Showing posts with label food gatherers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food gatherers. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hunger in Our Society: What’s happening now?

Source:  Food Gatherers’ Website
“Scenes of crowded food banks have provided some of the most arresting images of the pandemic and brought hunger issues a rare spotlight. A recent Census Bureau survey found that, over the previous week alone, 8.4 percent of adults said their households ‘sometimes’ lacked enough to eat and 2.3 percent said they ‘often’ did. That translates into 23 million hungry adults, plus millions of children.” — (source)

The pandemic made many of the problems of our society more obvious and more pressing than they were before last year. Food insecurity, in particular, has been an issue here in America for a long time, and the large-scale loss of jobs a year ago definitely made it much worse and also more visible. Who doesn’t recall the photos of long lines of cars queued up to receive food boxes and other help from a variety of organizations. Throughout the year, I have been following both the national problems and the actions of Food Gatherers, the food bank in Ann Arbor where I live, and I wanted to explore what’s happening now.

Several changes in the national situation recently have offered a cause for optimism:

At the moment, there is a better outlook for employment. Jobless claims were at a pandemic-era low at the end of March. Specifically: “The unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent in March. The rate is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The number of unemployed persons, at 9.7 million, continued to trend down in March but is 4.0 million higher than in February 2020. (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Coming soon or already in place: better benefits and direct help from the federal government are being enacted into law. The New York Times reports: “With more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat, the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.” (source)

Throughout  the past very difficult year, charitable organizations have been improving their organizations and distributing more food to those in need —“The people who run America’s charitable food banks take pride in what they’ve accomplished over the past year, and the numbers justify it: They distributed roughly 50 percent more food in 2020 compared with 2019, a considerable portion to first-time visitors. They served millions of people even as they dealt with supply-chain interruptions and health risks for their volunteers and employees.” (source)

Although there is a resurgence of coronavirus cases in Michigan, and a “fourth wave” of infections may be underway, the vaccination programs throughout the country are also a cause for optimism. As more people become able to go to work, to eat in restaurants, and to enjoy a more normal life, and as children and students of all ages return to school, the root causes of increased food insecurity may become less drastic, and the new approaches to the general well-being of Americans may help solve some of our problems. 

I wrote about some of this a few weeks ago, and I wanted to update that post here. My previous post:

There are still many problems with the rest of the world — especially the fact that distribution of vaccine is not anywhere near as effective elsewhere, and the disease is still spreading. The challenges facing any approach to world hunger are drastic, and the changes needed globally are frightening. I can’t begin to grasp the scope of what’s needed globally. We have to face the consequences of climate change and destruction of resources — two potential causes of increasing poverty and unimaginable want. As we also have to face incredible public health problems. 

blog post © 2021 mae sander

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Hunger In America

Food Gatherers, Ann Arbor, Michigan: a food bank that serves many charitable organizations.
I took these photos a few years ago when I toured the Food Gatherers facility.

Thinking of Thanksgiving this week, I have written several posts about the celebrations that we have enjoyed over the years, and on the foods and traditions of this American holiday. I'm thankful that my family, friends, and I have been privileged to enjoy many of these traditions over the years. 

Now I would like to turn my thoughts to the many people who are suffering more this year than ever because they do not have sufficient resources to obtain adequate foods, for every day or for the holiday. Hunger is worse than ever in our community, as in our country as a whole, and in the entire world.

From the newsletter of Food Gatherers, our
local food bank (source)
What can I do? What can we do? My choice has been donating to Food Gatherers, the local food bank in Ann Arbor. Like most similar organizations nationwide, Food Gatherers has experienced a great increase in need this year. The associated food pantries that distribute food from Food Gatherers to needy people have been extremely stressed. Pantries that served 100 families a month before the pandemic now serve 100 families per week. 

The food distribution organizations working with Food Gatherers have increased support for vulnerable families and individuals who are unable to pick up food at distribution centers. They have also been increasing help provided at the distribution centers where people can pick up food boxes.  

Food Gatherers obtains food from a number of sources, including donations of surplus food, donations via food drives, purchases of food from various sources, and food obtained from Feeding America, which is an organization that supplies food to food pantries nationwide. Feeding America is the parent organization of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries nationwide. To learn about how Feeding America collects and distributes food throughout these organizations, see: "How Do Food Banks Work?"

Feeding America has recognized the accomplishments of Food Gatherers: "For the second year in a row, Food Gatherers has been inducted into the Feeding America Advocacy Hall of Fame. To be included, food banks must complete a year-long challenge that includes educating community members and policymakers about the realities of food insecurity."

From the website of Feeding America (link), I would like to quote the following summary of the dire situation of hungry children, working-age Americans, elderly people, and households in both urban and rural areas. They write: 

Millions of children and families living in America face hunger and food insecurity every day.

  • Due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 17 million children.
  • According to the USDA's latest Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, more than 35 million people in the United States struggled with hunger in 2019. 
  • In 2018, 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food.
  • Households with children are more likely to experience food insecurity. Before the coronavirus pandemic, more than 10 million children live in food-insecure households.
  • Every community in the country is home to families who struggle with food insecurity including rural and suburban communities.
  • Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and need to rely on their local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for support.

I try to be conscious of the needs of others, and I have been donating money to Food Gatherers throughout the terrible emergency that's gripped our country this year. When I think about Thanksgiving, I think of my own life but also others' lives. I feel grateful to these organizations for helping those who need help. I encourage generosity from anyone who is able to be generous.

