January 12, 2021 | 10:00-11:30 am EST
The second session takes a look at both government and non-profit food assistance programs through the lenses of those operating the programs. Learn about the challenges these public and private programs have encountered during the pandemic and local responses to the increased community needs. This session includes representatives from government programs, food pantries, school nutrition programs, community meal sites, and organizations related to food assistance programs.
View the Pre-session Reading Materials to have a better understanding of food assistance programs.
Session Two Recording
- Well, good morning. Welcome to the second session of the Food Security Summit in Northwest Michigan. My name is Mary Clulo and I chair the operating committee of the Northwest Food Coalition. The coalition is presenting this Food Security Summit in collaboration with our amazing partners Michigan State University Extension, Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan and Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. We have financial support from Rotary Charities of Traverse City. Many of you attended our first session. So welcome back. It's wonderful you can join us again. And thank you to the individuals who are joining us for the first time. We are exploring multiple facets of food security along this summit series journey. In our first session, we learned about who in our communities faces food insecurity. That deep dive with our panelists probably revealed some surprises about particular challenges people in our communities face. For example, our students and seniors. The ALIS information presented by Seth Johnson of United way also was eyeopening because we learned so many people don't qualify for government assistance and truly have significant needs. Today, we will discuss what types of assistance and resources are available to our neighbors. We will take a look at both government and nonprofit food assistance programs through the lenses of those operating the programs as well as receiving assistance. We'll also learn about the challenges people using these public and private programs have encountered during the pandemic, and our local responses to the increased community needs. We want you to be able to take away an understanding of what assistance is being supplied and by whom. We're also hoping you will gain an understanding of the mechanics of assistance and terminology. Terms like Bridge Card, WIC, shelf stable versus fresh food, terms that are very familiar to the people who use and provide these resources. Further, we're looking to understand the cost of the effort put into supplying food to those experiencing food insecurity. There's government funding, hours of volunteer time, and many philanthropic gifts from very generous donors. I wanna remind everyone that a confirmation email provided links to pre read material. Those links serve as valuable resources to understand these summit issues. The links also are available on the Northwest Food Coalition website. This week's pre reads included detailed information about the government assistance programs our speakers will discuss. Due to the complexity of that system, there are 18 different federal programs alone with all different purposes and qualifications. There is no way we can give you a fully comprehensive picture of all these assistance programs in our 90 minute session. If you hear acronyms you don't understand or simply want to learn more about the programs, please take advantage of this supplemental information. We received some very helpful feedback from the first session and we are working continually to improve your summit experience. So please continue to provide feedback. And also participate by asking questions. We have phenomenal speakers today who are eager to help us discover together opportunities for changes in the current system that can result in an increase in food security in our region. Thank you to all the individuals who work to plan and conduct this summit, as well as all of our presenters. Now I'd like to introduce Val Stone, the coalition coordinator, to give you some more information about the coalition, and then we'll move on to our speakers. Thank you for your interest and participation now. Val.
- Thank you, Mary. Good morning, everyone. I'm Val Stone and I'm the coordinator for the Northwest Food Coalition. And we're glad that you could join us again this morning. Just a little background on the coalition, who belongs and how the operate. We're 46 pantries, 14 meals sites, and about a six baby pantries who assist, Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leona, Kalkaska and Wexford Counties. Each month we gather statistics on how many people were served the previous month. For instance, in 2019, we served 476,000 plus people. In 2020, we serve 374,000. Because of COVID, our numbers were down considerably. Those were affected by factors like people being fearful to go out to public places. At that time, there was no recommended protocol on how to access food. Many pantries and meals sites closed temporarily. Relatively soon after the onset of COVID, our federal and state governments provided enhanced food stamps, enhanced unemployment. Within a month of the onset, other forms of assistance began. And that you'll be hearing about those from some of our speakers today. More recently as pantries have reopened, the coalition is seeing those numbers rise again. You'll hear about the community resources that are out there and being made available from our guest speakers. Now I'm going to turn the program over to our moderator for today's session, Megan Olds. Megan is a founder and principal of Parallel Solutions and has been working with our coalition to help organize this summit series. She'll introduce our speakers. She'll moderate our participants polls and our panel discussion and facilitate the questions and answers session. So Megan, thank you very much.
- Thank you so much, Val, and thank you Mary, for that warm welcome. As we move through our session today, you're going to hear from speakers and panelists who will share information about the governmental and non-profit programs that they provide. But to kick things off we're going to share two short videos with you, featuring interviews with people who are receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. These videos were prepared by the Fair Food Network and national non-profit rooted in Michigan that focuses on growing community health and welfare food.
- [Max] When did we go on food stamps exactly?
- [Catherine] Your dad had to have emergency surgery. He wasn't employed at that time because of his illness and we didn't have enough money for the surgery. So when we applied for help to pay for that, they also signed us up for food stamps. No one really wants to be on assistance. You know you wanna be able to do this yourself. I was raised in a middle class family, and you pull yourself by your bootstraps and you keep going. So it was very demoralizing, I think, and embarrassing. There was a lot of stigma around it.
- [Max] Where do you hope to see us in five years?
- [Catherine] I hope that we'd be off switched stamps, that I would have full-time employment that would keep a roof over our head and be able to afford our food.
- [Anthony] The first time I use SNAP was a vulnerability I had at first. Providing for myself or my family was an important thing. There was a stigma, like I was kinda reverting back to the dependency of needing food.
- [Jesse] It could be seen as a failing to not be able to put all the food on the table without any help.
- [Anthony] When you see a person who is active father, who active in the community, who still works, who still take care of your business, however, things don't always work out the way you want them to.
- [Jesse] Life happens and you can't plan for some things. It's okay to ask for help when you need it.
- Now that you've seen the lens of the experiences from folks who are accessing food assistance. We'd like to learn a little bit more about your lens and the lens you're bringing to this conversation. So I'm gonna be launching a poll on your screen and we'd like to invite you as participants to share which lens you are thinking about food insecurity through. This is a multiple choice poll. So you can select as many lenses as applied to you. And we'll take about 30 seconds to accept your reflections on this. About half of you have voted so far. Just 10 more seconds to vote here. We'll share these results with you. Looks like the highest percentage of responses, will be at 64% of you respond, that you're here from a lens of nonprofit or foundation business lens. We had another 38% respond from a health care mental health services lens. We had 23% of you respond that you're here from a personal experience lens. And another 23% share that you're from a public policy education perspective. You can see the other results here as well. 31% from food insecurity, farming and agriculture. Thank you. It's nice to know who's in the room. We appreciate all of the lenses that you bring here today. I now have the honor of introducing our first speaker, Meghan McDermott. Meghan is the director of programs at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. And her work is in regional food systems. She's to Groundwork's food and farming focus area since 2015. And Meghan sits on a lot of regional advisory boards and she uses her skills and experiences to problem solve and create positive change both at the regional level and at the state level, related to food systems. She began her work in Northern Michigan as a core service member, working with various schools here in 2013 and she earned her BA in food and sustainability studies and psychology from Vassar. Meghan, thank you so much for joining us here today.
- Thank you so much, Megan. It is an honor to be here with you all today and I have just a few slides, but I'm gonna pull up here. Great. So I must admit that I have a tall task in front of me. I have just 10 minutes to attempt to explain the myriad programs, policies and practices that impact food security in our country. Today's information is meant to provide a very brief overview. Subsequent sessions of the summit will undoubtedly dive into greater detail on many of these programs. There are roughly 15 federal food assistance programs within the Food and Nutrition Service or FNS of the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA. We are going to focus on nine of these programs today. SNAP WIC, SVP, NSLP, SFSP, FDPIR, CSFP, TEFAP and FODIPA. I know that all of these program names and acronyms can start to feel a little bit like alphabet soup. I'm going to introduce these programs by sharing a story about how all nine of the programs I wanna touch on today, can impact one family in need meet. Meet Joelle. Joelle has two children, Maya who is four, and Lily, who is seven. She is currently seven months pregnant with her third child. Lily attend second grade at their local public school and Maya attends preschool at a local daycare center. Joelle's husband recently passed away from a sudden and severe illness. Joelle works two part-time jobs, while Lily and Maya are at school. Her doctor has advised.
