It’s all about meeting basic needs and making sure that no one goes hungry. The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan distributes over 28 million pounds of food (including 11 million pounds of fresh produce) through a network of more than 700 partners in 22 counties, according to President/CEO, Kara Ross. Partner agencies include church pantries, soup kitchens, boys & girls clubs, women’s shelters, school systems and “anyone who wants to provide food to the hungry.”
Headquartered in Flint, the FBEM has worked extremely hard in their COVID Response Effort during the pandemic to meet the needs of the communities they serve. “We have a great team!” Ross exclaims. And since the pandemic began, the need for food has increased, says Ross. “We have doubled what we did last year in the same time frame.” She expects a heightened level of service for at least one to two more years during the COVID-19 recovery effort. “Not everybody is being called back to work and some people are finding that their jobs are no longer available. Household recovery will take some time.”
The 90 FBEM employees include kitchen staff, truck drivers, the program department, operation team and others. Many volunteers help out doing retail pickup from local grocery stores and sorting food. On Saturdays, the number of volunteers range from 100-150 people. And the team was very resourceful about finding food, searching for produce from as far away as Texas and Florida during the pandemic. But now that the Michigan growing season is underway, they are able to get it locally. “We like to support Michigan farmers and our local farm families,” says Ross.
From mid-March through the month of June, the FBEM received assistance from 12 members of the Michigan National Guard, who operated fork trucks and warehouse equipment. “They were phenomenal,” says Ross.
The Food Bank buildings are currently closed to the public. “We want to keep our team safe,” the President / CEO states. The usual precautions are taken, such as handwashing and sanitization. And she gives kudos to the facility’s team. “They are doing an amazing job at keeping everything clean and sanitized. We can’t risk compromising our ability to get food out to our children, families and senior citizens.”
Mobile Food Pantry
The Mobile Food Pantry and their partner agencies provide food by the truckload to neighborhoods at various locations. Eighteen semi-tractor trailers are loaded with 18 pallets of food, Ross explains. “We have trucks on the road six days a week.” Partner agencies locate a local parking lot for distribution of the food, and location information is posted on the FBEM website. The food is available to anyone who needs it. “They can drive through in the safety of their cars,” Ross adds. “Since mid-March, 17 million pounds of food have been distributed. People don’t realize how much food comes in and goes out of our facility.”
During the summer, the FBEM provides lunches and snacks for kids at 60 sites, including the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Salvation Army. “Our team is amazing,” Ross shares. “They work so hard to help connect food with our partners to get food out to the community.”
Summer Youth Initiative
Currently, FBEM is supplying employment to 20 teens through the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce Summer Youth Initiative (SYI), Ross informs. The Food Bank has partnered with SYI for many years, allowing youth to learn job skills, serving the community and assisting those in need. “They make a tremendous impact on our organization,” adds Ross.
What you can do to help
According to Ross, monetary donations are always needed and every donated dollar can provide six meals. FBEM receives substantial community support from local donors, businesses, organizations and foundations. “Because of that support, we are able to meet the need,” she says.
Ross has been with FBEM for 23 years. When she started, there were just six or seven employees. “I am so privileged to work with an organization that serves so many communities so well. We have a great board of directors. It’s really about the entire community helping neighbors.”
Food Bank of Eastern Michigan
2300 Lapeer Rd., Flint
The FBEM began in 1981 as a small, grassroots community organization serving agencies in Genesee County. It is one of seven food banks in the state that make up the Food Bank Council of Michigan and a member of Feeding America.
The FBEM serves as a common solicitor, storehouse and distributor of food to member non-profit and charitable organizations in 22 counties.
Once food arrives at the Food Bank, it is sorted, inspected and made available to partner agencies such as churches, soup kitchens and food pantries to distribute to those in need. All Food Bank partner agencies are required to distribute food, without charges or fees, to needy clients.
Volunteering during COVID-19 Outbreak
The FBEM is still accepting volunteers in small groups. At this time, volunteers MUST call ahead before volunteering. Online registration has been indefinitely disabled. Please call 810.396.0210 to schedule a time to volunteer.
If you, your family, or someone you know is in need of food assistance, here are three resources for help:
The Agency Locator will help you find partner food pantries and community kitchens in your area at fbem.org/where-to-get-food/find-a-food-pantry/#agency-locator
The United Way’s 211 “First Call for Help” line can refer you to agencies near you. They will not only have listings of food pantries, but will also be able to direct you to agencies that provide other services you might need such as utility assistance, clothing, job training and more.
The SNAP Outreach Team can assist anyone interested in applying for financial food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Bridge Card)