Note about a program to alleviate hunger: In thinking about the problems of hunger in America, I have been trying to follow a government program that was invented last spring to address the food insecurity caused by the pandemic. This program, unfortunately, has been kept fairly secret from the public and from relevant watchdogs. It was supposed to collect farm surpluses, such as food that would have been sold to restaurants, and to employ private corporations (rather than the existing food bank network or the USDA) to assemble and distribute food boxes to needy people. Many problems with suspicious or corrupt dealings have been documented with these private corporations, which were often cronies of the administration. For a recent report on this issue see "Trump officials gave a finance firm $16.3 million to supply food boxes to the poor. House Democrats are raising questions about how those funds were handled."

UPDATE: Also see this summary about the increase in hunger in America at the Guardian today.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander, quotes and images as credited. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Food Insecurity (Again)

Food insecurity is a topic I've written about, but there's no way to finish with this topic! For a very large number of Americans the economic crash that resulted from the Covid 19 pandemic was a catastrophe. "Due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 18 million children. ( There's plenty of data to show that hunger in third-world countries is much worse than here, but in this post, I'm only going to explore what's happening in the USA, and try to understand the results of our crashing economy, irresponsible national leaders, and unprecedented demand on social services.

At the beginning of the pandemic, food banks and social welfare programs were overwhelmed with people in need. Long lines of cars formed at food distribution sites. Donations of surplus food to the food banks disappeared as panic buying emptied the shelves of food markets and donations from restaurants ended as the restaurants shut down almost everywhere in the country. Although the dramatic events have become more manageable, and thus less news-worthy, extreme food insufficiency still exists in many parts of our society, with several times as many people needing food aid than did before the pandemic. Long lines still form at many distribution sites, and food packages run out while people are still waiting.

To say it simply: many children are going hungry, many adults are going hungry and many families are suffering deeply. Of great concern: it's about to get worse. Government measures to help the suddenly unemployed and newly poor citizens are about to expire at the same time as untimely opening of public accommodations and businesses drives Covid 19 numbers upward again.

About the economy, Paul Krugman wrote a summary on Twitter on June 27:
"Wage and salary income fell $800 billion (at an annual rate) between Feb and May, but this was more than offset by $1.2 trillion in unemployment benefits. This kept lockdown of contact-intensive sector from spilling over into a much wider slump. 
"But expanded benefits are set to expire at the end of next month, and for technical reasons will actually vanish for most workers on 25 July. There was supposed to be OK because of a rapidly recovering economy — but the failure on virus control means slow recovery instead. 
"In effect we're set to impose devastating austerity on an economy not remotely ready to handle it — and to head that off we'd need major policy action in *less than a month*. With the White House still in denial, what are the odds of that happening?"
Unemployment benefits have been difficult to secure, thanks to dysfunctional application systems and bureaucracies, but by now a large number of unemployed people have received payments and many are now going back to work, though new increases in the number of Covid 19 cases may disrupt the apparent progress. Further, as Krugman points out, the special benefits seem likely to expire, thus leaving many people without the means to put food on the table. Adding those who will lose benefits to those who didn't qualify for benefits is a scary prospect.

For example, many families relied on school lunch programs for much of their children's nutrition before the pandemic. Many shut-down school districts managed to supply meals to students although no actual classroom teaching was going on. Now summer vacation is putting new stress on social service organizations that normally provide summer replacements for the school meals. I've tried to find out how they are coping this year.

In my local area, I'm aware of SOS Community Services in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the next town over from Ann Arbor where I live. This organization and many others like it organize summer meals for children who rely on school lunches during the school year. Food for the SOS programs to cook and serve is provided by the county's central food bank, Food Gatherers. This summer, however, the need for social distancing makes their usual approach of communal meals impossible. Under special regulations of the Michigan Department of Social Services, "Each week, sites will distribute bundles of free, to-go meals (breakfast and lunch), to provide 14 meals/week for each child. Parents/guardians may pick up the food." (source)

A major source of food for low-income people is the Federal program SNAP. Of course SNAP has experienced major increases in demand since the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Obtaining SNAP benefits has always been difficult, even when a huge surge created new problems and when hunger was an emergency for many people. Efforts are slowly being made to improve the roadblocks. From the website Food Bank News:
"The notoriously difficult process of applying for SNAP — involving pages of documentation and even face-to-face interviews — is finally entering a more modern age, as mobile applications optimized for ease of use start to become more widely available. For example, GetCalFresh, a mobile app developed by the non-profit Code for America, makes it possible to submit an application for California’s version of SNAP in a matter of minutes. 
"In the face of crushing demand, improvements to the SNAP application process cannot come quickly enough. GetCalFresh processed 115,000 applications in March, compared to only 40,000 in February." (Source
Another US Department of Agriculture program, initiated last April and still growing is the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program (link).  More than 20 million food boxes have been distributed since the start of the program, though there's much about it that isn't clear, and I'll be trying to learn more. Marion Nestle writes that the benefits to farmers and to end-recipients have not been well-documented, and she lists a lot of open questions about the program (source).

