Of the 1.5 million people in Michigan who struggle with hunger, nearly 400,000 are children. The toll that food insecurity takes on families — especially those with children and seniors — is acute, particularly for those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SNAP, one of the most effective and efficient federal programs, provides low-income families money to purchase food and has historically received bipartisan support. In fact, 45 million families in the United States rely on SNAP benefits, and two-thirds of those benefits go to families with children. In our state of abundance, one in six Michiganders struggle with hunger each year.
Luckily, here in Michigan, there are organizations that work every day to make sure more children and seniors get the healthy food they need. Children who lack adequate nutrients are more likely to experience developmental delays, learning difficulties and lower educational attainment. For seniors, food insecurity complicates already-present diseases and limits their ability to complete basic daily activities.
Healthy Food Connect, a 2016-2018 initiative of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, has helped organizations like Elder Law of Michigan, Fair Food Network, Gleaners Community Food Bank and Forgotten Harvest, among others, to provide healthy, fresh food to more children and seniors.
By providing programming and investments that allowed organizations to purchase new food trucks, build community gardens at senior living facilities, transport students from rural and urban communities to farmers markets, and support a host of other projects, Healthy Food Connect grantees reached more than 15,000 children and seniors. They also served nearly 130,000 meals and transported 4,000 people to healthy food access sites. Many of these programs have been able to continue or expand even after the initial grant period ended.
In Temperance, when medical professionals at the Family Medical Center of Michigan realized that their patients’ health was being compromised by a lack of access to healthy food, MCOP came in and built a “food pharmacy” inside the health center. This “pharmacy” stocks vegetables, fruit, protein and grains and is now receiving 75-85 visits each week. In total, more than 1,500 children and seniors benefited from the program during the life cycle of the Healthy Food Connect initiative.
Through this initiative, we were able to see what works. In partnership with the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, we invested in innovative solutions. We now call on fellow funders and partners to come together and scale these successful efforts. The need in our state demands it.
There is more that our citizens can do to support our neighbors. We encourage you to engage with organizations that work to promote food security in your community. Lend a hand at incredible local pantries; serve meals as food shelters and soup kitchens; and ensure our neighbors have access to adequate, affordable and nutritious food in southeast Michigan and across our great state.
No person should have to go hungry on a nightly basis.This fall, let’s remember the children and seniors that struggle to eat and find a way to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.
To find an organization to volunteer or partner with, see the full list of Healthy Food Connect grantees at HealthyFoodConnect.org.
About the author: Mariam Noland is the president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
This guest commentary first appeared in Bridge Magazine, an online publication of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Michigan.