The holiday season brings a time of celebration, but it can also increase food insecurity.
With tight budgets and rising inflation, food service organizations are seeing increased demand for their services this holiday season.
Take the Manna Food Project in Harbor Springs, for example. On an average week, Manna distributes food to her 75 families in Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmett counties. In November, that number jumped to her 1,000.
Executive Director Carrie Klingelsmith said, “We’re seeing a particularly high need during holidays when people have larger gatherings and things like that.” It may be, but that’s another thing.”
We’re seeing a similar increase in kids’ food baskets in Western Michigan. In addition to running farms and hosting several educational programs, the organization provides nutritious meals daily to her 10,000 people in Ottawa, Allegan, Muskegon and Kent counties.
“When we’re on vacation, we’re on a tight budget,” says program operations director Austin Roelofs. “Housing and food costs are higher than ever, and the minimum wage has not been raised to meet that standard of living.
Manna operates a food bank, food rescue program, weekly food pantry, and backpack program that distributes healthy, nutritious food to students in local schools. Kids’ Food Basket provides daily meals to eligible students in her four counties.
Matthew Flickema, Manna’s volunteer and communications coordinator, says there’s a growing need for a student backpack program. He said Mana gave out about 45,000 to 46,000 bags last year. This year he is in the 50,000-52,000 range.
During holidays when students are not in school, both organizations change their approach to send extra food home.
“If we make deliveries at the end of December, we will provide enough food to get them through the school Christmas holidays until January,” Friskema said.
“When schools are closed for holidays, children are missing breakfast and lunch at school for a long time,” says Roelofs. “We have 10-12 ‘break bags’ to support nutritional needs during extended vacations. A little extra time to get through the break has made a difference for many kids. ”
According to Roelofs, more than 10% of children in Ottawa County live in poverty. A total of 34,260 children are food insecure in Ottawa, Allegan, Kent and Muskegon counties.
Emmett County has a poverty rate of 11% and a food insecurity rate of 12.2%, according to Mana. The child food insecurity rate is 16.7%. The numbers are similar in Charlevoix County, which has a poverty rate of 11.6 percent, a food insecurity rate of 11.5 percent and a child food insecurity rate of 16.5 percent.
In County Antrim, the numbers are even higher. The poverty rate is 14.2%, the food insecurity rate is 12.3%, and the child food insecurity rate is 20.1%.
Klingelsmith stresses that food insecurity “can happen to anyone at any time.”
“We bring people from all walks of life together,” she said. “Someone may have received an unexpected bill and may not know where their next meal is coming from.…We welcome everyone with open arms and treat everyone with respect and dignity. I try to treat them and serve them with … and with that in mind, to as many people as possible.”
Roelofs said addressing food insecurity will help struggling families meet other essential needs.
“Kids food baskets that provide (meal assistance) could enable families to pay important utility bills or fill important prescriptions,” he said.
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Both organizations rely on community support in the form of donations and volunteers.
“We are always in need of volunteers and are always looking for financial donations,” said Klingelsmith. “We can definitely make more dollars as a food bank… If you buy 10 items at the store, you could end up with 50 items here.”
Roelofs also encourages people to discuss the issue. This may lead to resolution.
“It’s important to talk to your friends and neighbors about food insecurity and how you can help,” he said. “The more the community understands the need, the better we can work to address it.”
To support each of these organizations, visit mannafoodproject.org and kidsfoodbasket.org.