the shocking truth. In Kalamazoo County more than 37,000 people are
currently considered to be food insecure, which means they aren’t
certain where their next meal is coming from. And, according to
Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, nearly 11,000 of these people are
Since 2005, with a grant of $4,800 to MSU Extension for its Family
Nutrition Plan, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation been actively
targeting food insecurity as part of its Individuals and Families
community investment priority. Since then, the Community Foundation has
made nearly $2 million in “food-related” grants to organizations large
and small, from local churches to the most widely recognized food
organizations in the county.
But it’s not enough. So the Community Foundation is leveraging its
knowledge, leadership and community investments to help nonprofits
address community needs in new ways. “There are still families who don’t
know where they’re going to get their dinner tonight. That fact has
informed our most recent work. We’ve given millions of dollars, but
there are still families in need,” says the Community Foundation’s Elena
"As we see the need for food
assistance continue to rise, we know that it will require a
communty-wide collaborative effort to meet this demand."
Jennifer Johnson, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes
Kalamazoo County actually has many resources related to food security
and sustainability. “Linkage is the issue,” she explains. “Our job is
to promote collective action and help support these organizations,
encouraging them to work together rather than trying to tackle the
problem in isolation.”
Says Mireles-Hill, “Last year we gave a grant to Kalamazoo Loaves
& Fishes for their Grocery Pantry Program. We also gave them
additional funding specifically to help them serve as a convener — to
bring together the organizations and efforts in the food sector to
discover how to work cooperatively.”
“We helped them bring together different organizations already doing
good work individually to leverage their missions and strengths and
focus on one overall effort,” she adds.
Jennifer Johnson, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes’ new executive
director, echoes the need for this approach. “We are grateful for the
Community Foundation’s commitment,” she says.
“Last year, we served more than 130,000 four-day food orders to local
residents in need through our Grocery Pantry Program, and distributed
over 2.7 million pounds of food to hungry people in our community,” says
Johnson. “But as we see the need for food assistance continue to rise,
we know that it will require a community-wide collaborative effort to
meet this demand. Simply put, we cannot provide the services we do every
day in isolation.”
“People can’t thrive unless they have good food to eat,” says
Mireles-Hill. “Collaboration among food sector organizations is
imperative to reaching everyone.”
Click Here Food Security and Sustainability Resources
Odom and the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society are working to
bring people together and build relationships across ethnic lines.
What began as an organization to celebrate local
black heritage, the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society is now an
ongoing source for community healing.
“We began as a black historical society, to add an important and then missing component to local history,” explains Donna Odom, Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society
founder and executive director. “Today we also work on building
relationships across ethnic lines — ethnic lines, because race is really
a social construct — that bring people together to share stories and
experiences at a deeper level.”
SMBHS’s trajectory changed in 2010 when they participated in the
Southwest Michigan RACE Exhibit. Participants in that initiative agreed
they wanted the community conversations begun there to continue,” Odom
says. “SMBHS has attempted to grasp the mantle of healing begun through
that initiative and carry it forward through its Racial Healing
“The Racial Healing Initiative uses an approach called Transforming
Historical Harms,” Odom explains. “This approach is based on the
philosophy that the legacy of slavery left an historical trauma for all
of society. Transforming Historical Harms seeks to heal that trauma
through a four-faceted approach: facing history, making connections,
healing, and taking action.”
Because of the support of the Community Foundation, which included
$39,000 in grants in 2013, SMBHS has been able to hire a project
assistant and provide essential programs addressing those four facets,
including racial healing retreats, the Race Initiative Book Club, the
Engaging the Wisdom Oral History Project, and the Summit on Racism 2.0:
Extending the Dialogue.
SMBHS teamed with the YWCA and other organizations to hold the Summit
on Racism to create channels of cooperation and collaboration within
the community. Work begun at that Summit will continue with Action
Networks addressing the areas of education, health, employment, housing
and law enforcement. In this way, the work of each partner is
strengthened, assuring greater impact community wide.
Says Bobbe Luce, a community investment officer at the Community
Foundation, “We worked with the Black Heritage Society to help increase
their capacity to reach more community members — youth through adults —
with their approachable, multi-forum racial healing programming as part
of our support of the continuum of racial equity outreach in our
“The aim is to change perceptions, broaden understanding and
encourage participants to explore the differences — and similarities —
between races and ethnicities,” Odom says. “Our participants always ask
for more. They are clearly hungry for this shared experience of
Slancik (l) of the Community Foundation recently worked with Kalamazoo
Center for Youth and Community's Sam Lealofi (r) to change the lives of
not only the students the organization serves, but its staff too.