Hunger, especially, haunts the black community along with racism, which has received particular attention recently, as everyone knows. Combine civil unrest, fear of police violence, widespread illness, job losses, difficulties applying for social benefits, and yet more problems -- Black Americans are disproportionately affected by all the problems in our society, including this:
"African American households face hunger at a rate more than twice that of white, non-Hispanic households. And getting enough to eat is a consistent struggle for 1 in 4 African American children." (source)
Poverty, food insufficiency, and diseases of poverty lead to worse risks and worse outcomes for those infected with the virus. Per 100,000 members of the Black community, there have been 178 hospitalizations due to Covid 19; for the non-Hispanic white community, the comparable number is 40. (As of June 13, per the CDC.)

What can we do -- those of us who are mainly locked down because of high risk from the virus? Various organizations have suggestions such as this one from Feeding America: "How to help your neighbors get by this summer and beyond."

Every stratum of our society has been affected by the pandemic, and the more I try to find out, the more I suffering I see. Economic pain, poor health, and social problems are all worse than ever.  The impact of the coronavirus reaches every part of the food chain. Farmers, food processors and packers, grocery workers, food preparation professionals, restaurant workers, food banks, transport workers and any other part of the chain you can think of all have new problems which all have an impact on food insecurity. There's just too much to cover in a short post like this!

This blog post © 2020 by mae sander and written for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Friday, April 24, 2020


In Detroit, less than an hour's drive from Ann Arbor, where I live, cars line up in huge numbers to receive food distributions
from The Gleaners Community Food Bank. Source: "These Photos Show the Staggering Food Bank Lines Across America."

Hunger and disease are two of the traditional and tightly linked horsemen of the apocalypse. While struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus throughout Michigan, as well as in most other states, state governments out of necessity and prudence have shut down productive industries, retail businesses, restaurants, entertainment venues, schools (including many school lunch programs), and government endeavors. Despite being considered essential, other industries have shut down because of high rates of illness spreading among the workers: notably in meat processing plants. Several million people in the United States who were earning a living one month ago are now jobless, and emergency funds allocated by the federal government have not to date been effectively distributed. Hunger and disease haunt our land.

From the Food Gatherers' twitter feed
Start with my own town, Ann Arbor. The high incidence of coronavirus in Michigan has hit the state very hard, despite recognized success in keeping the disease at bay through severe shutdowns. Our county, Washtenaw County, with approximately 1000 cases, is less affected than the neighboring Detroit area, but there's plenty of suffering throughout our area.

Ann Arbor's local food bank, Food Gatherers, is experiencing very high demand. Food Gatherers partners with the nationwide organization Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the United States, from which it obtains bulk purchases of food. It also receives food and other necessities from  local businesses and food drives. Food Gatherers supplies many local food pantries and welfare organizations, which distribute the food to their clients. Volunteers who staff Food Gatherers in normal times include many retirees, whose risk is too high to allow them to continue to work in the warehouse or other jobs. Members of the National Guard have been assigned to work at the warehouse to ensure that shipments of food are stored and distributed in a timely way.

From an article published in Common Dreams online news: "As Food Banks Face Shortages and Fresh Produce Rots,
Pandemic Spurs Calls for Sustainable Supply Chain." A picture of a volunteer with a Detroit mobile food pantry. 

Ann Arbor is very close to Detroit, where the food emergency is very much worse, as Detroit is extremely hard-hit by the pandemic, and already had a high rate of food insufficiency. An article in Bridge, a website representing Michigan nonprofit organizations was titled "Detroit food banks overrun by coronavirus demand."  From the article:
"Tens of thousands of residents show up each day at a growing number of food sites, with many going away empty-handed because there still isn’t capacity to meet the profound needs. 
"'There is so much of that going on,' said Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan. 'The need is huge all across our service areas. And we serve all of Michigan’s 83 countries,' The Lansing trade association represents seven major food bank suppliers in the state. Those regional food banks supply more than 3,000 sites in Michigan where residents get food, from soup kitchens to schools to senior citizen centers."... 
"In Washtenaw County, the donations from local grocers have dropped by half while requests for food has tripled, said Eileen Spring, president and CEO of Food Gatherers food bank. 
"Donations by grocers have nosedived partly because retailers are having enough trouble keeping stores stocked for buying customers, said Knight, ...'Another stress point is retailers are struggling with logistics and transportation,' of getting more food delivered to them, Knight said. 'There is enough food. It’s not getting to people in the time we are used to-- because so many things are fluid. It’s unprecedented.'"
Pam Smith, president and CEO of the Washtenaw/Ann Arbor United Fund, a source of funding for Food Gatherers and other partner non-profits was interviewed by MLive, the closest thing we have to a local newspaper:
"There is exceptional need in the county, Smith said, saying over 37% of households were already struggling to afford basic necessities and the pandemic only exacerbated the problem. Even in Ann Arbor, there are pockets of poverty, she said, citing a 22.1% poverty rate in the city." (link)

The cascade of consequences of the rapid increase in want and poverty among the unemployed is overwhelming to think about. I have been trying to grasp the enormity of this situation, as it's depicted in the press. In this post I have only tried to explore what's going on in food banks and food pantries near me. The shocking waste of farm produce due to the closure of restaurants is another horrifying part of the picture. On a national scale, want and desperation is scaled up many times, so that I can hardly grasp the massive suffering. I have found numerous articles detailing what's happening throughout the country, but have tried to grasp only this little part of the picture.

As for me, I'm shut down in my home; on fresh-air walks I only see my own neighborhood and a few parks that I judge to be empty of people. As a result of being locked down, I have no first-hand observations of anything. I'm not even going into the grocery store. All I can do is read the news and look for images on the web.

