Food banks were busy during September’s Hunger Action Awareness Month

Food banks are combatting hunger but they need more volunteer support and donations from their communities.

Courtesy photo from the Greater Lansing Food Bank

By Deborah M. Walker and Rina Risper

LANSING, MI – For Hunger Action Month ® in September, Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB) joined Feeding America and other network member food banks to inspire people to join the fight to end hunger and raise awareness of people experiencing food insecurity across the United States. Food banks around the country are working to make a real and lasting impact on hunger in their communities.

September marked the 15 th year Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization with a nationwide network of 200 food banks, including GLFB, has organized the annual call to action. This year’s campaign presented the impossible choices that millions of people in America are often forces to make between food and other basic needs.

“Many people may not give a daily meal much thought. For people facing hunger, a daily meal is not as simple,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “Instead, it becomes a different type of choice – an impossible decision between food or other crucial needs, such as electricity, childcare, or medicine. Nobody should be forced to make a choice to go hungry. With the public’s support, we can come together to help increase food access for all people, so they no longer have to make such tough decisions.”

Partners help feeding the hungry

First Presbyterian Church’s food bank continues to battle local hunger despite the ongoing demand surge. With the effects of the pandemic lingering on, many families are still left struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table.

To help feed their families and keep the cabinets full many people are finding resources to help with the surging cost of groceries. The food pantry at First Presbyterian Church, located at 510 W. Ottawa Street in Lansing, and other locations throughout the city, are valuable sources for families in need, especially during the pandemic, which is still not over.

The church pantry turns 50

The food pantry began when associate Pastor John Jeffrey became aware of the need for food and the hunger problem in the area. According to the First Presbyterian Church, Jeffrey worked with deacons to find ways to meet the community’s food needs. In 1972, the church approved to establish a collection of funds and food items. The pantry was called “John’s Cupboard” for many years. Even after Jeffery moved to a different church in 1977.

Over the years, the food pantry was rearranged to be a “pantry of choice,” and clients had the opportunity to select food items that their families would eat. This change was spearheaded by church members Ron O’Conner and Dan DeYonke.

What is the food pantry?

Volunteers work hard to deliver much-needed food and supplies to customers. Like any other food outlet, everything from eggs to potatoes can be obtained at the food pantry; however, unlike other grocery retailers, the cost is free. Jim Donaldson, church member and volunteer at the First Presbyterian food pantry, said the donation-based program is like a retail store. The pantry is a distribution center for foods donated by The Greater Lansing Food Bank.

“It’s similar to a store that is providing a retail outlet for a big company that has a warehouse, and they ship to the individual stores. That store is a location for people to come and get their goods,” said Donaldson.

To place an order, customers need to call in. Orders can be placed Monday through Thursday from 12 – 2 pm. Customers are asked questions about their dietary needs and family size during the phone intake. After the order has been given, the food items will be retrieved and set aside for pickup. Once the customer pulls up to the designated pick-up area, the food is brought out to them. Food and supplies, such as personal hygiene prod-ucts and baby items, are placed in bags or boxes, depending on the mode of transportation.

Before the pandemic, customers would enter the grocery store-styled food bank and shop from the large pantry shelves. Now supplies are scarce, and the pantry can only give out what it can.

“We try to fill the order as close to what they are looking for as possible,” said Penny Launstein, a volunteer at the First Presbyterian Church food bank.

First Presbyterian Church food bank volunteers (left) Jim Donaldson (right) Ron O’Connor.
Ron recently received the Lifetime Volunteer of the Year by Capital Area United Way
for his service in at Lansing First Presbyterian Church Food Pantry in 2022.
Courtesy photo

More need for food in the community

The pantry has seen a 25% increase in demand from a year ago, said Donaldson. This causes a problem as the church continues to go through more food than it has supplies for. The increase in demand not only causes a supply issue but also increases budget costs for the program.

“We’re spending a little more now because the supply from the food bank is less. But in normal times, it would be about $300 a week for fresh produce, eggs, and some canned goods,” said Dave Lanckton, a volunteer at the food pantry.

A truck is brought in from the GLFB warehouse and they supplied the church with food, not cash. The church does not pay for the food. However, it is responsible for delivery costs which are paid for by donations. The cost of the delivery is several hundred dollars per load. Because of the pandemic, that fee has been waived. Currently, the church does not have a food budget or a budget for food delivery costs.

Who does the food pantry serve?

Before the pandemic, the First Presbyterian Church food pantry served all of the Greater Lansing area; however, that caused other pantries to be underused. “So the food bank wanted to be more adamant about using your local zip codes,” informed Donaldson.

Currently, the pantry only serves two zip codes, 48915 and 48933. Usually, the food bank follows income guidelines for its clients; however, income requirements have been waived because of the pandemic.

People in search of food who do not live in the serviced zip codes can contact the church or 211 to find out where to go to get help in their area.

Almost all of the food pantries serviced by the GLFB are churches; however, they are not faith-based. People are not required to participate in any religious practices before receiving help. That is a requirement of the GLFB so that every-one can be fed.

“We don’t hand out religious things. We don’t make people pray before they are given supplies. Formal identification is not required to pick up food. It’s a matter of trust and faith that they are who they say they are,” explained Donaldson.

Who has the food bank helped?

The First Presbyterian Church food bank has served many families. Last year, the church serviced more than 2,126 households containing 6,551 people. In the first seven months of 2022, the pantry has served 1,418 households, an increase of 358 from the previous year.

Donaldson said over $8,000 has been donated to the food pantry, and close to $11,000 has been spent on food so far this year. The food pantry shops at Dollar Tree for dish soap, laundry detergent, and bar soap. So far this year, they have spent $3,200 on those items alone. The holiday season is the busiest time for the food bank, although it depends on need, informed Donaldson.

Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, Emmanuel Lutheran, and Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church have been some of the food bank’s biggest supporters aside from the GLFB.

How you can help

For those looking to donate to the food bank, give them a call at 517.482.0668 or stop by and speak to one of the volunteers.