The carefree days of summer are anything but that for an increasing number of families with children who find themselves without enough food to eat. Often they are trying to fill major gaps when they aren’t able to access the free or reduced meals offered through schools.
Many of these families are living at or below the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) threshold — households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county. The federal poverty guidelines for a family of four in Michigan is $24,600 and the ALICE threshold for a four-person household with an infant and a preschool-age child is $61,000.
While there continue to be free meal distributions during the summer at schools and other sites throughout Calhoun County, United Ways across Michigan, including the United Way of the Battle Creek Kalamazoo Region, have joined together with the Kellogg Company and food pantries to make sure families stay fed through the summer and beyond.
“As school breaks for the summer, fun, and sun should be top priorities for families. Worrying about whether or not they can stock the shelves in their pantry should not,” says Steve Cahillane, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for the Kellogg Co.
between Kellogg’s and United Ways in Michigan is an initiative known as “Summer Stock Up” that's focused on keeping food pantries supplied at a time of year when donations typically fall off, says Tony Iovieno, Senior Director of Resource Development at United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.
“We know the issue of food insecurity during the summer rises because kids don’t have access to the same amounts of food as they would have during the school year,” Iovieno says. “This is a great opportunity to build awareness around the issue of summer hunger and address it.”
Unlike other local food collection initiatives, Summer Stock Up seeks monetary donations rather than actual food items because food banks, such as the South Michigan Food Bank (SMFB) based in Battle Creek, are able to leverage this money to make it go a lot farther. Every $1 donated to the SMFB translates into at least 6 meals for families in need, according to its website.
South Michigan Food Bank is part of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks
that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies. Because of its size, Feeding America is able to turn every $1 it receives into at least 10 meals for families in need through its network of food banks.
Additionally, monetary donations enable food banks to purchase a wider array of food items to ensure that they have adequate supplies of all food types available for distribution to the food pantries they serve, according to the Community Action Services
“Local food banks appreciate food donations, but when it comes to feeding the poor, monetary donations are essential,” says an article by Community Action Services. “Boxes of mismatched canned goods vs. cash in hand make a big difference to the food bank. Food has to be sorted, carried, and stored, while money can be used to buy the supplies the food bank needs the most.”
According to its website, the South Michigan Food Bank partners with 285 agencies over eight Michigan counties to make sure that everyone has access to the nutrition they need to succeed. These agencies are organizations like schools, churches, and other nonprofits that run our distribution sites for pantries, Fresh Food Distributions, and other programs.
The Food Bank’s eight-county service area includes Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Hillsdale, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lenawee, and St. Joseph counties.
One hundred percent of local donations made to Summer Stock Up will remain in the community and used to feed local families in need who are likely already clients of food distribution sites supplied by the SMFB, Iovieno says.
Donations to the program, which began on June 1, will be accepted through the end of the month.
Iovieno says some United Ways are collecting food and financial contributions, but the UWBCKR decided a virtual giving platform made the most sense. Individuals interested in donating can click here
and they will have the opportunity to purchase anywhere from 10 to 50 meals.
Because the initiative is new and no one knows what to expect, Iovieno says neither a public or private goal was set for the number of dollars to raise.
“In a perfect world, if this initiative goes really well, it’s about stocking up food pantries beyond summer,” Iovieno says.
The need will be there beyond summer, Iovieno says. He says the families and individuals in Battle Creek and throughout Calhoun County living at or below the ALICE threshold are “employed and working hard and struggling to make ends meet and when you’re struggling there is often a need to scale back your food budget. We know these things are very much linked. As I look at the ALICE data almost 50 percent of our families are at that threshold or below and are making barely enough to get by or really not enough to get by.”
The Survival Budget, according to ALICE data, includes $254 per month for food for a single individual and $773 per month for a household that includes two adults, an infant, and a preschooler.
Feeding America’s 2019 statistics
for Calhoun County show that 14.2% of all county residents are experiencing food insecurity and 16.4 percent of those are children. Twenty-seven percent of individuals earn above the federally funded SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) eligibility.
Of Calhoun County’s 53,827 households, 14,078 were part of the ALICE population, Alyssa Stewart, Vice President of Community Engagement for the UWBCKR, says in an earlier On the Ground story
about the 2021 ALICE Report.
The 2021 ALICE Report is the fourth generated by United Way. Beginning in 2015, the Michigan Association of United Ways, with support from local United Ways statewide and the Consumers Energy Foundation, began releasing these reports every two years. The reports, which use point-in-time data from the previous two years, provide a comprehensive look from a statewide and individual county perspective at Michigan residents who are struggling financially.
The report includes a Survival Budget and a Stability Budget each of which list the cost of basic monthly expenses such as housing, food, transportation, healthcare, and technology for households with a single adult; two adults; two adults with two school-age children; two adults with two children in child care; and for the first time a single senior or two seniors.
The Survival Budget reflects the cost of getting by. The Stability Budget offers a snapshot of the cost of maintaining financially with the opportunity to begin saving.
Iovieno says the most recent ALICE Report “doesn’t take into account what COVID has done to move these numbers. The data we’re providing is from 2019. We know from economic trends that the job loss here was severe and food insecurity grew by leaps and bounds in certain demographics. This is one of many reasons we knew food insecurity this summer would be an issue. We wanted to figure out what we could do to rally the community and address this issue in our community.”
In addition to its work with Summer Stock Up, the regional United Way this year is investing $489,500 in six area programs
directly addressing food:
• Battle Creek Public Schools/Breakfast In The Classroom;
• Senior Services/home-delivered meals;
• South Michigan Food Bank/food distribution;
• Southwestern MI Urban League/Food To Fork Initiative;
• Salvation Army BC/emergency family services; and
• Tri-County Labor Agency for Human Services/food bank pantry.
The organization’s Disaster Relief Fund
for organizations serving Battle Creek/Calhoun invested a total of $700,000 for food access.
“Success for us in the long term will mean that no child or family will ever again go hungry,” Iovieno says.