Don't worry about me: I am able to afford what I need. We can buy food from stores with curbside pickup, order online, or ask generous friends to do our shopping for us. But I'm really worried about my fellow human beings whose resources are drained. The only thing I can do is to send a check to Food Gatherers in hopes that they will continue to have sources for purchasing quantities of needed food. Dear readers, if you have the means, I hope that you too will contribute to your local food bank.

This blogpost copyright © 2020 by Mae Sander. Photos are credited in the captions.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Chefs Cook for the Neediest Community Members

Celebrity chefs currently and in the past have at times been interested not only in producing food for wealthy diners, but also in addressing social problems with hunger, malnutrition, and deprivation. Some raise money through charity galas; a few have rolled up their sleeves and actually tried to produce appealing meals for the needy. Running such a program involves different skills than running a high-end restaurant, and some of their efforts have been more successful than others. My knowledge of such endeavors comes from Food Gatherers, a centralized organization for collecting and distributing food to the hungry. They run a community kitchen to prep food for distribution and to serve meals directly to hungry people. (Photo of workers in the kitchen at right, from Food Gatherers' website). Learning about local issues has made me aware of what's involved when anyone, celebrity or not, tries to run such a program.

I found several very interesting instances of celebrity chefs who have worked on such programs. It's surprising how much the programs vary with the individual chefs.

Alexis Soyer

Alexis Soyer is considered one of the earliest celebrity chefs. Soyer, who lived from 1810-1858, is best remembered for his flamboyant cuisine at the Reform Club in London, where his kitchen full of novel inventions was as famous as his creative dishes such as his Reform Club Lamb Cutlets. I'm thinking about him because
Soyer's Irish Soup Kitchen
from The Cork Examiner, February 26, 1847. (source)
my culinary reading group is currently reading a fictitious detective story, The Devil's Feast by M. J. Carter, which is set in the Reform Club (which I reviewed here). This novel includes quite a bit of background about Soyer and his accomplishments including his commitment to develop new ways to feed impoverished workers, specifically, the silk workers who had recently become unemployed. He set up a soup kitchen to provide them with a nourishing soup of his invention, and also wrote pamphlets about the theory of how to feed the hungry.

Looking for more about Soyer's charitable efforts, I found an an article in the Irish Times with a summary of his role in trying to feed the desperate famine victims in Ireland:
"The Soup Kitchen Act of 1847 called for food to be distributed under Sir Robert Peel’s Relief Commission. But with British taxpayers unwilling to pay for Irish needs, the government was overly dependent on private benevolence. Quaker soup kitchens were rarely productive or efficient enough. But Soyer believed he had devised a palatable soup that was easy to prepare, 'of trifling expense' and, if properly administered, capable of helping to arrest the crisis.  
"The key word was 'palatable' – the poor were believed to have simpler alimentary needs than the rich – so the soup required only a leg of meat, dripping, flour, root vegetables, pearl barley and fresh herbs to revitalise. Soyer published his “receipts”, meticulously calculating the price of each ingredient and the measurement needed to minimise waste: 100 tons, he promised with bravura, could be made for just £1." (source)
Soyer's efforts to raise money and create feeding programs for the Irish had mixed success. His recipe for economical soup didn't in fact provide enough calories, and Irish newspapers of the time objected to his over-the-top personal style.

José Andrés

José Andrés cooking in Puerto Rico (New York Times article)
José Andrés, founder of many innovative restaurants in the US, perfectly fits the definition of celebrity chef today -- he received two Michelin stars in the 2016 guide to Washington, D.C., for one of these restaurants along with high praise for Zaytinya, China Chilcano, Jaleo, and Oyamel. Andrés has recently been in the news for his efforts to feed the victims of last summer's hurricane in Puerto Rico; earlier, he created a program to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.

The New York Times, in an article published October 30, 2017, described his efforts:
"Since he hit the ground five days after the hurricane devastated this island of 3.4 million on Sept. 20, he has built a network of kitchens, supply chains and delivery services that as of Monday had served more than 2.2 million warm meals and sandwiches. No other single agency — not the Red Cross, the Salvation Army nor any government entity — has fed more people freshly cooked food since the hurricane, or done it in such a nurturing way. 
"Mr. Andrés’s effort, by all accounts the largest emergency feeding program ever set up by a group of chefs, has started winding down. But it illustrates in dramatic fashion the rise of chefs as valuable players in a realm traditionally left to more-established aid organizations. 
"With an ability to network quickly, organize kitchens in difficult circumstances and marshal raw ingredients and equipment, chef-led groups are creating a model for a more agile, local response to catastrophes." (source)

Narayanan Krishnan

Narayanan Krishnan (From HuffPost)
In India in 2002, Narayanan Krishnan was a rising hotel chef, but left his celebrity job to found a charity, the Akshaya Trust, for feeding and housing the poorest people of the south Indian city of Madurai. In 2010, he was listed as one of CNN's heroes of the year.

Unlike the other chefs I've read about, Krishnan entirely left his celebrity life behind. All his efforts are dedicated to housing, feeding, and trying to bring dignity to the lives of homeless and often mentally ill people -- even cutting their hair.

The most recent article about him that I found was published in the Huffington Post in 2013: "Narayanan Krishnan: Chef Dedicates his Life to Help the Homeless in India." Even the charity's website has not been updated recently, so I don't have any recent information. Unfortunately, he was at one time accused of abuse in his home for poor people, but has been exonerated by an Indian court ruling.