- [Megan] Meghan, I don't mean to interrupt. We're just not seeing the right thing right now. So I'm wondering did you want to try to reshare and so, there you go. Thank you. I just wanted to get you on the right path. We know about screen sharing and we've all learning this year with grace and courtesy with Zoom. So you're now showing what you wanna see. Thank you, Meghan.
- Good. Sorry about that. Hold on. Okay. So I think I'll start over with Joelle, just so that you're having a visual there. Meet Joelle. Joelle has two children, Maya, who is four, and Lily, who is seven. She's currently seven months pregnant with her third child. Lily attend second grade at their local public school. And my attends preschool at a local daycare center. Joelle's husband recently passed away from a sudden and severe illness. Joelle works two part-time while Lily and Maya are at school. Her doctor has advised her to take off work, but she needs the income. Her husband's medical expenses wiped out their savings and her car needs to be repaired. She needs to be able to drive to work and get Maya to daycare. With her two part-time jobs, Joelle brings home just under $1,400 a month. Her restaurant hostess position pays minimum wage at $9 and 45 cents per hour in Michigan. And while her administrative support position pays more than double at $20 an hour, it is further away from her home and only one day a week. Neither position offers health benefits. So Joelle skips her upcoming appointment with her obstetrician. She knows, he will say she needs to stop working soon but she wants to work as long as possible. Joelle almost certainly qualifies for two of the most well-known federal food assistance programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and the special supplemental nutrition program for women infants and children or WIC. Joelle will likely need to submit documentation of her income, assets, household composition, employment and conduct at least one interview with the benefits navigator in order to apply for SNAP and WIC benefits. Each year the federal government determines a federal poverty level or FPL, which in turn dictates the eligibility thresholds for various federal programs, including SNAP, WIC, Medicaid and many more. It is important to note that there is not one universal federal poverty level, household size plays a critical role in determining FPL. To illustrate that, I'm gonna share that federal poverty level is higher for larger families, which have more expenses and lower for smaller families which have fewer expenses. For a family of three, like Joelle's, the federal government sets the federal poverty level for gross monthly income, that is, household income before any of the programs deductions are applied at $1,810 a month or $21,720 per year. In order to be eligible for SNAP benefits, gross monthly income generally must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. This means that in order to qualify for SNAP, Joelle's gross monthly income must be less than 130% of the federal poverty level or $2,353 a month or about $28,200 a year. On average, SNAP households receive about $246 per month. And the average recipient receives about $127 a month or approximately $1.40 per meal. In order to qualify for WIC, household income must be between 100 and 185% of the federal poverty level as determined by each state. In Michigan, where the guideline is 185% of federal poverty level, annual income for a family of three must not exceed $3,349 a month or $40,182 a year in order to qualify for WIC benefits. When the school bus picks Lily up for school, she gets there early in order to participate in the school breakfast program or SBP. Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals at school. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals. At lunch, Lily is one of 30 million American children who receive a federally reimbursable lunch through the National School Lunch Program or NSLP. If 40% or more of her peers also qualify for a free or reduced price lunch, the school is eligible to serve lunch to all students through a Community Eligibility Provision or CEP. CEP allows the nation's highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications. Joelle drives Maya to her daycare facility which participates in the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, or CACFP. Thanks to CACFP, Maya's daycare is able to provide meals to children attending their facility. With Maya and Lily safely at school, Joelle drives to a local library to use a public computer and learn more about how to apply for benefits. Some federal programs trigger qualifications for others, known as categorical eligibility, sometimes abbreviated as CAT-L. But often still require duplicative paperwork. Portals like EMI Bridges attempt to streamline data collection of eligibility information including income, household members, assets, et cetera. You may have noticed that my brief explanation of the eligibility for some of these programs referenced multiple applications and eligibility requirements, many of which can be hard to follow. What does 185% of the federal poverty level mean? Why does each program seemingly have different eligibility criteria? Not to mention qualifications that change from state to state. Now also imagine that as you're navigating which federal programs you might qualify for, you are going through one of the most difficult and unforeseen times of your life. You just lost your husband and have two young children with a third on the way hounding on you to keep them safe and healthy. Let's keep going with Joelle's story. Three months have passed. Joelle has been approved for SNAP and her one month old child now also qualifies for WIC. Though it is now summer, Lily is still able to receive some meals from school, thanks to the summer Food Service Feeding Program or SFSP. Joelle has learned that while her SNAP benefits and the meals provided for Lily and Maya at their schools help immensely. Her benefits are often exhausted in the first two weeks of the month. She has started visiting a local food pantry toward the end of the month when her benefits run out. Her local pantry is able to provide Joelle and her family with food thanks to the generosity of individual donors, community partnerships, and the help of two key federal programs aimed at stocking food banks which then distribute food to local food pantries. The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP. Through TEFAP, the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA purchases, USDA foods and makes them available to qualifying agencies for distribution, often on a quarterly basis. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program or CSFP also involves the redistribution of USDA foods. Though the program specializes in assisting elderly persons at least 60 years of age. Let's take a look at a brief summary of the eight programs I just outlined as they intersect with Joelle's life. This graphic from Feeding America showcases the basic tenant of each federal program, as well as a key stakeholder group the program attempts to serve. The congressional research service or CRS report provided in your reading materials for this session dives into each of these programs in much greater detail. The ninth program I want to mention today is not on this Feeding America summary graphic. Had Joelle been a member of a federally recognized tribe, she would have qualified for a different critical program in lieu of SNAP, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or FDPIR. FDPIR serves as an alternative to SNAP for those persons living on or near reservations with limited access to a grocery store. FDPIR provides one of the primary food sources for 87,500 individuals each month, representing over 102 Indian Tribal Organizations or ITOs. While Joelle recently had a streak of good luck, she was just offered a full-time position with her company that she has been doing administrative work for. Joelle and her family are not alone. While unlike the videos from today's videos from Fair Food Network, which were featured at the top of today's session, Joelle's story is fictionalized, though reflects common experiences and intersections within each of these federal programs. Over 39.7 million Americans in 19.7 million households utilize SNAP. Of those SNAP recipients, approximately 44% are children, 13% are elderly and 10% were disabled non elderly adults. While the majority of SNAP benefits are received in States with large populations such as California, New York, Texas, and Florida, as a percentage of the population receiving benefits, many rural areas rely very heavily on SNAP. USDA data shows that since 2012, SNAP participation is highest among households in rural areas and small towns with under 2,500 people. Most of the programs today fall under the Farm Bill, a comprehensive omnibus bill that is renewed every five years or so. This graphic illustrates the scope of nutrition programs that are contained within the Farm Bill. You can see that while the Farm Bill and United States Department of Agriculture may not immediately bring to mind issues of food security, they play an absolutely essential role in the funding and implementation of these programs. This pie chart shows the budgetary percentage of each program discussed today. Our next segment, we'll dive into how Michigan implements these federal programs and the impact that COVID-19 has had.
- Thank you so much, Megan, for that high level overview. Just to reminder, I know those were a lot of different programs and acronyms, our preread materials do provide additional information about each of those programs. We are gonna now launch our second poll. You're going to see another poll come up on your screen here. We want to know how aware you are of public and private food assistance programs. So we'll take 30 seconds for this poll. Please share your thoughts. Just take five more seconds here to gather your thoughts. All right. I'll share the results with you. 36% of you indicated you're moderately aware, 34% somewhat aware, 17%, slightly aware, 13% extremely aware. Thank you so much we hope you leave here today with a higher level of understanding. For the next portion of our session, we're going to have a conversation and interview between Meghan McDermott and another guest speaker Janee Moore. Janee is a food access public health consultant with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. And she's passionate about improving population health through impacting the social determinants of health and increasing health equity. Janee attended the University of Michigan where she received a bachelor of arts and women's studies focusing on women's health. Afterwards, she attended Emory University and graduated with her master's in public health. Prior to working for the State of Michigan, she worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a public health advisor in the areas of HIV, environmental health and chronic disease. She is currently the food access public health consultant at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Janee, thank you so much for joining us here today.