Kalamazoo Center for Youth and Community
(KCYC) helps young people who live in poverty in Kalamazoo’s Eastside
and Eastwood neighborhoods succeed in school and in life.
“We’re a virtual community center with the success of young people as
our principal goal,” explains KCYC executive director Sam Lealofi. “We
know that when quality youth development happens, students will have
improved outcomes at school. They will also develop in social and
KCYC’s programs offer development for students who might otherwise
not have such opportunities. The focus on Kalamazoo’s eastern
neighborhoods is because that is where the greatest percent of county
families live in poverty — 263 percent higher than the county average.
From 2000 to 2011, that number grew by 60 percent.
Since 2012, KCYC has received grants totaling $460,000 from the
Community Foundation in support of these efforts, which are directly
aligned with the Community Foundation’s fundamental priorities of
ensuring that every child has an equal chance for success in school and
is prepared for life beyond school.
“There are multiple roles we can play and a range of tools we can use
to leverage change,” says Amy Slancik, a community investment officer
at the Community Foundation. “We work behind the scenes, while our
grantee partners — high quality organizations like KCYC — are on the
front lines, providing direct services to the people who need them.”
“We also keep a close eye on emerging community opportunities and
challenges so we can help Kalamazoo County nonprofits address them
appropriately,” she adds. “Our support of KCYC does that.”
"We know that when quality youth development happens,
students will have improved outcomes at school."
~ Sam Lealofi
Lealofi says the support KCYC has received from the Community
Foundation has dramatically changed the lives of both KCYC students and
“For our staff, it provides educational and occupational
opportunities. For our students, it assures that our programs offer
quality youth development,” Lealofi says.
KCYC works with some 20 community partner organizations and its programming is built on evidence-based best practices.
Among its core programs, which serve more than 200 neighborhood
youth, KCYC supports efforts like the Boys and Girls Club and CHAMPS.
KCYC also provides individual student services to elementary school
children through a focus on literacy and school success. Northeastern
Elementary School is a key partner. Through this initiative, a dozen
elementary children each year receive specialized tutoring through the
SLD Learning Center and occupational therapy through Western Michigan
This collaboration benefits both the elementary students and the WMU
students who work under direct supervision of WMU faculty, who are
themselves registered therapists. In this way, local resources are
leveraged to achieve greater benefit for all of KCYC’s partners and the
community as a whole.
Another program, Teens of Tomorrow, helps students find and express
their voices as future leaders. In 2013 the program sent two teens to
the Jeter’s Leaders Conference in Chicago, where they met other young
leaders from around the country.
Says Slancik, “This is a great example of a partnership that is creating community change.”
Hannah Lane-Davies and her Little Free Library.
If you love learning and libraries, Kalamazoo
County is a great place to live. In fact, it’s home to libraries so
small they fit on a pole.
Thanks to 14-year-old Hannah Lane-Davies and her family, the national
Little Free Library movement has come to Kalamazoo. Hannah saw a LFL
for the first time while on a trip to St. Paul in 2012. “It was love at
first sight,” she says. “We looked online and saw there were only 12
LFLs in Michigan, and none were in Kalamazoo. So I knew it would be
great for the community.”
What exactly is a Little Free Library? Basically, it’s a small
decorated wooden box containing 30 to 40 books that sits on a post
outdoors, usually in participants’ front yards or businesses. The books
are free. People who pass by a LFL can take or leave a book anytime;
they often add notes inside for other readers.
The LFL movement was started in Hudson, Wis., in 2009 by Todd Bol and
Rick Brooks to promote worldwide literacy and community building. When
Hannah and her family opened their LFL in September 2012 at their home
in the Westnedge Hill neighborhood, it was number 3,761 on the
international list. Since then, 12 more Kalamazoo and Portage families
have become official “stewards” of their own LFLs — with another seven
to be installed by the end of summer.
“Hannah is adding a unique piece to the LFL movement,” Elizabeth
Lane-Davies notes. “In July we had our first Kalamazoo/Portage stewards
meeting, with 15 interested and active families.”
“Other communities have LFLs, but the stewards don’t necessarily know
each other,” Hannah explains. “We’re trying to connect the local
stewards so we can share resources and advice. We want to make sure this
isn’t a ‘one-hit wonder’ project.”
The Lane-Davies family was able to help establish the original LFLs
thanks, in part, to support from the Gretchen LaReau Memorial Fund of
the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, an Advised Fund established in 1993
by the LaReau family in memory of their daughter.