From the HuffPost article:
"The Akshaya Trust is currently building a shelter home for the deserted and helpless and working towards providing medical and water facilities with the help of voluntary donations.  
"Krishnan's day begins early morning at 4 a.m. and finishes at 11p.m. He and his team cover nearly 125 miles in a donated van, routinely working in temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Krishnan had approached a team of barbers to help give haircuts to the homeless, however they declined and he decided to take matters into his own hands. 'I decided to attend a hair cutting training school for six months and have done more than three to four thousand haircuts for people on the road.' Krishnan said."

Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura (right) greets diners in his Milan Reffettorio. (Guardian)
At the Milan food expo in 2015, several celebrity chefs were asked to produce a showy meal for homeless people. Massimo Bottura, whose restaurant in Modena had three Michelin stars, was one of these chosen chefs. His vision for feeding refugees, victims of poverty, and other needy people has developed into a permanent organization, created with the cooperation of Pope Francis and others. His establishments are called Refettorios; besides Italy, one is in Rio and another is currently opening in London. An article, "Massimo Bottura and his global movement to feed the hungry" published in the Guardian in May, 2017, described his efforts.

Using ingredients donated by supermarkets, chefs in these kitchens for feeding poor people do very imaginative and delicious cooking to please their clients. An example from Milan: "aubergine and courgette with mozzarella and parmesan, a cannelloni (the chefs are just rolling the pasta), raspberry ice cream (from a mountain of glorious slightly overripe fruit that has just been delivered)." And: "He looks forward to the challenge of creating his British menus as much as anything, working with what comes through the door each day, spreading the Italian tradition of cucina povera, make do and blend. As we head back inside to prepare for that night’s service he is full of talk of a rice and pumpkin soup he created here recently, from the previous day’s risotto, with the addition of some ginger, the softened crust of parmesan and some leftover herbs."

Feeding the Hungry in My Own City

As the end of the year approaches, I am faced with decisions of how to donate money for many good causes, including feeding hungry people. Food Gatherers, the local organization that collects food and distributes it to a variety of social service organizations, is a very effective Ann Arbor organization, which I've written about several times. Several local organizations rely on volunteer cooks to prepare meals for homeless and underprivileged people; though we don't have any celebrity chefs, we do our best! I hope you will also find a good way to help people who are in need.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fighting Hunger, Which is All Too Common in America

At the end of each year, I consider where to send my charitable donations. One of my high priorities is organizations that offer food assistance to the needy. Here are some photos from last year when I visited a couple of local hunger-fighting organizations. I hope that you are thinking along the same lines, and looking for effective charities in your local area that will help those who need help.

Food Gatherers: Ann Arbor, MI: Produce in the warehouse comes from several sources.
Food Gatherers, Ann Arbor, MI. -- the food pantry, one of many rooms in their large warehouse.
The SOS Community Services Food Pantry, Ypsilanti, MI -- staples, personal care products, produce, recipes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Kale tastes like dishwater: A rant.

I decided to give kale another chance, and ordered a kale salad at a very beautiful restaurant in Hawaii recently.
The goat cheese, candied nuts, and fruit in the salad were delicious. But kale is... well, kale.
Of all the overrated foods I know of, kale is the most overrated. I know it's a personal thing, as any taste is, but I'm overwhelmed by the ever-increasing presence of kale in so many places at every level -- a trend that's lasted quite a few years now. Some people like it, but can its health benefits really be as extreme as they are claimed to be? I hate the term "super food" for a lot of reasons, but kale is definitely one of them.

Just a random look at the featured recipes on the Bon Appetit website gets you to a suggestion for a nice white bean and sausage dinner. The recommended ingredients are illustrated in the photo at left.

"Cooking without recipes" is the name of the section with the white bean dish. The whole approach looks great until you get to the instructions: "Add a big handful of shredded kale until slightly wilted." Now why would you do that to a beautiful dish of white beans, parmesan cheese, sausage, poached egg and other delicious ingredients. I would totally enjoy that dish, except kale tastes to me like dishwater. Yeah, that kind of dishwater.

At least they say this in Bon Appetit before they link to fourteen more kale recipes:
The myth: Kale is the most nutrient-rich of all the leafy greens. 
The truth: Actually, spinach, romaine, parsley, and chard are “healthier” for you. That’s not to say kale is bad—it’s still packed with Vitamin A, C, E, K, and fiber.
I know people who are grateful for such an abundance of recipes because kale is also the nemesis of those who subscribe to farm shares. I recall one friend with a farm share who made kale pie. Her children even ate it. She was a bit rueful about it though since the main ingredients were eggs, cream, and pie crust.

Kale isn't just for rich spoiled foodies, though. Food banks love to give away kale to their customers. I was just reading about a food bank in Washington, DC, where they have convinced supermarkets to stop donating junk food including cakes and other sweets. They want more kale!

I read an article by Julia Belluz titled: "This food bank doesn’t want your junk food. Good." The article described several reasons why food insecure people may binge eat (fearing scarcity) and why offering them unhealthy or super-fat junk food just makes their lives more difficult. The link between food insecurity and obesity becomes more obvious when you think about the ups and downs of too little or too much food that may be their experience. Belluz explains:
"Like other low-income Americans, many of these folks struggle with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high-blood pressure... sending them highly processed, sugary foods — which are energy-dense and nutrition-poor — isn’t going to help matters."

 Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor has a less severe policy about cake, but makes a huge effort to find fresh fruit and vegetables for their clients. I completely support and applaud this effort to help their food-insecure clients choose healthier foods. Even kale. I just don't quite understand its sacred place in all this, though.

Left: illustration of kale from the kale recipes page of the Ann Arbor Food Gatherers' website. Of course there are also recipes for over a dozen other veggies! I hope the people who receive the food from Food Gatherers get a choice.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Delivering food to those in Need

Mary Schlitt, Food Gatherers' Chief Development Officer,
showing the graph of protein and produce
delivered in Washtenaw County this year.
Food Gatherers, the Ann Arbor area food bank, has a goal of delivering nutritious food including produce and protein. As I have been writing this week, Food Gatherers collects surplus food and also buys food to supply its 150 partners. These partner organizations distribute the food through a variety of end-user programs for people in need. Most of the distribution is done through an ordering system; orders are collected from partner organizations, assembled and boxed at the warehouse, loaded onto the FG trucks, and delivered to the partners. Or partners pick up the orders.

A food pantry is also onsite at the Food Gatherers  (FG) headquarters. Customers at this pantry are not end-recipients but are employees or volunteers at the partner organizations. With lists of foods that their recipients need and want, they visit the FG pantry, select the needed products, and take them back to their organization for use in hot-meal programs or distribution. Besides food, FG distributes personal care items and baby diapers to these organizations. 

The food pantry at FG headquarters. 
Selecting foods: an employee of Avalon Housing. 
Low sodium soups and canned goods are among the most-wanted items for food drives. Other much-wanted foods include
beans, rice, cereal, nut butter, and other low-sodium items such as canned fish, meat, and vegetables.
For a list of Food Gatherers' most wanted items, SEE THIS PAGE. I hope you will donate generously to Food Gatherers or to your local food bank, whether you give food or money!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Gathering Food for People in Need

  • "We fight hunger efficiently. We regard the gifts of food, money and time that we receive as a sacred trust to be administered for the most effective hunger relief possible." -- One of Food Gatherers' Values.
Produce in the warehouse at Food Gatherers' headquarters comes from several sources.
Food Gatherers puts the emphasis on fresh produce for distribution to hungry people in Washtenaw County.
In the FG Warehouse.
A semi truck with produce or packaged foods pulls up around once a week at the dock at 1 Carrot Way, headquarters of Food Gatherers (FG), the Washtenaw County food bank. After the food is unloaded and stored on the warehouse shelves, it becomes available to 150 local FG partners for distribution to people in need.

On my recent visit to FG headquarters and warehouse, Mary Schlitt, FG Chief Development Officer, and John Reed, FG Chief Compliance Officer, provided me with answers to my numerous questions about where the food in the warehouse comes from. The main source of food for FG is donations of rescued food; in addition FG purchases approximately $1 million of food per year.

Feeding America, a privately-funded national food bank, is one source of food and personal care items coming to the warehouse on the weekly semi trucks. Feeding America offers several programs to its 200 partner agencies. FG relies on two of them: the "Produce Match Maker" and the "Choice System." Through these programs, FG can order various products that have been donated by a variety of national manufacturers or other businesses. Feeding America works out the logistics of trucks that may deliver partial truckloads to more than one partner agency. (Another side of the FG-Feeding America partnership is that Feeding America audits the food-handling practices and other aspects of the FG program.)

Ruhlig Farms is an important source of produce purchased
purchased through the MASS system.
Fresh produce from Michigan farms may alternatively be the payload of various trucks arriving at FG. Such orders may be placed through the Michigan Agricultural Surplus System (MASS) and the Food Council of Michigan. These publicly funded organizations share the cost of wholesale first-quality Michigan-grown products 50-50 with FG. Fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, dried beans, meat and other Michigan foods thus become available to FG clients.

Other trucks may deliver a variety of products from other sources. Around 9% of Food Gatherers budget is donated by the USDA, and can be used for purchase of USDA foods and surplus foods, such as canned or packaged juices, fruit, vegetables, beef stew, soup, salmon, raisins, dairy products, and more. A very small amount of aid for high-demand items is also supplied by certain FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) programs. Occasionally, a surprise donation arrives on an unexpected truck from a private donor.

USDA foods in the FG warehouse.
A Food Gatherers' truck at the dock -- the trucks bring in donated food and
distribute food needed by partners: hot meal providers and food pantries.
Most importantly: FG has its own trucks, which arrive at the docks several times a day. They bring donations from local businesses such as supermarkets, bakeries, drug stores, big-box stores, and food drives. A total of 60 to 70% of the food from FG consists of this rescued food from more than 300 different donor sources.

In addition, FG collects and distributes produce grown specially for their customer base. At gardens near the warehouse the Food Gatherers Gathering Farm grows vegetables for their clients. This year, according to the FG website, the farm produced "cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, kale, collard greens, melons, leeks, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips and peas!"

The Faith and Food campaign has encouraged local congregations to start communal gardens and donate a portion of their harvest. Individual gardeners in the area often grow extra produce for FG in a program called Plant a Row for the Hungry. In addition, the Huron Valley Women's Correctional Facility horticulture program and the Michigan Farm to Food Bank give substantial donations to FG.

In a future post, I'll talk about how FG partners distribute food from the warehouse to their partner organizations and onward to the final consumers. I've already written about one partner: SOS Community Services and their food pantry which is stocked with items from FG (as well as items from their own food drives) -- see my post "Fighting Hunger."