- Glad to be here. See if I can get my hair in my face.
- We've got you all on this screen here, at least on my end. I just wanna explain to our participants how this portion will work. We're going to have Janee and Meghan have a 20 minute conversational style interview. And then we'd like to address questions from us participants. So as Meghan and Janee are speaking, we wanna invite you to share your questions in the Q&A box on the bottom of your zoom screen, you'll see that. As moderator I'll be reviewing those questions and after our guests have spoken for 20 minutes, we'll turn it over to your questions and they'll have a chance to respond to them. Thank you both.
- Thank you, Megan. Janee, it's great to have you with us today. I'm so glad you could be a part of this. Can you tell us a little bit about how Michigan's Public Food Assistance is funded and how what happens in our state is different than other states?
- Sure. I can do that. So you named several programs. So for instance, you talked about SNAP which is a federally funded program. And so those federal dollars come down to the state and then the state is responsible for distributing those SNAP dollars. Our program is actually more flexible. Even though the dollars come from the federal government, the rules around those dollars the state has flexibility to say. So for instance, us changing our application so that you could qualify, us changing what assets that you have to have to qualify, disqualify. As a state, we've gotten rid of our asset tests. So you can have a car, you can have some savings. In other States, you can't have a car or you can't have any savings to be on SNAP. And so that is probably the most flexible program setting the rules and policies within state and our state legislator. WIC is also federally funded but those guidelines are from the federal rules and policies. And we don't have much to do with how their programs run. We are able to be more... We can do some more flexibility around the package, as it relates to our population and what we offer, but the rules are a little bit, I would say, hard and fast. We have the FTIR which that is also federal, we don't really set the rules in that package. And then we have a lot of local programs. I do wanna remind yourself because we talked about public and private partnerships. So we have programs in the state around double up food bucks, which is a Michigan program but it's national as well, and really has grown. And we're on the forefront of that. We have our community supported agriculture programs which work with nonprofit organizations. Some of those are state funded. Some of those are foundation funded to increase healthy food access. And then the other thing I think we're doing really well that I wanted to highlight is our prescription for health programs in this state, which we have really been working to grow and then providing food as it relates to chronic disease or obesity prevention. And those are usually partnerships, public and private partnerships between maybe a health department a foundation dollars or a hospital and farmers, which I think is one of those programs that we will see continue to grow over time. And then of course we have our pantries, our local organizations which is another part of emergency food. So while I think, we have our big pantries that are huge, like Gleaners. And then we have our like smaller network, local community pantries who are also doing the ground work and they may be related to a church or a local nonprofit. And some of those pantries are just started by community members who are really interested. And then you touched on the school feeding program. So those provide breakfast and lunch but also some of those programs provide dinner after school meals and snacks. That includes backpack programs. So understanding that a lot of our kids, like your story, don't have enough food when they go home. So sending food home over the weekend so that they don't go hungry between Friday and Monday. Some of our school districts participate in that as well. So there was a lot.
- Yeah, which is great. Michigan is such a great state for food programs. It's really been a wonderful community to be a part of. And do we have state programs that are assisting schools as well with some of the acknowledging the really small budgets that they have to provide all of that critical food for students?
- Yeah, so we also have 10 cents a meal, which used to be a pilot project but just went statewide this year, which is exciting to see so that everyone has access for that. If people aren't aware, 10 cents a meal is kinda like, schools get 10 cents back per meal, it kinda works out in a calculation when they purchase local fruits and vegetables to help build a healthier meals. So will you like to see our children eat less processed food, eat, healthier food, get to try new foods. They might not be able to try at home. So we will be going into our first full statewide eligibility for 10 cents a meal. And that happened during the pandemic actually.
- Which is pretty amazing. When you think that we've been talking to food service directors and how much increased demand they had. And I know, TECAPs locally was doing so many meal distributions that it was a really powerful means of emergency food providing within our community. It's been amazing to see the adaptations. So sticking with that theme, what happened during COVID in Michigan? Obviously we're still in the middle of this pandemic. So it's by no means we're not through it yet, but how did demands for assistance change? What were some of the triggers for those needs that you saw?
- I think there's several things. In our state we've been people in the food, community out there were aware of supply chain issues. We've never had such a mass purchasing on slot where I think the general public became aware of how hard it can be in this state to get food from farm to store. So that was one of the first things I think people notice is just the fact that even though we are a really rich food diverse state in what we can grow and produce, finding on the shelves all of a sudden was a problem. And so figuring out how to get food from wherever it was grown or package to the store was one issue. And then once it got to the store, people having the money to purchase it. So we saw a lot of people with the stay-at-home order were no longer working. Were no longer had accesses the income that they had before, not being able to purchase food. And so that was one of the first things we applied for, was the SNAP increase in budget for SNAP families at home and what they receive. So increasing their general budget per month. And then expanding the resource for the pandemic EBT. So you talked about schools where schools are already, students go to schools they already qualify for free or reduced lunch program. Knowing that those families were relying on school meals, breakfast, lunch, snack and maybe dinner to provide food to their family. And now we're not having in-person schools. Those children are longer being served. And so trying to support that by providing the Pandemic EBT cards. Which were made so fast, they didn't even have a Michigan bridge on them. So people weren't even sure what they were and they were blatant like, "Here's this card, it's for you. Go get food." But we really want it to be able to support families. And then the school stepping up the school lunch, the summer lunch feeding program, which predominantly had been a site feeding. So you had to bring the family, you had to eat at the site, only the kids were fed. And recognizing at a time where we're asking people to stay at home and not gathered in public. That's not gonna work. So saying here, the meal is packed. It's ready to go. And yes, it's not just for the child, because when we only feed the child then the parent is hungry. So sending almost a congregate meal home for the family to eat, being more flexible with that program. And then I will also say food service directors being able to be flexible. You can pick up lunch, might eat lunch in school. We don't know if we're in person, we're not. Some people are doing all the things. So then now we had the school lunch program functioning in multiple ways. And then really that turnaround. I've been on the car with service directors who said, "Well, we're moving to home tomorrow 'cause someone tested positive for COVID. So I need to flip my entire school lunch program tonight." And doing that and just to ensure that our families have food. We've always known, and we have a lot of data around how much families are relying on our school lunch program to feed. But I think the pandemic really highlighted how important those programs are.
- I think you've made so many great points in there. How do you think that that ultimately changed for families? Like you mentioned congregate meal sites became individual meals to take home, but what is that? Can you just speak a little bit more to what that means for families that are really depending on these programs to create some stability in their lives. How does that change when there's a pandemic going on, a totally unprecedented situation? When we've talked about this before, we've mentioned that supply chain issues are not typically something that makes newspaper headlines. So what do we hope sort of can come out of this in a way that people have an understanding of what changes in someone's life when they are utilizing these assistance programs and those programs have to change suddenly?
