The Isabella Community Soup Kitchen used to serve around 85 meals per day. Now they serve 200.
“In March, our facility closed for three weeks. Then, when we reopened in April – I think April 15 – there were still people coming that we knew were new people, but it wasn’t until the beginning of May that we started to see a significant increase consistently,” says Sarah Adkins, executive director of the ICSK.
Not only has there been a change in the number of people served by the ICSK, there has also been a change in the demographic of those served. Adkins says she is seeing more families with children and more seniors needing the food provided by the ICSK.
As the demand for services has risen, so have the costs of providing double the meals at the ICSK. However, while the need has just over doubled, the cost has increased tenfold. The ICSK used to spend around $100.00 per week to serve around 85 daily meals. Now, it spends between $1,000 and $1,200.00 weekly to serve about 200 daily meals.
In order to accommodate its new “to-go” method of providing meals, the ICSK had to purchase additional carts to wheel the food out, step stools to help people prepare the additional meals, and other items. Additionally, Adkins says a large part of the reason costs have historically been kept low is because 99% of the food that is cooked is donated. However, cooking and preparing double the number of hot meals and packaging them in to-go sacks has proved to be challenging and costly - especially with a decrease in the number of volunteers.
“Because of the decrease in volunteers, we weren’t able to cook at that capacity. So, initially, we were purchasing some of the food that we used for our lunches because we were making sandwiches,” she says. “We had to purchase to-go supplies which, as you can imagine, for 200 meals per day is extremely costly. I never knew how expensive paper bags were.”
Increased costs due to providing single-use materials has also been a problem for Midland’s Open Door.
“That happened right away and has continued. We have to use a lot of paper and plastic products, and that added a lot of costs to our nonprofit,” says Renee Pettinger, executive director of Midland’s Open Door. “Having to do individual packaging – whether its utensils, condiments, or clamshells – has been significant.”
Pettinger says Midland’s Open door saw a “massive increase” in the demand for services provided by their soup kitchen starting in March – with the soup kitchen providing around triple the meals it normally does; however, those numbers have steadily dropped back down to normal over the past month and a half. She attributes this to the generosity that the community saw after it faced catastrophic flooding earlier this summer, as well as more people beginning to receive benefits that they can use to purchase food.
No matter how many people it is serving, though, Pettinger – like Adkins – says volunteers are sorely needed right now.
In fact, a lack of volunteers has also contributed to increased costs at Midland’s Open Door. In order to accommodate its “grab-and-go” method of providing meals, the nonprofit extended its feeding hours from noon-1:30pm to 11:30am-1:30pm. Without as many volunteers to help prepare or serve the meals, those positions had to be filled by paid staff members.
“There was a bit of a vacuum when it came to volunteers,” says Pettinger. “We lost a vast majority of them during COVID and most of them are not comfortable returning yet.”
At the ICSK, Adkins is hopeful that her costs of food can soon decrease a little; however, it will be difficult without more volunteers.
“We just in August started cooking again so we can move back to using the donations that we receive in that way and decrease our food costs, but it’s extremely challenging to prepare, cook, and package hot meals for 200 people to go… The volunteers we’ve had all summer are, quite honestly, exhausted,” Adkins says. “We need more help.”
She is looking for volunteers Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8-1:30pm. Applications can be found online, and a 10-15 minute orientation must be completed. She says safety measures are in place for volunteers that include daily health screenings, required masks, hair nets, and gloves, and social distancing.
While Adkins would like to think the demand for services provided by the ICSK will return to normal, she just doesn’t think that’s a reality any time soon.
“If anything, there’s going to be a continued and possibly increased need for food,” she projects. “Given the status of our country in general and the effects that COVID has had on employment, housing, job security, the delay in accessing unemployment benefits, only returning to work part-time – all of those things have an impact on people’s income and expenses and ability to secure decent food.”
As schools explore the best option to keep kids and communities safe from the COVID-19 pandemic – whether they should provide face-to-face learning, online-only education, or a hybrid of the two – food insecurity may continue to be a concern for some kids and families. A solution to one problem may pose an additional challenge for another problem.
“Some of the kids in our community rely on the school for possibly two meals and a couple snacks a day – that’s a lot of food,” says Adkins. “When kids are home and families are struggling already to provide that for their kids and you add COVID on top of that, it just perpetuates the problem that families have.”
With all of that in mind, volunteers are just one of Adkins’ needs right now. Donations are also desperately needed. While the ICSK has been fortunate to receive a few grants, have partnerships with community businesses (such as The Cabin, which helped provide pizza), and significant private donations, overall, Adkins says has seen a dip in donations this year and the 2nd Annual Black Tie fundraiser had to be cancelled.
Pettinger says Midland’s Open Door is also in need of donations to help cover its increased costs.
“What we’ve told people is anything helps, but financial donations and Gordons Food Service cards are great because we’re able to purchase some of those individually packaged items there,” Pettinger says.
The Isabella Community Soup Kitchen currently offers to-go style meals in a drive-thru distribution to anyone in need from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Monetary donations to support its work can be made online or can be mailed to:
Isabella Community Soup Kitchen
621 S Adams St
Mt Pleasant, MI 48858
Midland’s Open Door currently offers grab-and-go style meals in a walk-through distribution to anyone in need from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Monetary donations to support its work can be made online or can be mailed to:
Midland’s Open Door
P.O. Box 1614
Midland, Michigan 48641