A volunteer with donated bread.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Exotic Foods, Carrots, and Feeding the Hungry

Food Gatherers is "The Food Rescue & Food Bank Program Serving Washtenaw County."
Their trucks, which one sees all over town, pick up food from donors and deliver to food pantries and other programs.
A tour of the headquarters of Food Gatherers, the food bank for Ann Arbor and the surrounding county, taught me a large number of things -- enough for more than one blog post. So I'm going to start with the amusing Exotic Food Museum, which is in a single bookshelf in their lobby. Their theme, carrots, also inspires clever items donated to decorate their offices and reception area. I was delighted to see that besides their incredible social conscience and effective work feeding hungry people, they have such a sense of humor.

Is this Mona Lisa the iguana? Or just ordinary iguana soup?
Of course the first thing I noticed when I came into the lobby was the Doña Lisa Garrobo Soup can. Does the iguana (Spanish garrobo) on the label have an enigmatic smile? Or am I too obsessed with finding Mona Lisa everywhere?

A large cardboard box labeled CIVIL DEFENSE CARBOHYDRATE SUPPLEMENT... 1963 is one of the most dramatic items in the Exotic Food Museum. 

Many of the items in the collection are novelty cans, but others are normal foods from the past or from other cultures. Most of them came to Food Gatherers along with normal donated foods, but couldn't be distributed because they were past any reasonable use-by date or because they were not legally labeled for consumption in the US. 

Food drives where people donate canned goods and packaged goods of course are an important source for Food Gatherers. They go to food pantries, hot-meal programs, and other organizations that distribute food to people in need. I'll write about the details of these programs in my next post.

There are carrot images (and actual carrots too) everywhere at Food Gatherers. Carrots symbolize their commitment to supplying fresh produce along with packaged and canned foods, meat, and many other important nutritional sources to the food pantries and other distributors.

The headquarters offices and warehouse function to manage the operations, collect and sort food, and prepare it for distribution. No end users (families and individuals in need) are served at Food Gatherers headquarters. Rather, representatives of partner organizations come there to select foods from a pantry on site to take back to the many end-user distribution points, and truckloads of food are prepared for delivery to these points.

Carrots are the Food Gatherers' theme. This sign in the lobby
gages the total of food collected this fiscal year.
Giant carrots on the lawn...
Carrot-themed collectibles...
Carrot door handles...
And actual carrots donated by a local supermarket, a sign of the Food Gatherers
commitment to distributing fresh produce ...
All at Food Gatherers' headquarters at 1 Carrot Way, Ann Arbor.
I'll be posting more about this important community organization and how it serves those in need. If you live in Washtenaw County, I encourage you to consider donating food, money, or volunteer time!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fighting Hunger

Maybe you live in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and your family needs help. SOS Community Services is a social-service organization that offers housing services, help with utilities, food assistance, and various social services. Earlier this week, I visited one of the two SOS centers in Ypsi, which is around 20 minutes drive from my home in adjacent Ann Arbor. My goal was to learn more about SOS, which has been developing social services to meet the changing needs of the community for 45 years.

I was particularly interested to find out more about their food pantry, which offers families in the community choices of bread, produce, meat, and a variety of canned and packaged goods, all at no charge. Six times per year, a family member makes an appointment to visit the pantry and select from a variety of foods to supplement groceries that they buy, perhaps using government assistance like SNAP. Every week, produce is available to all clients on a walk-in basis. Most of the food comes from Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor, says Marti Lachapell, coordinator of the food bank.

The SOS Community Services Food Pantry -- staples, personal care products, produce, recipes.
At left: Marti Lachapell.
Some SOS families have homes with kitchens. Foods from the pantry that are helpful to them are bags of rice or dried beans, boxed mac & cheese, waffle mix, frozen beef or pork, fresh vegetables like potatoes and carrots, fresh fruit, bread and sometimes desserts, large bottles of juice, and many pantry staples. The quantity of food each family receives depends on family size. Certain items, like baby food and large containers of juice, may be limited, due to high demand, but every family goes home with a useful selection of needed groceries.

Produce, bread, canned goods, juice, peanut butter... to be chosen by the users.
The bakery goods shelves are nearly empty in the photo because my
visit was the afternoon after the pantry's morning open hours.
Homeless families or those living in an unstable situation are also among the SOS clients. For them, helpful items are foods like peanut butter, saltine crackers, or single-servings of apple sauce: portable foods that don't need refrigeration. Some families are "surfing" -- that is, they live temporarily with a series of friends or relatives. The food they receive here from often helps them to be more welcome as guests.

"SOS never charges for food," explained Chelsea Brown, SOS development director. "All of our food is free to consumers so that they can stretch their limited budgets."

This week, as pictured above, the pantry received a lot of radishes among the produce available, so Marti researched some recipes to help people figure out how to cook them, not just to eat them raw. Labels "GO" or "SLOW" appear on some shelves to suggest what's good to eat in any quantities, like produce, and what might be less healthy choices, like sweets or waffles from the available waffle mix. In the pantry there's also a bulletin board offering recipes for healthy snacks.

Rhonda Weathers, SOS executive director, and Chelsea Brown, joined Marti in showing me around the center and answering my questions. They described how SOS responds to changing needs and situations. For example, opening up the pantry shelves to allow families to meet their own needs is a new process. It replaced the old way that SOS distributed food until last year, which was to provide each family with a bag of pre-selected foods.

