In northern Lower Michigan it takes a lot to stand out in the host of organizations that do good works for the needy. There are literally dozens of groups and organizations that provide food, clothing, transportation and shelter to those who need help.
But then there is Food Rescue, a program of Goodwill Industries, which stands out for the amazing volume of food it provides the needy and the way it does that — by going to local businesses and picking up donations that make their way to food pantries across the region.
The program is assertive where other groups wait for donations to come to them. Food Rescue workers go directly to markets, restaurants, farms, bakeries and grocery stores across its 580-square-mile service area and ask for items that are nearing their expiration date and likely won't sell.
Food Rescue collected 191,234 pounds of food in its first year. The program, which operates under the direction of Goodwill Industries, is scheduled to collect more than 854,000 pounds of food and other goods this year, a staggering amount.
Food Rescue gives food to agencies in Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim and Kalkaska counties. The agency said one pound of food can be collected and distributed for roughly 34 cents, an amazingly low overhead. Last year, the region's 47 pantries and soup kitchens counted 319,000 visits from people in Antrim, Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties.
And most of the donations are perishable items like produce, meat, dairy products and bread, where virtually every ounce is food, not a can or other packaging. On a recent day a local Oleson's store gave strawberries, bread and vegetables.
Northwest Food Coalition Coordinator Val Stone said pantries will see an increase in visits of about 3 percent this year, a conservative estimate.
Demand for food has increased every year but one since 1997. From 2007 to 2011, visits to food pantries in the region rose 83 percent. From 2010 to 2011 traffic at food pantries and soup kitchens jumped by 65,000 visits.
None of this would be possible without donors, who recognize that wasted food does no one any good. Food Rescue gives them an economic way to do the right thing.
And there's no question how those on the other end feel. Helping a parent put decent food on the table for the kids has value that goes beyond price. It's the very stuff that can help hold a family together through tough times.