Feast or famine for food banks at Thanksgiving

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Capital News Service
LANSING — In Comstock Park near Grand Rapids, the hunger organization Feeding America West Michigan is doing something it’s never done before for Thanksgiving.
The group is opening its warehouses directly to the public instead of only to hunger organizations like soup kitchens.
The reason is that the group is having its fourth record year in a row of food donations, said Andrew Steiner, the media coordinator for the organization. That means its warehouse is full.
The full house is partially due to a strong harvest, he said, and partially due to the organization’s relationships with food producers.
Other groups also have reason to be especially thankful.
In the Detroit area, Forgotten Harvest is partnering with NBA Legends Detroit Chapter, an organization for former basketball players, and area coaches and students to re-pack meals on Monday, said John Owens, communications director at Forgotten Harvest in Oak Park. The produce will be given away on Tuesday at River Rouge High School. Turkeys will also be given away.
And a 400-person dinner with the Detroit Pistons will follow that evening in Detroit’s Eastern Market.
But not all hunger organizations in the state can do something big for Thanksgiving.
The reason? Money.
The Western U.P. Food Bank in Houghton isn’t planning anything special for Thanksgiving.
“Money isn’t coming in bucketfuls anymore,” said Jerry Jackovac, an 85-year-old worker at the food bank. Buying turkeys for the 500 households that the group serves would cost at least $10,000, he said.
“We can’t afford it. There’s no way,” Jackovac said.
Instead, the food bank will hold to its regular food pantry distribution schedule, giving out approximately 65 pounds of food each to 500 households on Nov. 22.
Nationwide, it’s not uncommon for food pantries in rural areas to be less well-stocked than those in urban areas, said Alison Cohen, senior director of programs at WhyHunger in New York City.
One problem: especially around holidays, donors prefer giving tangible goods like canned food, Cohen said. But cold hard cash is more useful for food banks. A dollar donation gives a food bank $7 in buying power.
In Traverse City, the Father Fred Foundation is already continuing its holiday dinner tradition. It started giving away holiday dinners the week before Thanksgiving and will continue through the day before the holiday, said Sue Bauer, volunteer coordinator of the foundation.
The 27-year-old organization gives away Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners every year, Bauer said. Families must choose which holiday dinner they prefer.
The foundation serves 900 households in Grand Traverse, Antrim, Kalkaska, Leelanau and Benzie counties and is entirely funded by donors, Bauer said.
“We are so blessed by our community,” she said.

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