- I think there's a couple of things. I think one of the first things that was highlighted and I don't think people think about it as much, and even on your PI of services are our senior citizens. So we have a huge under enrollment of senior citizens in SNAP and that's national it's not just a Michigan issue. But if you think about our programs like meals on wheels, or they bring food to the door, we don't have a lot of programs for delivery, for seniors or for families. And so when you're a senior and you had limited mobility, but now we're telling you do not come outside, do not go into the public. Thinking about strategies to get food into the home. And then for those who participate again congregate meals that may have been their social space. So like food isn't just nutrition, it is about community, is about thinking about social space. So rethinking how we do social space with seniors and people who have limited mobility who might not be able to engage in that public space. I think that's one of the things I think the state hadn't necessarily thought through as much. We have a lot of programs around children and families but thinking about our senior families, and also that a lot of children are in homes with their grandparents and seniors. And thinking about flexibility around that. I think with SNAP, there had only been two states approved for a pilot for SNAP to be able to be ordered and delivered. We just talked about how much of our communities rely on SNAP dollars and also businesses, local businesses, food producers are relying on SNAP dollars. And for them not to be able to order online, for them not to be able to be safe in their home. So we're talking about communities that are already vulnerable and going through, as you pointed out in your story, so many different issues, and now they're forced to go out in public and risk their health for COVID-19. So I think that was another thing. And then the thing that I think is really particular Michigan, that I'm hoping people are starting to think about is the processing issue. So we live in a state of winter, we're are currently doing winter again. And so while we are able to produce an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, we don't have the ability to do what is considered minimal processing very much. So freezing it, canning it, making it shelf and freezer stable so we can have it all year long. There's not a lot of that. There's also not a lot of meat processing. You might grow a pig in Michigan, have a farm, ship it off to Ohio to get it turned into something into pork chop, so family can use it and then ship it back. Well, in the process of COVID-19 and not a lot of trucks, not a lot of moving transportation and not wanting a lot of people to gather, that's a big deal that we can't take our own food. Food that might have been grown 20 minutes away from you is now shipped out of state and you're waiting on it to get back to you on the show. And that's something that is a big issue for COVID, but that's also a big issue for being able to stock our local stores, our local communities, and also the economics of our local community. So when we talk about programs like double up food bucks, they're geared toward increasing families dollars, they're also making sure that Joelle, your story, can have a position or a job within a market and maybe open her own store where you can get that local product, where you can stock your shelves. Where farmers can get their product product out and get paid. That has a harmful effect on our local economies and our local communities, especially our rural communities. And I'm hoping that we see some changes around that in our state because it has never basis to me that you could grow an apple five minutes away from me. And then in order to get it turned into something that I could eat all year long, it would have to go to Ohio and then I would have to wait for it to come back to the store. That is a very much a Michigan issue.
- Yeah, absolutely. And a Midwest issue. People think of this area, such an agriculturally diverse area and there is so much that gets taken out and then put back in and it's inefficient at times.
- And it also increases the cost for family. So thinking about our families, we always want them to be able to stretch their dollar as far as possible, but the cost of transportation of taking it out and bringing it back, is built into the cost of food. And so if we could do things more locally, then they would also decrease the cost. And so that's always important for Michiganders.
- Yeah, absolutely. We have just about eight minutes left and I know I wanna we get to our last question about what you would change, but can you touch a little bit on the importance of what types of products are available through these programs both public and private and how that really matters to the populations that are vulnerable and in need of these assistance programs.
- No worries.
- Sorry, what types of food are available? So with SNAP, you have the most flexibility. So you can pretty much purchase whatever food you want, and then they just change the rules that you are able to purchase hot food. So that used to be the biggest barriers that you couldn't purchase prepared food now because of Pandemic EBT our restaurants have been hit hard, but also they have food and they're able to make it. So you're able to do that. But WIC, the issue is, you get a package with WIC, because it's women, infant, and children. And I wanted to say that people are always thinking about the infant part, but usually not the children. So up to five years old, it's not just babies. That packages, it has certain nutritional standards and you get items approved based on the age of your child and the nutrition standards that we are looking to meet to increase health. And then your packages is changed by that. But in our state, we also have certain items on their package trying to make it more culturally appropriate, trying to expand what's available based on the population is in our state would like to buy. We've also seen an expansion of that during the pandemic. One of the other issues we face as a state and nationally is that, generally if you're not on WIC, when you go to buy beans, you just buy beans. When you go to buy cereal, you just pick up the cereal you like. And that might be Cheerios. But Cheerios are on the WIC package. And that might be the only cereal in the store that's available in the WIC package. And we saw this onslaught with everyone rushing to try to get food. And with limited stock, that a lot of people were buying up all the WIC items. And so looking for the WIC tag, there was a campaign about telling people who are not on awake to look for the WIC tag and try to buy something that's not a WIC item. So that families on WIC could have items available to them. But also what we saw was the expansion of the package, the expansion of what's improved to try to increase access for those who are on WIC, is very different. And then the commodities actions, you don't actually get to choose. Those are things that are picked out and given, same with the FTIR. And then eligibility may be different before a lot of the programs you have as you talk. I'm talking about if you qualify for one, you may qualify for them all. Just based on your income eligibility and your family size.
- Can you speak a little bit to how some of the public charities like food pantries needed to shift their models to reflect the lack of volunteers, just the pandemic, and supply chain shortages and how that impacts families when there's difference in delivery.
- One of the major movements is shopping with dignity in pantries. And we've really been pushing the model towards allowing people to come into pantries, pick out what they want and take it rather than packing a box for them and giving to them and taking it to go home. And clearly that shopping with dignity model was impacted by the pandemic because we don't want you to gather in space. We don't want you to gather together. And so a lot of pantries had to revert back to the old model of packing it up and having families pick it up. And I think that it was also because pantries were hit hard by staff shortages. So a lot of pantries, especially small and local or volunteer staff. The volunteer staff is usually seniors just because they're retired and they have more time. And at the same time we were telling seniors to not come out. So you had this abundance of people who are generally your staff no longer being able to provide their time. So they're awesome they didn't have time necessarily for the shopping model. You really just had to pack it up and get it out the door. And I think some pantry saw drop-off and people going to get food because they didn't wanna leave. But other parents really saw a huge surge of people. So the stores were in stock, they couldn't buy or they may have new issues with medical bills, loss of loss of a job or other income. And so we saw some pantries just be hit super hard and also trying to run multiple programs. There was also another pandemic program that came out, food provided from the federal government to the state trying to get that program out the door and not having staff. And so it's really been, it's really been a very busy time for pantries to adjust and they've done a really good job of trying to figure it out in such a very difficult time and structure.
- Yeah, absolutely. And the last initiative are you referencing the USDA farmers to families, the food services program. There's so many pieces and for the folks that are joining us today, it's incredible to see 130 folks with us today. Can you just share a little bit about, there are so many components to this, but if you could change one thing, is there one thing that you would change in the way this system works so that more people would experience food security in Michigan?
- My one big changes that we would think of it like a system, I guess, which is a large change. So food security, I think people often, when I say food security and they hear hunger. They hear the immediate need of someone to feed their hunger in that feeling. But what I'm talking about is never worrying about where your meal is coming from. So in your story, you talked about people who are on SNAP and WIC can still be food insecure because they may get their benefits at the beginning of the month and they don't stretch. And now they're worried about those last two weeks. So in a world, we would think about how a person is able to feed themselves without emergency food every day. And that means thinking about transportation, thinking about housing, thinking about access to things to cook and prepare food, which includes a stove and nice and heat in the home. And really thinking about a holistic model to ensure that all our residents are food secure year round because that's another issue we see in the cycle. People might grow to supplement their food, and then they can no longer do that. And then they too become food insecure. Sounds like a big yes, but I think it actually could be done if we just put our energy into it.
- And has there been anything positive that you've seen come out of the insanity that was 2020 and it's still with us today, but have there been positive takeaways that you see in terms of the potential for change maybe?
- Yeah, the greatest positives is that we learn that everything, at least from my perspective, that we were always told was not an option is an option. It's all on the table if we ask for it. We've always wanted the summer feeding program to be different and be more flexible and go home. Because there's always, before the pandemic, the question was, how do you get children who are home by themselves during the day to a speeding site when their parents are going to work? That was always an issue we asked and always something we wanted to be more flexible around or changing the WIC package, that's always something we asked or the SNAP package. And we were always told, no, it's not an option. And lo and behold, we have a national crisis. It's all an option. So I say that to say, for all those who are in this work who've been advocating, who are thinking about ways to shift programs to make them more flexible so that they actually work for the people we serve, for families who have concerns that they would like to see programs change, speak up about that. Let's continue with that. That's hold onto the gains we have made during the pandemic around food. And let's push back at those nos because now they've taught us that those are not real nos.
