By Alex Mitchell
Holt Journal staff writer
While a high unemployment rate in Holt and the rest of Michigan has affected many families and individuals, organizations such as the Holt Food Bank look to help those in need. Recently, the food bank, located next to the First Presbyterian Church at Holt and Aurelius roads, held its annual Easter Food Distribution, helping to feed 270 families in the area.
With unemployment rates in Michigan at 11 percent, Ingham County is fairing somewhat better with an 8.7 percent rate, but as John Busley, President of the Board of Directors for the Holt Food Bank said, there is definitely a need for food assistance in Holt.
Busley said that the Holt Food Bank does not qualify financially eligible clients, but rather citizens can find out whether they qualify by contacting Capitol Area Community Services. Busley said that they can predict the number of families in need based on information from local public schools. If a student qualifies for free or reduced lunch, then generally their family could qualify for some food assistance.
“We estimate there is probably 24 to 26 percent of the population of the Holt School District in some sort of need of food assistance,” said Busley. “That number comes from the assistance given by the school district, which is a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) program.”
Food for the program comes from a variety of sources, according to Busley.
“We get donations from the Mid-Michigan Food Bank, we purchase food from grocery stores, we get grants from the Greater Lansing Food Bank, we do a community fund drive, and everything else is donated product and donated funds,” said Busley.
Busley said that the food bank is serving as many families as ever, but that is not an indication of a largely increasing number of families in need. Rather, it is a sign that the food bank has more support than in the past.
“The food bank has a history that goes all the way back to the early ’60s and late ’50s,” Busley said. “In 1999, we made it a community food bank. At that time, it kind of fell into the lap of the Presbyterian church. We organized, got the community involved, and developed a board of directors. It went from serving 20 families a month to serving over 175 families a month.”
Busley said that work with the press and effort spreading the word helped make the food bank what it is today.
“It’s not that the hunger wasn’t there before, it’s that nobody knew about it,” said Busley. “Nobody knew that the food bank was here, it was a very hush-hush, secret type thing, so we got a board of directors together and we publicized it. Work with journalists like you guys helps spread the word.”
One area raising awareness of the food bank that has helped it the most, said Vice President Caroline Walsh, is by bringing in volunteers and donations from the community. According to Caroline, Easter is the third largest distribution date behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, and a large number of volunteers are vital to the success of these events.
Tom Large said he has been a volunteer at the food bank for four years. He mostly volunteers when they need extra help around the holiday food drives.
“I got involved to help others,” said Large. “It’s a good way to give back.”
Other community members, Like Carrie Fuller and Jeff Booth, along with Kyle Fuller, 11, Nate Booth, 11, and Bryce Fuller, 13, bring food donations to the food bank. As part of a yearly Cub Scout activity, the group collects donations from people in the community.
“Our den is a Webelos 2 Den, Pack 007,” said Carrie. “People order door tags. We went Wednesday and Thursday and handed out door tags for people who want to leave food. We went around this morning and got the food and you donate it to the food bank.”
“It’s pretty fun to be able to help people in need,” said Nate Booth.
Walsh said that there are many stories of people going through tough times when you talk to the clients of the Holt Food Bank. Holt resident Shirely Barlow said that the food bank has helped overcome difficult times of her own.
“They have helped me with food for Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving,” said Barlow. “I’ve been coming here and it helps me afford food because of my medicines I have to buy. I don’t have enough money to get food otherwise.”
It’s for people like Barlow, said Walsh, that the food bank exists. They are there to help feed and give back to the community of Holt, helping each other during hard times.
Map of Food Banks around Lansing