away 304,000 pounds of food, and in 2007, nearly 214,000 pounds were given away.
Last year it gave away 48,000 pounds of food in November alone and another 40,000 pounds in December, according to Hutson. She said that for the last two years, the public has benefited from almost 500,000 pounds of food distributed by the pantry.
Hospitality House offers boxed and canned foods, as well as fresh and frozen foods.
Hospitality House distributions come from a variety of sources, such as local school, business and church groups, and food drives. Costco, Forgotten Harvest and Gleaners also offer up donations. But while food donations are always appreciated, Hutson said cash donations can actually feed more people due to the economies of scale.
“Monetary donations go further because Gleaners has good deals that vary week to week,” she said. “A $10 cash donation would cover a turkey for a family, whereas a $20 donation would cover a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for four to six people.”
The pantry will begin passing out turkey dinners for the holidays tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 8 and continue through Monday, Nov. 19 for Thanksgiving.
Checks should be made out to Hospitality House and sent to P.O. Box 284, Walled Lake, Mich., 48390.
Food pantries must ante up more money than ever before to purchase food.
“For the last five years, we’ve paid no more than 35 cents per pound, and right now we’re spending 54 cents a pound, so food costs have really jumped,” Hutson said.
Hospitality House is currently gearing up for the holiday season and trying to keep up with demand.
Right now immediate needs are peanut butter, tuna, and soups, particularly chicken noodle. Visit www.hhfp.org for a complete list of needed items.
Hospitality House will be give away 400 turkey dinners at Thanksgiving, and hold a Santa Shop where clients come in and shop free-of-charge for family gifts during the holiday season.
The Santa Shop will be open Dec. 8. Clients must register in person at Hospitality House, located at 1600 W. Maple Road. Newly unwrapped gifts for the Santa Shop aimed at kids up to 18-years-old can be dropped off by Dec. 5.
“We would like donations by Dec. 5, but we will take donations at Hospitality House after that, as we always have quite a few last-minute families that we help right until Christmas Eve,” Hutson said.
Visit www.hhfp.org for hours and more information, or call 248-360-9975.
To pitch in and support the cause, Bayside Sports Grille, located at 142 E. Walled Lake Drive in Walled Lake, will be holding a complementary holiday dinner for Hospitality House clients on Dec. 16. There will be two seatings, one at noon and another at 2 p.m. The event includes giveaways, a coat drive, and a visit from Santa.
Clients must register in advance.
Community Sharing, located at 1550 N. Milford Road in Highland Township, offers a variety of programs to low-income families in the Milford and Highland area, as well as the Stratford Villa and Commerce Meadows mobile home parks in Wixom.
According to Board of Directors member Barb Maher, the need in the area continues to escalate, especially when it comes to food assistance.
“On a single Tuesday in October, 97 families came through our doors in only five hours,” she said. “The need has been overwhelming.”
In October, Community Sharing purchased $7,000 in food from Gleaners, its primary food bank.
“That $7,000 doesn’t include our local purchases like produce and dairy products,” she said.
Community Sharing serves on average 325 families a month, similar to last year.
“We give out enough food to feed a family one time per month. Our pantry is a ‘client choice’ pantry, where they pick out the food they want,” Maher said.
Right now Community Sharing is in dire need of boxed meals; canned meat products; soups; peanut butter; cereal; pasta; spaghetti sauce; and diapers. The organization welcomes any donations, including cash.
Maher is encouraging businesses to pitch in during the holidays by placing drop-off boxes in their entryways. Those interested can call 248-889-0347 to find out more information.
Community Sharing also feeds over 400 pets on a regular basis through its pet pantry.
In addition to food assistance, it rolls out its Christmas Adopt-a-Family program that is currently in full swing.
“We gather names for assistance by churches and donors for names of those that need assistance during the holidays,” Maher said.
One added program is aimed at giving each child a memorable birthday. Churches and individuals sponsor the program that provides birthday bags filled with cake mixes, plates, candles and gifts, all tailored to the age of the child.
The agency also launched a new job coaching program three months ago. The job coach interviews clients and, when opportunities become available, tries to match clients with positions. The job coach provides interview skills and “dress for success” advice.
Community Sharing also conducts a free-of-charge tutoring program for kids in kindergarten through 12th-grade. Currently there are 30 enrolled .
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Maher said. “We have volunteers with fantastic skill sets.”
Tutoring is held at the Highland and Milford libraries. GED tutoring and test preparation are also available.
Visit community-sharing.org for more information. Hours are Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; every second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m.; and every second and fourth of the month Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Food pantries aren’t the only ones joining in the war against hunger. Waterford Township’s Jack’s Ship-N-Shop will hold its inaugural “Fill a FedEx Truck” food drive from 9 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 through 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17 to help feed the hungry in Oakland County.
The store, located at 7400 Highland Road, will be the hub for collecting non-perishable food items from donors. Early donations will be accepted from Sunday, Nov. 11 through Nov. 17 at VG’s grocery store on Highland Road in Waterford. All donations will be shipped to Gleaners.
Those donating will receive a coupon from Jack’s Ship-N-Shop to be used from Monday, Nov. 19 through Dec. 23 to help save on holiday shipments.