TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan students can still get meals more than a month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed all schools in the state.
J&S Hamburg Owner Tiffany McQueer commends this program, but said she wondered what kids would eat on the weekends.
Her family answered this question by starting Project Feed the Kids, a program that provides free food every Saturday at the Traverse City restaurant and Kingsley Elementary School.
“Business is slow, so we needed something,” McQueer said. “It’s nice to help out with our community. This just makes us happy. “
The prepackaged meals, McQueer said, usually include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, applesauce or yogurt, milk or juice and a snack, like chips or pretzels.
“It’s like a sack lunch,” she said. “It’s a really hearty meal. You tell us what you need and we give you what you need.”
The last Saturday in April marks their fourth week offering meals. McQueer said they handed out 1,100 free meals out so far. She enlists her six kids to help assemble the bags, which she said takes time but is worth it.
“We have a very, very amazing turnout,” she said. “You don’t have to live in our area at all.”
Business and community donations help make this possible, she added.
Antrim County residents can find free meals a little closer to home. Short’s Brewing Company CEO Scott Newman-Bale said they began their giveaways right after bars and restaurants closed in mid-March.
“There’s a lot of people right now who are unemployed,” he said. “There’s a lot of need. It’s a rough time for us all, but the more we can do — the more everyone can do — helps.”
The pub offers its usual menu for takeout and limited delivery, but Newman-Bale said the free items are soup, salads, pizza and macaroni and cheese. These are made on the spot.
“You just ask for the free food program; no questions asked,” he said. “We never leave anyone hungry.”
Newman-Bale estimates that 100 people — mostly families — have taken advantage of the meals.
“It goes in waves,” he said. “It is typically one or two (customers) a day.”
Fuel Your Tomorrow Health Foods opened at the Grand Traverse Commons only about six months ago. Co-owner and Executive Chef Kaylee Davenport said they prepare healthy meals for pickup or delivery within the city limits.
“We are booming probably now more than ever with people at home,” Davenport said. “We take their dietary needs and make meals for them.”
She said they created a donation-driven program to help individuals with compromised immune systems and families. Community members can donate a meal to anyone in need.
“Some people just say they need a day, or an entire week’s worth,” Davenport said. “We had a single mom with five kids and we loaded them up for an entire week. People can also order as often as possible.”
The meals change weekly, as they include seasonal ingredients and items available from around Michigan. Davenport said they are in the kitchen preparing meals about five days every week.
Not only can people avoid going to grocery stores, Davenport said, but also they don’t need to clean up because Bay Area Recycling for Charities provides environmentally-friendly, compostable containers.
Overall, Davenport said the program is successful, serving around 700 people in a little more than a month.
“It’s good to be able to help in a time that people feel they are not able to get it,” she said. “Whatever anybody needs, we can definitely help with. We’re not going to stop.”