- I think that's such a great point for all advocates whether you really consider yourself an advocate or a professional, that there's a lot possible that we just need to move forward on together. So, Megan, I see you've come back to us. Are you gonna share some questions that have popped up in the Q&A.
- I am. Thank you. And I'm going to share these in the order we received them. Our first question is from Mary Beth Sellers. And the question is, who helps people in need to navigate the applications to seek assistance?
- So that depends. Some communities have sites where they will just... They have community health workers at a medical space. Some pantries now have programs where they help there. When people come in for emergency food, actually we helped them set up in the site within the state system because you can go online and fill it out. Anyone can actually help people fill it out. You can call. You can call a number at the state to try to get assistance. But I'll actually say the best way is to look up into your community, to try to figure out who locally is helping so that you can get the best support for all programs, not just the state level programs but what might actually be happening on the ground.
- Great. Thank you. Our second question is, we're seeing an over abundance of food in our community. People aren't accessing food programs because they have plenty. What does this look like around the state? This is a question from Alice Snyder.
- Can you tell me where the over abundance is? Like in what space in the farmer space, in the store space?
- Yeah, I'm not sure what this participant is referring to, but it seems to be an issue related to supply and demand. So I guess I'd be curious to know where you're seeing gaps or where you're seeing over abundance.
- The main space we saw over the abundance was farmers who produce eggs, who produce food. Had a very hard time getting that food from the farm to the store, particularly in the summer where a lot of them relied on farmer's markets in order to get their food out. And farmer's markets, Ms did a great job in the long run figuring out how to make those markets work and be open. But in the beginning, that was a very difficult. Also those farmers who usually provide food to say a restaurant or the places that were closed, they had an overabundance. We've seen restaurants have an over abundance of the food to the point where you might have noticed that your restaurants are just selling goods. Like bakeries are selling flour, selling eggs, selling milk. And so they have moved into that direction. I think some pantries because people are afraid to come outside or go into the pantry, get service, they're not moving product as fast as they would. Which if your items are shelf stable, might not be as big an issue as those who are providing fresh fruits and vegetables and engaged in that kind of work. And now you have to move it because the food will go bad. So that's where we seen the most over abundance in the chain across the state.
- And Janee, I wonder if you can speak a little bit to what we saw in terms of supply chain issues with meat processing in particular. Maybe some things that folks weren't necessarily aware of when they were buying their products at the grocery store.
- So the issue with meat is where we can grow meats. We have very little to no meat processing. And so that means when the pandemic hit and we weren't able to move product through states as fast, that we weren't able to turn a whole hog into what you would purchase at a store. But then we also saw a lot of COVID outbreaks at beef processing plants. Trying to get those places in spaces in a way that would decrease transmission was very difficult. And also honestly because States have different rules. So if Michigan has very strict rules around COVID-19, but then we ship our meat out to Ohio and Ohio has no rules around COVID-19, we probably not gonna see that meat back for a very long time. And so that's one of those supply chain issues. And what they did that decrease the amount of meat, but it also increased the cost. So I think another thing people saw at the grocery store is certain items really go up in price as it became more scarce.
- Great. Thank you, Janee. Our next question is from Sharon Lehmer. She says she's part of a food access strategy team in Manistee County. And they've had groups ask them to help set up food pantries. And she's wondering if there's a toolkit available that can provide guidance and how tos.
- Feeding America website has a good one. And I do believe the... What is it? Food Knights organization, sorry, my head.
- Food Bank Council.
- Yes, Food Bank Council of Michigan has a toolkit on there specifically and they provide food to food pantries in our state. So they also are good resources to figure out how to stock your pantry and what to do with that. And then like whether you're gonna go with local donations, get them from a food bank or purchase your own food based on fundraising.
- And we at Groundwork we've been working with the food coalition for the last five and a half years or so. And we just put out a guide actually this past fall that's about how to create a healthy food pantry. And it's explicitly intended for folks that are trying to create a pantry and have a healthy food environment. That's available on the Groundwork website. And it's also available on the Northwest Food Coalition's website as a resource.
- Thank you both. Sounds like good resources both at the local and the national level there. Our next question is from an anonymous participant. And the question is where the children of undocumented immigrants able to receive pandemic EBT benefits. So I think this is a question about qualifications.
- No, cause they wouldn't be able to receive SNAP. And so if you're undocumented, you can't receive SNAP. So you can't receive any of the other programs as well. And that was our migrant farm worker population. We didn't talk about it earlier but they were really hit hard on both sides. Like loss of food, loss of wages, and also having to work and be a migrant farmer during the pandemic. And even the ones like documented and undocumented. So we have those who are documented, but they're here on a visa, and they cannot receive those benefits either. But also they had to live kinda like bungalow style during COVID together, which was a really big issue for public health reasons but also for food and wages. So I don't wanna leave them out of the conversation.
- Great. Thank you. Our next question is from William Meserve. I apologize if I did not pronounce the name correctly. Our pantry uses Feeding America and Food Rescue and Save-A-Life. What other sources of low cost food are available to us? This sounds like a supply and purchasing question.
- So what some pantries do in Michigan, is they come together with other small pantries to buy in bulk. That's one way to kind of form your own little coalition so that you can maximize your purchasing power. The other thing I see under utilized is donations from local farmers, growers, and producers. We do have tax credits and credits around that for our farmers. And a lot of times, some of them just willing to engage , just out of the good in their heart, goodness of their heart but also just to move product. Cause they have a hard time getting products, so they getting product out, so they would rather give it to you and get the credit or benefit than toss it. I think that's another way it's really reaching out locally to see who has extra and who would be willing to donate. Restaurants and other people who create food and meals often have extra and are willing to donate. If they get six crates of whatever, and they didn't use it, they are a very good source. And right now I think they're probably one of the best untapped sources out there because they still have a backlog of items.
- I think everything you touched on makes so much sense Janee. And locally with the coalition, they had the Farm to Neighbor Program, which was purchasing from local farmers for the last two years. And that was really able to be expanded this year. Groundwork hosted a fundraiser for both the Northwest Food Coalition and the Manna Food Project, which is a food bank based in Harbor Springs. just about an hour and a half North of Traverse City. And we raised $200,000 for the purchase of local food. So a lot of the farmers that we've worked with have said, "Wow! we're really seeing food pantries as a market for our goods in a way that they hadn't been before." And I think that the coalition has done a lot of work and we'll actually explore this in next two weeks from now, our next session. We'll talk about decision-making and that's exactly what the coalition has been moving towards. Is some of this leveraging the collective market power of all of these different pantries who may be, some are really small and open two or three times a month and run by all volunteers. And some are huge and providing a huge need in the community. And so that power collectively and really balancing that and making collective decisions has been so amazing to witness over the course of this pandemic to see people coming together and say together we have the power to actually shift the market both in what type of quality food we're offering, and the type of food that is available in the marketplace. So I know that Bill is a member of the coalition and runs a great pantry. And so we're excited to discuss more of how that's been going on behind the scenes and what ways that we could improve that moving forward.
- Yes, and also if you have a food hub anywhere near you, because what they do is aggregate food which helps to decrease the price. So if you have a food, I've noticed a lot of parents don't really talk to their food hub. Connecting with your food hub and seeing what kinda ranges you can make and negotiate your hub is a really great way to start 'cause they can do some of that aggregation on your behalf.
- Great. Thank you. I'm gonna take one more question here. Although we have several, we won't have time to answer. The final question I want to pose to you is from Mary Beth Sellers and it's how to be a better advocate.
