Story originally appeared in the Downtown NewsMagazine
By Hillary Brody Anchill
One of the many indelible images over the past year is that of cars filling parking lots, drivers waiting in hours-long lines to pick up food so that they and their families will have food to eat. At the same time, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, farms were filled with rotting crops, and gallons upon gallons of milk were dumped, food going to waste instead of making it to the tables of those in need. Food insecurity is unfortunately not a new issue, but the coronavirus pandemic, and its ensuing economic devastation, has left millions more Americans without necessary access to food.
“When you’re food insecure, you have one problem. You don’t have two,” describes Dr. Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan and chair of the Food Security Council. “Your mind is consumed with the idea of what am I going to get my kids to eat, and what am I going to eat? You’re held captive by that toxic stress until you solve it. Now if you solve it, your mind’s free, and you can think about the other challenges you might have. That’s what you see at a food distribution.”
Prior to March 2020, according to Knight, Michigan’s food insecurity rate was 13.6 percent of the population, or roughly 1,359,650 people, about 400,000 of which were children. As of January 2021, Michigan’s food insecurity rate is 19.1 percent. Over 600,000 of those are children. In Oakland County, the food insecurity rate has jumped from 10.1 percent of the population prior to COVID-19 to 15.1 percent.
Gleaners was able to “adapt and launch additional mobile sites within about a week of the closures [in March] because we already had that distribution model, we already had drive-through distributions so we could take that model and bring it scale,” recalled Averill of how quickly they were able to address the increase in demand for food thanks, in large part, to having operated their School Food Mobile pantries for years. Currently, they have approximately 100 school food mobile and senior distribution locations, and by February, she anticipates that they will have an additional 20 new sites, as well as an additional 70 new public community sites. While the school and senior distributions require invitations to be served, “the 70 additional community mobile sites are open to the public and all of them are spaced out throughout the five counties we serve.” Averill said that all mobile distributions are listed on the Gleaners website with both maps and calendars. “Anybody can go and show up at a site during the distribution window and park in line.” She emphasized that no registration or paperwork is required.