Hunger Issues in Harbor Country Spur Formation of Grassroots Coalition

New Buffalo, MI, Nov. 14, 2017 -- The celebration in Harbor Country® next week of a day of Thanksgiving with feasting and joyous family gatherings is a right of all local residents, including those who are struggling to feed their families. 

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, 1 in 7 people, over 14% of the residents of Harbor Country, suffer from food insecurity. The number of children in our community affected by hunger, I out of every 5, is more severe.

Food insecurity takes many forms. Essentially it means lacking reliable and consistent access to healthy food, which leads to skipping meals, eating less nourishing food, or simply going without.

Discovering and documenting the basic food needs of local residents has been a key project for the past two months of the Neighbor by Neighbor program of the Episcopal Church of the Mediator located in Harbert, Michigan, a project funded by The Pokagon Fund. Through surveys conducted at recent mobile food pantries, Megan Bolinder, Neighbor by Neighbor’s Resource and Referral Specialist, has sought feedback from the recipients of food assistance on how to improve food quality and distribution.

The results of Neighbor by Neighbor’s surveys have been encouraging. “The twice monthly distribution of food by the mobile food pantries supplements a participant’s monthly food intake, but the food doesn’t last very long,” stated Bolinder.  “Where improvement is needed is in the variety of food provided such as meat and dairy products as well as non-perishable food including pasta and peanut butter. And, the timing of distribution outside of non-working hours and the addition of more distribution points, particularly in New Buffalo and Three Oaks, is also crucial.”

Using the information provided by the surveys, Neighbor by Neighbor brought together a coalition of food service providers who are seeking to better understand the need of Harbor Country residents, and identify ways to respond in a dignified and collective manner.  Participants included representatives of Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan, Feeding America of West Michigan, River Valley Senior Center, River Valley School District Blessings in a Backpack, Harbert Community Church, Harbor Country Emergency Food Pantry, Harbor Country Rotary Club and many others.

“Numerous solutions to alleviating hunger were discussed and participants in the Food Security Coalition, which will meet quarterly, were tasked with strategizing ways to respond to the concerns of those participating in the surveys”, said Ms. Bolinder.  “What is most significant is that we are listening closely to those suffering from food insecurity and we want to help equip families with the resources they need.” 

The coalition will meet again in December to cultivate a coordinated program of food distribution for 2018. In that regard, The Pokagon Fund Executive Director Janet Cocciarelli stated that the Fund has poverty relief as one of its major goals, which includes food security. “We are unswerving in our support of the clients served by Neighbor by Neighbor, and we want to assist the Food Security Coalition to provide nourishing food and other grocery items at convenient times and in suitable locations.”