- So I think it starts with listening. I think, really listening to what your community is asking you for. And I think that means not just listening to what their needs around food. In the story that was told there other needs, whether they're workforce needs, or transportation or housing. Because all of that really has a really high impact on food security and thinking about how you can address some of those others needs as you're addressing food. So for instance, when you're doing the... When you're filling out your state application for SNAP, you're also looking at the benefits for housing credits. You're looking at the benefits for the Heat Assistance Program. Thinking about that and then thinking about how you connect them to other services within the community that they might be expressing to you but they don't know about. So that's a starting point. And then I always tell people to be brave. I think that to be an advocate takes a little bit of bravery, a little bit of courage to go out there and to really talk to whether it means you're talking to me at the state. Cause you know, I am available. You can tell me. I work in the public health side, not the services side, but I am able to communicate with them. Reaching out to me, reaching out to others in your community who might have an impact on what they need and letting me know, because like I'm at the state. So if you don't tell me, I won't know. I'm not on the ground, I'm not in the community. And it's my job to serve you. When organizations or individual comes to me and let me know what's happening on the ground and your concerns, then I can elevate that in all the spaces that I'm in. Not being afraid to reach out to ask questions and to talk to people on the behalf of those you're advocating for. I think it's a key component and it's useful for across the board, whether it's for food or any other support or service your community may need.
- Great. Thank you so much, Janee. We're extremely grateful for your time today, your wisdom, your experience, your perspective, and that encouragement to an advice about how to be better advocates. We really appreciate it. For those of you whose questions did not get answered, we are going to record those and we'll share them with Janee and our other panelists. And as they have time, we'll invite them to address those. And we do have four more sessions coming up. So your questions will help us understand what additional questions you have that we can hopefully answer in future sessions as well. Janee, I wanna thank you for participating today. Meghan, thank you as well for your remarks and experience. We're honored to have you both participating. We have another poll question here for you, participants. Our question for you now is, food assistance as you've just heard and learned more about is a layered and complex system. How effective do you feel the system is at providing food assistance? We'll take about 30 seconds to address the poll here. Just take about five more seconds. All right, I'll share the results with you now. 49% of you feel the current system is moderately effective. 40%, somewhat effective, and 5% split between extremely effective and moderately ineffective. Thank you for letting us know how you feel about the system. I am extremely honored now to welcome and introduce three additional panelists who will be joining us. Panelists, if you'd like to turn on your video and microphone, while I introduce you. Each of these panelists work within the food assistance service arena within our Northern Michigan community. Les Hagaman, has spent the first 17 years of his life living in three Asian countries, which instilled in him a lifelong interest in people, culture and a passion for food. After working for 27 years as a country club manager chef and small business owner, he began to thinking about changing his path toward a more purposeful end. And then 2015, he made a career change and transition to the non-profit sector to contribute to the lives of people in a more meaningful, direct, and productive manner. When he joined the staff at the Father Fred Foundation as their director of operations. We also have Darcia Brewer joining us. Darcia is the contract and administrative services coordinator at the Area Agency on Aging of NorthWest Michigan. Darcia earned her bachelor of science and dietetics at Central Michigan university and has worked at the area agency on aging since 2003 with a variety of responsibilities. One of the most rewarding roles she's had includes contract management of the six senior nutrition programs for Northwest Michigan that directly serve congregate and home delivered meals to older adults in our 10 County community. She monitors the compliance of and provides technical assistance to these programs. Cathy Somes is also joining us. Cathy is the executive director of the Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources. After earning her human service applied science degree from Baker college, Cathy's journey in assisting families in our community began. As the ED of the Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources together with her staff and the supportive community members, Cathy has been able to grow the program over the last several years to include not only food pantry services, but a community meal program as well. KAIR serves over 1500 people with nutritional foods each month. Thank you, three of you for joining us here today. We're gonna be asking our panelists three questions and they'll each have an opportunity to respond. The first question is, tell us a bit about your program. Is it public or private? How many people do you serve? Do they have to meet certain qualifications or conditions? And where does your funding come from? And Les, I'm going to pose this question to you first.
- Sure. Thank you Megan, for your gracious introduction. And it's an honor to be here and greatly appreciate to be invited to do so. As Megan stated, I'm with the Father Fred Foundation and we are a grassroots private organization that serves the Five County area around Traverse city. We endeavor to reach and serve those populations that fall between the cracks of whether it's a state or federal services or any services. Our mission statement is to listen care and share. And in reaching those populations that not only the Ali's group, but anyone who may not be included in in the programs that are generally available. We service a large group of people in that Five County area. And I'll share some statistics with you. In 2019, our food pantry serviced 12,961 pantry visits. That's visits for the whole family. That averaged out to 64 Families served each day that we were open for operations. And in 2020, as Val indicated earlier, we were significantly impacted by a pandemic which is typical with all area pantries that we've had access to information from. But in 2020, we serviced 6,728 pantry visits. And that brought the average down to 33 families per day. But the most important statistic really out of those large numbers is, in 2019, the average number of times that a family in our area visited the pantry was 3.51. And in 2020, there was 2.85. So what that data point tells us is people come when they need to. We are a fully private foundation. We accept no state or federal funds. We are locally funded. And I'll share some statistics here. Excuse me. 30% of our donations are less than a hundred dollars. 65% of our donations are less than $250. And we receive 7% of our funding through grant funding. So we truly are grassroots locally focused and locally funded.
- Thank you so much, Les. Cathy, could you please tell us a little bit about KAIR.
- KAIR was established in 1995 as a non-profit 501-C-3. The area churches needed a central hub for services in the Kalkaska County community. In addition to food services, we provide assistance with heat utilities. And we were fortunate enough in the middle of COVID-19, in addition to our food pantry services, to begin a journey with a community meal program. Every month between our food pantry and community meal program we serve between 1500 and 1600 individuals. We're a volunteer organization and we lost a lot of our volunteers when COVID-19 hit. We had a lady come in when the pandemic first started, she was barefoot in the middle of winter time. She had a two-year-old that was barefoot and they came to KAIR needing multiple services. So we gave her clothing and shoes and Christmas. And this year we gave her Christmas. And we give her a phone. And she's used our community meals several times. She uses our food pantry and it's a very rewarding yet humbling thing to experience, definite journey to be able to help individuals in need. I think it's what God wants us to do. And you never know, there's a stigmata sometimes around people that use the food pantry when they don't really need it. But we really do. 82% of individuals in Kalkaska County find themselves food insecure. And that's according to a survey that was conducted by the Benzie County rotary club, Sunrise Rotary Club in 2014. And many seniors find that the meager incomes that they have, don't cover all the bills. They're faced with either purchasing food or medication. In most cases, it's not both. So we're here to provide multiple services and I'm glad to be a part of that.
- Thank you so much, Cathy. Darcia, could you please tell us about the Area Agency on Aging in Northern Michigan?