Also recently, Marti explained, they've expanded the choices of fresh fruit and vegetables in the pantry. Some produce is local; some comes from national distribution centers. Most of the items in the pantry are able to be restocked when needed; the category where demand usually exceeds supply is personal care items, which for the most part are not part of the Food Gatherers offerings.
Rice, mac & cheese boxes, more canned goods.
Food insecurity exists in every county in America. Around 14% of American families experience hunger. Here in Washtenaw County, Michigan, where I live, a number of organizations including SOS attempt to help people in need to overcome many of their problems, including housing, jobs, and stability for children. SOS works in partnership with other organizations, both local and national.

SOS, using HUD funding, provides temporary housing for homeless families, and attempts to place them in permanent homes and better jobs. They run a summer enrichment program for 40 kids called Sunny Days, which also includes a lunch program. Other sponsored activities for kids are a Girl Scout troop, tutoring programs, and after-school activities during the school year.

Maybe your family needs help, I said when I started this post. But maybe you are much more fortunate, and could help SOS Community Services with a donation or could volunteer in one of their volunteer programs. I hope more fortunate people will think about this.

Note: For more information see the SOS website. For nation-wide hunger statistics see this Feeding America Fact Sheet.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Let's help families in need."

In November and December, many organizations dedicated to helping needy families normally sponsor food drives. I wanted to write a little bit about two such agencies that serve residents of the city and county where I live: Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, Michigan. I hope that other food bloggers will join me in thinking about food needs in their communities.

At the Fitness Center where I go for yoga classes, a sign labeled "Let's help families in need" appeared this week. It lists a variety of items that a local social service organization, SOS Community Services, would like more fortunate people to share with their clientele. Next to the sign are several collection boxes, which happily are filling up fast.

At the top of the list: "Frozen whole turkeys." A little add-on sign explains that donated turkeys must be brought in only on one afternoon just before the  holiday. Other listed items are all traditional for Thanksgiving dinner: requests include cans of vegetables, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, fruit, cream of chicken or mushroom soup, broth, fried onions, and pie filling. Many other contributions are needed too: boxed or packaged pie crust, marshmallows, macaroni and cheese, stuffing mix, mashed potatoes, gravy, bisquick or corn muffin mix, sugar, and flour.

SOS, located in our neighboring town of Ypsilanti, runs a food pantry where their clients can select the items that they need for their kitchens, items they know they want to use. They offer these foods to people who can cook Thanksgiving dinner, but don't have the means to buy the ingredients. Enabling families to cook a traditional holiday meal that they are otherwise unable to afford seems to be a very helpful way to improve their lives, and I find this a generous approach.

The SOS website states:
"The food pantry helps people facing hardships stretch their limited budgets. The program makes sure that parents do not have to choose between feeding their children and keeping them housed. SOS has a choice pantry, which means that consumers have the option to choose the food and personal care items they want and will use. The pantry provides a day’s allotment of food (three meals) for each person within the household. This service is offered to each consumer, by appointment up to four times per year, plus one holiday. Families can access fresh produce weekly without an appointment." (from SOS website)
People who want to contribute to SOS can donate food to their seasonal and ongoing food drives like this one, and can also give them money. Besides providing their clients with the food from the food drives, SOS is a distribution point for Food Gatherers: "the food rescue and food bank program serving Washtenaw County. Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community."

Food Gatherers collects surplus food, garden produce, and donated food from a number of sources and gives appropriate foods to "150 non-profit agencies and programs providing direct food assistance in the form of hot meals, nutritious snacks or emergency groceries to low-income adults, seniors and children in Washtenaw County."  (from Food Gatherers Website).

Unfortunately, there are many people facing food insecurity in Washtenaw county. SOS clients, who may receive other social services as well as food aid, are allowed access to the food pantry no more than five times per year. SOS also runs several programs to assist the homeless in finding both temporary and permanent shelter. Other local programs of course exist to provide hot meals for those without the resources to prepare food, and other forms of assistance.

Writing and thinking about food, always having enough to eat, living without fear of food insecurity: these are luxuries that I and many food bloggers and our families enjoy. I'm concerned for those who go hungry -- in Michigan 17.9% of the population sometimes suffers from food insecurity, in the US as a whole, 16.4%. I'm thinking of these local social service organizations who try to help, and also thinking about hunger throughout the country and around the world. To quote Food Gatherers: "We believe that food is a basic human right."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Food Gatherers

Hunger is here in my community, Ann Arbor. The economy is bad, and more people need help than ever. Demand for government programs and private food distribution has almost doubled in the past 5 years.

Food Gatherers is a local organization that tries to alleviate hunger, so I'm thinking about them -- and I've donated to them as well. Their purpose: "reducing food waste through the rescue and distribution of perishable and non-perishable food, coordinating with other hunger relief providers, educating the public about hunger, and developing new food resources."

Food Gatherers collects food from grocery stores and other sources. According to the local online news, "A large number of the local organizations that give out food receive the bulk of their food from Food Gatherers.... The organization also directly distributes food through its Neighborhood Grocery Initiative that serves 17 different apartment complexes or neighborhoods."

I spend a lot of time thinking about food in what may be a somewhat trivial way. I cook. I read about food in history and about food and cooking as reflected in literature. I write about food. I question what food is healthful, and read about food politics and controversies as to what is healthy to eat. I also try to think about people for whom even less-than-healthful food is a luxury, because they simply don't have enough to eat. So I'm thinking about Food Gatherers.