Collective action for food security

Here’s 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 children.

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 Mireles-Hill.

"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.”

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