- I am actually representing the direct service providers in our region. An Area agency on Aging doesn't provide food directly, but we do contract federal funding to a variety of agencies. So today I'm here to share about the senior nutrition programs. And this is the longest running program of the older Americans act, which was created in 1965. And through the older Americans act, a whole aging network was created to provide services to seniors and help them live independently in their homes and communities. The senior nutrition program is actually nutritious meals to older adults, 60 years and older and their spouses or caregivers regardless of age. And it's through two unique programs. The first is home delivered meals, which is also a meals on wheels. Most people have heard that. These meals are delivered to the homes of the eligible older adults, 60 years of age and older that are also home bound. So this means that they don't typically leave the home easily or without assistance. And also these home bound individuals often have other functional or other limitations that make it hard for them to prepare their own meals or to grocery shop. In addition to getting meals, we say that these programs are more than a meal because the deliverers that deliver the meals often provide a daily contact for that senior. Often we'll find them if they're injured or something and help connect them to help or provides them with that daily social connection that they might not have regularly. The second program is our congregate meals program. And these are meals offered in a variety of community settings, like senior centers, churches, and even restaurants. We do have a few programs like Beaver Island that's such an isolated area. They have established relationships with the school system and restaurants to provide dining out vouchers to seniors so that they can go and dine as well. In addition to providing meals, the intent of the congregate meals program is to provide social interactions. So it's really always been required that you eat those meals in a dining site. And I'll tell a little bit later about how that's true during the pandemic. Qualifications. So the 60 years and older is the age bracket. The program is not income-based. So we don't require any information about income. However, the programs are required to target and outreach to those populations that are socially and economically challenged. So we do try to outreach to them those areas. So we make sure that we connect with them especially. Just to tell you a little bit about our region in the 10 counties that we serve in Northwest Michigan. We actually have seven nutrition providers. I think I met six before in my bio, but these are six counties commissions or councils on aging and one community action agency that serve our 10 counties. And each has a unique system. It's very variable between the counties of how they do their program. However, because it is a federal program, there are minimum requirements that they're required to follow to receive their federal funding. And so there are nutritional requirements and safety requirements and staffing and all that which we monitor or through that. How many people do they serve? All together in the past year I believe we've served about 150,000 congregate meals to about 5,000 seniors in over 40 meals sites in the 10 counties, and 375,000 hot frozen, or shelf stable or holiday meals to the home delivered population of about 2000 home bound seniors. And like I said, the funding, there is some federal and state funding through the Older Americans Act and Older Michiganian Act. And that only makes up about 30% in our region of the funding that comes for these programs. So the remainder is local funding that's raised through fundraising. A lot of local senior millage goes into this program, special grants and then voluntary contributions from seniors. That was one thing that I forgot to mention earlier was, even though there is not a charge for Older Americans Act services, they still are given a voluntary, confidential opportunity to donate and meals are typically suggested around $3. The donation level is a lot lower than that but any amount helps and seniors are not denied service if they don't contribute. And then last, I just wanna let you know that to connect to any of these services, like I mentioned before, there is an aging network. And so there is an elder care locator number. You can find that online and that will connect you to all services for seniors including meals. There's area agencies on aging nationwide there's about over 600 of us. There are 16 in Michigan and they all cover a regional area. And then of course, local county commissions and councils on aging are the key aging provider in those areas and senior centers. So all of those would be good locations to connect into any singer services or especially these meal programs.
- Great. Thank you, Darcia. Thank you all for that overview of your programs and services. The second question I wanna pose to you is, people shared some comments after our first session, as they were reflecting on some of the data Seth Johnson shared that they were surprised about the percentage and the number of people facing food insecurity in our community. And I'm curious to know what you've learned about food insecurity that you feel others might not be aware of or that you feel other people might have a misconception about? And Cathy, I'll pose this question to you first.
- I think in the community people don't always realize how far food insecurity reaches. One in five children is food insecure in Kalkaska County, which means mom and dad probably aren't eating either. People don't really understand the effects of food insecurity 'cause it can lead to childhood obesity, health problems throughout the family unit, it can even lead to domestic abuse. Hunger knows no boundaries. So it reaches from seniors to children and every age in between. And food insecurity just simply as one or more time a month, you may not know when you're going to be able to have a next meal. And I didn't realize how all encompassing it was until I became the director of KAIR. It reaches people on so many different levels and truly devastates them. SNAP help families in the community. Food pantries help families in the community. And you continually reach to try to find new ways to feed people. Everybody is one paycheck away from being food insecure, one death in the family, one car repair. I've seen people that had a reasonable amount of income and above federal poverty levels and have one thing happened in their family structure and they all of a sudden are food insecure. And that's a very hard path to be on. A lot of times they will stretch meals before they finally take that first step. And it's not usually going to the State of Michigan. It's usually going somewhere local and then learning that you might be eligible for SNAP benefits. But getting them to come to our doors sometimes the toughest part because of pride unfortunately. That makes it very hard on people. I don't think there's ever gonna be enough food pantries to fit all the need or enough SNAP benefits to fit the need. Because sometimes the criteria that they have through various programs, people may be a few dollars over and even using a food pantry services. We provide seniors food four times a month. And even doing that, some of our seniors are still food insecure. Our community meal programs serve 2,400 people in five months. A lot of them seniors, some of them parents that brought their children in and the kids would tell you they haven't eaten in three days. At that point, you tell them, look, we have a food pantry, call me and I'll try and get you aligned with other services. We work closely with Father Fred and the Food Coalition and Food Rescue and the Meyer simply gift program was phenomenal. It has helped us out tremendously. We're able to provide more fruits and vegetables and dairy products and eggs to people, which helps them in their household. There's no way for somebody who's never been in that situation to completely grasp everything that goes along with food insecurity, because that's usually one of the last things anybody ever finds out about. You might tell your family, "Hey, I need help with my light bill." We may tell them, "I'm losing my home." But then comes, "I don't have food in my house." That's one of the last things people will share. And so it was a big issue in every community. I don't like the word issue but I'm drawing a blank on a better word for that.
- That sounds like it's pervasive and persistent.
- It's a very hard thing. And giving people on its cultures is even tougher than to try and fix.
- Thank you, Cathy. Darcia, what are your thoughts? What are misconceptions or things you've learned that you'd like to share?
- Well, the pandemic especially has brought to light a lot of things. I spoke with a couple of our nutrition providers to get some input for today. And one of the things that we realized is, like I mentioned earlier, the congregate meals program is really intended to dine in person. But when the pandemic came about there were flexibilities for both of these programs. And like Janee said earlier, there is no, doesn't have to mean no. So many things opened up with the pandemic. And so like the congregate meals program, we've never been able to like serve meals to seniors that weren't home bound unless they came to dine in the center. But with the pandemic, they had to social isolate at home. So we could increase our eligibility for Curbside that changed to curbside meals for the congregate participants. And for home delivered meal participants, it opened the eligibility up to any older adults, 60 and older, just because they were isolating at home. And so from that, the nutrition provider said especially for the curbside meals, how important the congregate meal program is. Because over the years, that's kind of had a lot of wonder, is this gonna really be the newer seniors? Are they really gonna wanna come to this site? Is this really viable over long-term, it's been like this forever? Well, what we found with the curbside meals is a ton of new seniors came to those programs during the pandemic. And we realized too, we gather information on them that they were higher poverty level too. So these were new people that we haven't reached in the past that we're reaching through curbside and home delivered meals. And our concern is after this pandemic, where are these people gonna go? And we need to look at our programs a little differently because of that. So we learned that. Also from working with Food Rescue, they've been a great new partner for us to deliver these new boxes that we've never done. We've done quarantine shelf-stable boxes to seniors and produce boxes to seniors through this new programming and funding that came about during the pandemic. And so establishing these, what we found through the food boxes is, is that seniors were saying or they were more able to come forward and admit that they had some food insecurity needs. But also that their nutritional needs were not being met because they don't typically get the produce. That's maybe an extra thing that they said. Don't have enough funding to purchase on their own. So to get those boxes was overwhelmingly successful to them and really meant a lot. So those are a couple of the things that we've learned about food insecurity and needs in our community.
- Thank you so much. Les, I'm gonna ask you to share and then we'll go to our final question of the session.
- One of many things that I've learned in my time here with the foundation is how hidden food insecurity and at-risk populations can be and how important it is to really utilize and harness the whole system and every opportunity to identify that at-risk population. Really needs a comprehensive look. And Janee did a wonderful job of explaining this in a number of ways. I'll offer an example. One of the programs that the Father Fred Foundation administers is Blessings in a Backpack Program. And we service 20 schools in two counties. Right now roughly 450 to 425 children are participating in that program. And that's a lot of kids going through a lot of administration in counselors or contacts at the school system. And one of our pieces and due diligence is to have conversations with those administrators. I went to a school a couple of years ago and asked a counselor, what do you really need? And my thought was, it's gonna be more fresh fruits something food related. The answer was underwear. And in our conversation that counselor shared, "When I came into this job, I did not expect to be doing this kind of training. And I did not anticipate these types of needs." So this is analogous to what we do on the food end because there are a lot of signals and signs that come our way through different channels. So we have a responsibility in my view to not just open a pantry and wait for people to come. We need to seek them out and get to people who are not coming to our pantry. And utilizing every means of communication to access that. And then to look at programs to address it. And that may be decentralizing a distribution program. There's a lot of things that have come out with pandemic that is making us at the foundation really look at how we are distributing food. So I was remiss in the first block and did not identify our qualifications. And this is an important piece because it does fit into accessing those who fall between the cracks. We asked if possible that a guest identify residents in a Five County area and express need. And those are our qualifications. If people come to us and express need, we will help them.
