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Feeding Students and Covid Survivors

Food Gatherers expands the reach of its summer food service program

by Maggie McMillin

Published in June, 2020

Summer is the hungriest time of year for many children and teens. There are an estimated 5,300 food-insecure kids in Washtenaw County, and when schools close, they no longer have access to National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need is even greater this year.

In a statement to, Food Gatherers President and CEO Eileen Spring discussed this uptick in need. "When the stay-at-home order was first issued, pretty much overnight we lost a huge portion of our regular food supply as well as our labor force," she says. Picked-over grocery stores had less leftover food to offer up for collection, and many volunteers were older or otherwise high-risk. Spring also notes that food pantries around the county are reporting increases in the number of people seeking assistance. Depending on location, traffic is up anywhere from 30 percent to 300 percent--and 40 percent of those seeking assistance are new clients who've never needed emergency food services before.

The pandemic also shut down Grillin' for Food Gatherers, the fundraising that raises an estimated $250,000 each year. But local partners, businesses, and volunteers continue to support the organization's efforts. Washtenaw Community College donated the contents of its campus pantry, Michigan Medicine created a drive-up donation site for food and PPE, and the People's Food Co-op recently donated $4,000. Food Gatherer's Covid fundraising campaign successfully met its $50,000 match, and has since increased the match to $70,000.

On June 29, Food Gatherers kicked off its Summer Food Service Program, which serves free meals to kids and teens. Backed by a $140,000 donation, they're offering grab-and-go meals at twenty-two sites around the county. "This year, many more families are experiencing reduced or lost income as a result of the pandemic," says community food programs coordinator LeRonica Robert. "The Summer Food Service Program makes it easy for families to safely pick up and take home meals so that parents

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can focus on other important things and not worry where their children's next meal will come from."

Food Gatherers is also working with the Hope Clinic and St. Joe's hospital to provide staple dry goods and regional produce to recently discharged Covid-19 patients. Hope food programs manager Emmeline Weinert notes that discharged patients who are already experiencing food insecurity have a harder time staying healthy. Citing a 2017 report that found "people who experience discrimination are almost twice as likely as others to struggle with hunger," Food Gatherers recently shared a Feeding America statement on social media that reads, "to end hunger, we must also work to dismantle systemic racism, which is at the root of inequities in health, hunger, and economic opportunity."

Food Gatherers's food pantries and meal programs are available to anyone in need, no questions asked. See for information on how to get help, or how to help by volunteering or donating money, food, or personal care items.     (end of article)


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