3 ways food banks can help hungry kids and families this summer

Originally posted on WDIV

Far too many children and families are worried about where their next meal will come from – but Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan has launched its summer programming to address hunger across Wayne, Oakland, Livingston, Macomb and Monroe counties.

At a time when one in six people, including one in five children, are experiencing food insecurity in Southeast Michigan, Gleaners is increasing food access through its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

The program offers three different distribution models that makes it easy and convenient for families to provide their children with the nutritious, wholesome meals they need to stay healthy throughout the summer season.

1. Grocery sites

Also known as emergency mobile pantries, these 22 pop-up sites take place outside of schools, community centers, shopping plazas and other partner locations. Gleaners reports that 80% of the households that attend these sites are families with children under the age of 18.

Guests are invited to drive up or walk up to any grocery site location and receive about 35 pounds of nutritious food, completely free. The food packages are designed to give families all the ingredients they need to prepare well-balanced meals at home, and includes a combination of fresh milk, dairy, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and shelf-stable food items such as rice and beans.

Krystall Fohey is a senior who frequently visits Gleaners’ grocery site at Oakland Hope in Pontiac. Due to a recent knee and hip injury, she is unable to continue working at her home care job. She said the loss of income impacted her multigenerational family’s ability to put food on the table.

“The bills are exorbitant right now, and working is not an option for me,” Fohey said. “My son and daughter-in-law told me about this distribution, so I pick up food for both of our households. My young granddaughter likes the yogurt the best.”

Fohey said she and her family use all the food items they receive from Gleaners and that none of it goes to waste.

“We make a lot of smoothies with the fresh produce we get,” she said. “I had also never cooked a whole chicken until I started getting them from Gleaners. I learned how to barbecue it and roast it in the oven. It has been a good experience, and they taste excellent!”

As part of its nutrition education initiatives, Gleaners includes healthy recipes in each food package so guests can learn how to incorporate the ingredients they receive into different meals. Additionally, Gleaners hosts live cooking demonstrations on its Facebook page to show fans how to prepare nutritious, budget-friendly meals. On June 1, 2021, retired NBA player and Detroit native Willie Burton teamed up with Gleaners to virtually demonstrate a protein-rich black bean soup recipe, which incorporated chicken broth, diced tomatoes, black beans, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin and black pepper.

“It’s really important to know nutrition, and understand how important it is for growing up, getting big and strong, and maintaining that as you get older,” Burton said. “We want to make sure that the food people are getting from Gleaners or anywhere else can be used in tasty recipes that appeal to them.”

2. Meal sites

In addition to groceries, Gleaners is providing children with individually prepared meals. Of the 42 total meal sites, 12 are structured as a take-home “grab and go” model, while the remaining 30 sites deliver meals directly to groups of children.

As part of the take-home “grab and go” model, eligible families drive up to their meal site location once a week and receive a large box containing seven breakfasts and seven lunches for their children. The prepared meals follow strict nutritional guidelines and include items such as meatloaf, stuffed shells, sandwiches and salads.

The on-site meals are transported directly to children who are participating in scheduled programming, such as summer camps and daycare.

For many years, Gleaners has provided meals to children attending What’s Good in My Hood Outdoor Adventure Camp in Detroit, formerly known as Summer Jam. Program director Carrie Wright says the meals have greatly improved the mental and physical health of her campers.

“Last year, we discovered that a pair of siblings weren’t getting whole meals at home,” Wright said. “They used to get donuts and pop at the gas station for breakfast, and didn’t have enough energy to participate in the activities at camp.”

Carrie noted that once the children started receiving a healthy breakfast and lunch through Gleaners at camp, they came alive.

“Now, they love playing sports at camp. And with the nutrition education programming, they learned that a healthy breakfast needs juice, milk, fruit and grains. The kids told their parents about the food they get at camp, and now they receive more nutritious meals at home too.”

3. Mobile delivery sites

Transportation and other factors can make it difficult for some families to access food resources. To address this issue, Gleaners came up with a strategic solution: deliver meals directly to low-income housing complexes and neighborhoods where children reside.

These 24 sites, primarily located throughout Inkster and Detroit, provide families with prepared breakfasts and lunches five days a week, delivered by refrigerated trucks at pre-scheduled times. Through this food model, parents or siblings can pick up daily meals from the trucks for children in the household.

To ensure children are getting good nutrition through the summer months, each prepared breakfast always includes a grain, milk, and a fruit or vegetable. Additionally, each lunch incorporates a protein, a fruit, a vegetable, grains and milk. New this year, families are allowed to take home enough food for weekend meals on Saturday and Sunday, along with a half-gallon of fresh milk.

Gleaners is calling upon the community to support the continuation of these crucial summer programs. From June through August, all donations made to Gleaners’ Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign will be matched by Citizens, Toni Wisne Sabina Foundation, GM, Ford, Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation and other generous donors. Every dollar donated provides six meals to hungry neighbors in Southeast Michigan.

To donate, visit www.hungerfreesummer.org.