“We’re very grateful to the Community Foundation, and especially to
the LaReau family, for their interest and support,” Hannah says. “Things
have come full circle as we’ve gotten to know the family. They set up
their own LFL this summer. We have really enjoyed learning about
Gretchen and her interests, especially how much she loved books. You
could totally see her setting up her own LFL.”
Hether Frayer has set out to prove that a sprinkling
of fairy dust, at least when it comes to food, is healthy for us all.
With the support of a Good Neighbor Grant from the Kalamazoo Community
Foundation, Frayer is on a mission to use fresh food to improve the
health of children in Kalamazoo County.
Frayer is the owner of Fresh Food Fairy, one of Michigan's new L3C
organizations that bridge the gap between the nonprofit and for-profit
worlds. In her persona as the Fresh Food Fairy, Frayer works in
classrooms and school cafeterias, primarily with students in
kindergarten through middle school. She also does kids' after-school
workshops and chef demos for adults.
"The idea was born at one of the Community Foundation's ChangeMakers
workshops," says Frayer. "I began doing programs in the fall of 2011. My
goals is to encourage good nutrition by making fresh food fun. I show
kids that it is colorful and has cool shapes, interesting textures and
yummy flavors, and helps us grow strong and smart."
"My presentations are always hands-on," she continues. "When
Kalamazoo teachers invite me to their classrooms, I work with them to
incorporate age-appropriate activities. For example, the kids love
power-crunching green beans and making veggie faces. Having fun helps
them create positive associations with fresh food, making it more likely
that they'll eat it when they can."
Frayer has a goal of reaching 25 classrooms and 450 students this
year. To accomplish this, she purchases seasonal fruits and vegetables
from local farms whenever possible. "My main push is in the fall when
there's a lot of locally grown produce being harvested," she says.
"That's the freshest available, and it's the best tasting and best for
the economy. Plus, I want to expose kids to food that's grown right
In addition to the Community Foundation, Frayer's partners include
Fair Food Matters, People's Food Co-op and the Sustainable Communities
Initiative for the Vine and Edison neighborhoods. Even with this
support, she understands she's in an uphill battle. According to the
National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overweight children
has doubled and overweight adolescents has tripled since 1980.
"The domestic food and beverage industry spends billions of dollars a
year on marketing mostly junk food," Frayer explains. "This is
beginning to change a little, but few people are doing much to encourage
kids to eat healthier. So as the Fresh Food Fairy, my main job is to be
a spokeswoman for fresh fruits and vegetables. I want kids to think
apples are as much fun as sugar-coated cereal!"
Even Master Gardeners and black-thumbed plant destroyers agree:
Thanks to Kalamazoo in Bloom, May is a bloomin' great time in Kalamazoo
County. Each year in Portage, on the third Friday of May, the community
dresses the city in its flowery best for the summer. In Kalamazoo,
Bronson Park and other public places get dressed up in flowers and
plants on the Thursday before Memorial Day.
With a nod to Kalamazoo's heritage and current status as one of the
world's leaders in the bedding plant industry, Kalamazoo In Bloom
coordinates this feat. Nearly 90,000 individual plants are used annually
at a cost of about $35,000.
Monika Trahe is executive director of KIB. "We get help from a lot of
volunteers, gardeners and people who 'adopt' a bed," she says.
"Recently, we've had more young people helping us with annual planting.
This year, with help from a Kalamazoo Community Foundation Good Neighbor
Grant, we were able to turn it into a true learning experience."
According to Trahe, 260 students participated this past May, coming
from Saint Augustine Cathedral School; the Gagie School; and Kalamazoo
Central, Loy Norrix and Portage Central High Schools. "Volunteers and
KIB board members went into classrooms and gave the students hands-on
learning activities," she explains. "They brought examples of the
flowers the students were going to be working with, then taught them how
to break open the roots and property plant them."
The list of Kalamazoo and Portage community partners who support
KIB's annual planting frenzy is long. In addition to the Community
Foundation, the list includes Kalamazoo Valley Plant Growers
Cooperative, WMU Landscape Services, the MSU Extension/Master Gardener
Volunteer Program, the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, Kalamazoo
County, Napps Greenhouses, Tuesley's Greenhouses and Burger King.
"Having the students involved with this when they're young is so
important," Trahe states. "It helps them have pride in the work they're
doing and the community they live in. It also teaches them how to serve
others and be part of something bigger than themselves. And they can see
that their work lasts for more than one day –– that the flowers they
planted continue to thrive over time.
"Of course," she continues, "it's important for us to recruit young
people to help because most of our KIB gardeners and volunteers have
been with us for many years. It's time for them to teach and advise the
next generation so we can continue our mission. But what really matters
is that when kids get involved in something like this, it might just
continue throughout their lives."