Michigan residents package free meals for families in need

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Following Michigan’s K-12 school closures and stay-at-home order, efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve presented greater challenges to food-insecure families. School districts, small businesses and organizations responded to the crisis with an abundance of free food-distribution services and support.

On March 20, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined Lansing School District staff and volunteers including MSU professor Robert Kolt to distribute donated school supplies and sack lunches at Sexton High School. 

“It breaks my heart to think that because school is closed there might be a kid who doesn’t get to eat anything that day,” said Lansing Board of Education president Gabrielle Lawrence. 

The Lansing School District established 22 food distribution sites for students and families to receive lunches Monday through Friday during Michigan’s K-12 school closure.

“I’m so proud of our district for being able to offer these food services to families as we’re going through this unprecedented crisis,” said Lawrence. 

According to Whitmer, about 750,000 children in Michigan qualified for free and reduced cost lunch this year. While school districts are not required to provide free meal programs during the state-mandated closure, hundreds of districts initiated drive-up, pickup and bus-delivery services for the remaining part of the K-12 school year. 

Angela Mercer, administrative assistant at the Van Buren Public Schools, said, “Students need structure. Kids need routine. We need to be able to somehow give that to them from afar. It is our job to provide them the basic necessities, and food is one of them.”

Drew Reynolds

Van Buren School District staff works at stations preparing grab-and-go sack lunches.

Small business owners including Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea in Ann Arbor, and Sara Gardinier, owner of Traverse City’s Chef’s In, also made widespread food distribution possible. 

McDonald and her team collaborated with the Ann Arbor Public Schools to package hundreds of care packages out of her store’s kitchen. 

“I have resources of people that have the ability to donate money or time, and the Ann Arbor Public Schools have resources of people who need these services specifically,” said McDonald. 

Drew Reynolds

TeaHaus staff and volunteers prepare lunches for Ann Arbor Public Schools.

With donations collected from their community, Dan Guy, owner of Espresso Bay in Traverse City, partnered with Gardinier’s team at Chef’s In to package and distribute free sack lunches out of their downtown businesses. 

“It’s important to have this resource here for people who need it and good for us as business owners to get out of our head and do stuff for others,” said Gardinier. 

Dan Guy

Espresso Bay team members distributing lunch bags from Chef’s In.

Independent food pantries including The Free Little Pantry of Midland County also responded to the pandemic by distributing sack lunches in addition to their non-perishable food.

The Free Little Pantry’s owner, Ashley Schroeder, said she wanted to make sack lunches available all day for children who aren’t able to get to the schools during their lunch pickup times. 

Ashley Schroeder

Ashley Schroeder and her outdoor pantry, built by the local Boy Scout troop.

MSU professor and Lansing School District’s media advisor Robert Kolt said, “Anybody can do something. Even though you’re at home and you might not want to go out, you can still do something meaningful.” 

Michigan map shows locations mentioned in related links

Drew Reynolds

Michigan map shows locations mentioned in related links.

Zone 1: 

Adams Township School District breakfast/lunch delivery

Baraga Area Schools “grab-and-go” food service

Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District breakfast and lunch meal program

Iron Mountain Schools breakfast and lunch meal program

Ironwood Area Schools weekly food distribution

Ishpeming Public School District breakfast/lunch combo packs

Zone 2:

Delta County and Escanaba food pantries 

Feeding America-West Michigan mobile food pantry

FPC Community Food Pantry food pickup

The Love INC of West Mackinaw County food drive-up 

Manistique Area Schools food distribution

Tahquamenon Area Schools food distribution

Zone 3: 

Alpena Public Schools meal service 

Cheboygan Area Schools meal distribution 

Food Bank of Eastern Michigan

The Manna Food Project emergency food boxes

Otsego Public Schools “Grab-n-Go” meal distribution 

Pellston Area Food Pantry and The Dutch Oven Bakery drive-up distribution

Zone 4: 

Benzie Central Schools meal delivery program

The Chef’s In and Espresso Bay sack lunch distribution

Lakeshore Food Club drive-up food box distribution 

Mason County Central School District meal distribution 

Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District lunch pickup service

Newaygo Public Schools food delivery service

Zone 5: 

Alcona Community Schools “Grab & Go” meals

Clare Public Schools food pick up

Gladwin and Beaverton Community Food Distribution weekly food distribution 

Kalkaska Public Schools “School Meals at Home” program 

Roscommon Area Public Schools breakfast and lunch delivery 

Together We Can Food Pantry of Oscoda County food box distribution

Zone 6: 

Bay City Public Schools breakfast and lunch pickup

The Free Little Pantry of Midland County food and sack lunch distribution 

Gratiot-Isabella RESD food distribution resources

Human Development Commission of Huron, Lapeer, Sanilac and Tuscola Counties pop-up food distribution services

Montcalm County school meal distribution and various food pantry services

Saginaw County School Districts offering breakfast and lunch distributions

Zone 7: 

Barry County United Way food distribution 

Cassopolis Public Schools breakfast and lunch distribution

Kalamazoo Public Schools “Grab and Go” meals

Kent County Schools “Grab-and-Go” meals 

Muskegon Food Pantry

Van Buren and Allegan County food pantries 

Zone 8: 

Clinton and Ionia County food pantries

Eaton RESA food service programs

Jackson County food pantry resources

Lansing School District food service program

Livingston County food program resources

South Michigan Food Bank serving Branch County 

Zone 9:

Ann Arbor Public Schools food distribution

Lapeer County collaborative food program

Lenawee and Monroe County food pantry resources

Oakland County meal distribution resources

St. Clair County food distribution resources

Wayne County food distribution resources

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