Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes is a great example of an intermediate-level food bank.  Founded in 1982, it centralizes the resources and operations of 27 different food pantries in Kalamazoo and neighboring towns in Michigan. We visited on February 10, 2010, took the informative volunteer training with Seema Jolly, and observed their operations. 

Most of the food that Loaves and Fishes distributes to its member food pantries is purchased from the Food Bank of South Central Michigan, one of the 7 Michigan member food banks of Feeding America.  About 25% of the food that Loaves & Fishes distributes comes from donations and local food drives such as the letter carriers' food drive in May. 

Here are some of the things we found impressive:
  • Anyone in their service area who needs food assistance can call the "need food" line and speak with a volunteer who sets them up to visit one of the food banks, where they'll be given 4 days worth of food once a month.  If additional food assistance is needed during the same month, then an outside agency (such as a school) may request additional days of food support for them.  If a caller doesn't speak English, the call center can conference in a translation service to make sure the caller's needs are understood and met appropriately.
  • Loaves & Fishes takes education and advocacy very seriously.  They sponsor programs such as classes on how to stretch food dollars and cooking classes at Boys and Girls Clubs.  Also, to made it easier for people shopping at food pantries to prepare a nutritious meal, Loaves & Fishes sometimes offers bags that contain a recipe and all the ingredients necessary to create a simple dinner.  
  • During busy times of the month in 2009, the Loaves & Fishes pantries served over 800 people a day!

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