- Thank you Les. I'm going to ask you, this is a speed round final question because we're approaching 11:30. I'm gonna ask you to share each in one word or one sentence each. You're working in a complex system, what's one thing you would change about the way the system's working now that you'd like to see happen differently? And I'm going to ask Darcia to go first, please.
- The one thing that I would hope, and it would start locally with our programs is that we screen and referral in a more consistent manner to make sure that we're not just meeting our meal needs here but the total needs of the senior. So better screening and referral.
- Thank you. Thanks, Darcia. Cathy, what about you? What would you change?
- I would like to see some limitations on SNAP benefits, where they can't maybe purchase as many sugary items as what they can right now.
- Thank you, Cathy. Les, what would you like to see change?
- In a nutshell, authentic voices. The example that I shared with you is coming right from the trench and the point of service. And I think that relationship between guests who seek services and those who administer volunteers et cetera, that conversation, there's an opportunity for that information to be elevated to the decision-making level in a more authentic way.
- Thank you so much Les, Cathy, Darcia. We really appreciate your experience and sharing your thoughts today. And we're looking forward to continuing this conversation with all of you as participants. We're gonna wrap up our program here just by thanking everyone who has made this possible and asking you to participate in a final poll. We wanna know how much more aware you feel of the public and private food assistance programs after attending this session today. I'll give you five more seconds to respond here. All right, let me go ahead and end the poll and share the results with you. Looks like 46% of you feel moderately more aware. Another 36% are much more aware. 11%, somewhat aware. 6% slightly more aware. And one of you had no change in your awareness. We want to invite you to continue participating in these sessions. We do have another session as Meghan McDermott mentioned on January 26th at the same time. We will be focusing on how decisions are made to address needs related to those experiencing food insecurity and who's making those decisions. You'll be receiving an evaluation form in your email. We are looking forward to your feedback and your ideas and suggestions about how we can improve this experience for you. And we just wanna thank you all again for your interest in this topic. Hope you have a great day.
Session Two Panelists
Director of Treasury and Tax
Mary works in Munson Healthcare in the Treasury department. She ran the food pantry for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church for 18 years as a volunteer leader. She has served as the chair of the Operating Committee of the Northwest Food Coalition since March of 2018. Mary also participated on the systems team that created the Food Security System Map. She has a B.A. in business administration from University of Notre Dame and a Masters of Public Health Administration from the University of Chicago.
Food Coalition Coordinator, Food Rescue Coordinator
Goodwill Industries of Northwest Michigan
Bachelor of Social Work, Central Michigan University
Val works for Goodwill in the Food Rescue program. She coordinates the Northwest Food Coalition monthly member meetings and the gathering of pantry and meal site statistics on people served. She organizes collaborative activities for members such as food drives. She has experience with many food programs serving Northwest Michigan such as Commodity Foods. Val served as a Community Service Coordinator for 27 years at the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency (NMCAA). During her time at NMCAA, Val helped found the Northwest Food Coalition in 1994. While coordinating the Food Coalition, Val also helped start Food Rescue in 2009.
She is a Traverse City native and lives there with her husband and partner in crime. She loves art and floral design.
Megan has spent her career dedicated to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and openness in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. http://www.parallelmi.com
She is a 1999 graduate of Miami University (Ohio) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography and a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the School of Interdisciplinary Studies/Western College Program. She earned a Master of Arts in Organizational Management from Spring Arbor University, and pursued additional training in mediation, mindfulness, and workplace diversity.
Food and Farming Program Director
Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities
Meghan’s work is in regional food systems. She has contributed to Groundworks food and farming focus area since 2015, and has led this work as Program Director since 2016. Meghan sits on many regional advisory boards and has strong facilitation skills that she uses to problem solve and create positive change in sustainable food systems. Meghan began her work in Northern Michigan as a Food Corps Service Member working in area schools in 2013.
Food Access Public Health Consultant
Michigan Department of Health & Human Services
Janee Moore is a public health professional, who is a passionate about improving population health through impacting the social determinants of health and increasing health equity. She attended the University of Michigan where she received a Bachelors of Arts in Women’s Studies focusing on Women’s Health. Afterwards she attended Emory University and graduated with a MPH. Prior to working for the State of Michigan, she worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a Public Health Advisor in the areas of HIV, Environmental Health and Chronic Disease. She is currently the Food Access Public Health Consultant at MDHHS.
Darcia Brewer, RD
Contract & Administrative Services Coordinator
Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan (AAANM)
Darcia Brewer, RD, has worked at AAANM since 2003, with a variety of responsibilities. One of the most rewarding roles includes contract management of 6 Senior Nutrition Programs in Northwest Michigan that directly serve congregate and home delivered meals to older adults in AAANM’s 10-county service region. AAANM monitors compliance of and provides technical assistance to these Senior Nutrition Programs that receive pass-through Older Americans Act and Older Michiganians Act nutrition funding from AAANM.
Darcia earned a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics at Central Michigan University.
Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources
After earning a Human Service Applied Science Degree and degrees through CUNA League in budgeting, financial planning, theft prevention and recognition, the journey in assisting families in need in our community began. My passion for changing people’s lives one step at a time has granted me the wisdom to advocate on their behalf while maintaining a primary focus of reducing food insecurity today and for future generations.
As the Executive Director of Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources together with my staff, support of community members, and contacts established through our relationship with the Northwest Food Coalition we have been able to grow our program over the last several years to include not only food pantry services, but a community meal program as well, serving over 1,500 people with nutritional foods in our fight against food insecurity each month.
My vision is the continued reduction of food insecurity for impoverished households that will create a future for all children promoting a healthier society, leading us all into a world filled with promise. It is my personal belief that changing the life of one individual can and will better the world with moments that are assured to melt your heart while creating a balance for others whose stories will take your breath away.
Director of Operations
Father Fred Foundation, Traverse City
Spending the first seventeen years of my life living in three Asian countries has instilled in me a lifelong interest in people, culture and a passion for food. While I did not initially aspire to pursue a career in food, that passion and an inherent gift in that area, emerged in my adolescence and led me to embark on a path in food, beverage and hospitality management.
After working for twenty-seven years as a country club manager, chef and a small business owner, I began to think about changing my path to a more purposeful end. In 2015, I determined to make a career change and transition to the nonprofit sector in order to contribute to the lives of people in a more meaningful, direct and productive manner; joining the Staff at the Father Fred Foundation as Director of Operations.
My time living overseas and travelling around the US, developing my career, has instilled in me the belief that we are extremely fortunate in this country and have a responsibility to give back to at risk populations. It is my desire to use my remaining working years to help those who have fallen between the cracks, and, I have endeavored to use my skills in logistics, supply chain and food toward that purpose. I believe that we, as a Foundation, have the responsibility to improve the diet of food insecure households through the quality and nutritional value of the food we distribute. If we are able to achieve success in that area, it is my belief that we can successfully intervene in the poverty cycle.
District Director – District 3
Michigan State University Extension
Jennifer serves as the District Three Director and provides administrative oversight for the six county MSU Extension offices in Northwest Lower Michigan including; Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska and Manistee Counties. She has worked for MSU Extension for 22 years and prior to this assignment she worked as an extension educator providing supervision for SNAP-Ed nutrition instructors as well as taught food safety education for the community. She has been active in multiple leadership positions within her community; PTO president at two schools as well as served as President of MEAFCS (Michigan Extension Association of Family and Consumer Science Educators). Jennifer has been an active member of the Northwest Food Coalition by linking the nutrition and food safety resources to the pantry members.
She lives in Traverse City with her two daughters and her golden doodle. Jennifer enjoys participating in her daughter’s school and sporting events as well as hiking on our beautiful northern Michigan trails or boating on the bay.