With the help of Toyota’s recent $140,000 donation, Food Gatherers says local families will have access to even more meals this year due to emerging needs brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
In Washtenaw County, more than 5,300 children face heightened food insecurity during the summer months due to free and reduced price school meals ending with the school year.
Food insecurity means not having consistent access to enough affordable and nutritious food. Throughout the school year, these local children rely on free or subsidized breakfast and/or lunch, and Food Gatherers’ annual summer food program aims to fill those gaps.
Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger-relief organization, has projected that Washtenaw County could see overall food insecurity rates rise by 42%. For children, the figure is even grimmer, with a projected 103% rise in child food insecurity as a result of the pandemic.
Since Michigan confirmed its first coronavirus cases in March, Food Gatherers’ network partners have reported an increase of 30-300% in visitors to their food pantries and meal distribution sites. Many of these individuals were seeking food assistance for the first time.
This year, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education and funded by Toyota’s Research & Development center in Ann Arbor, Food Gatherers will sponsor 22 summer food program sites across Washtenaw County from June 22 through Aug. 28.
“Food Gatherers is grateful for Toyota’s investment in the summer food program,” Helen Starman, Food Gatherers Chief Development Officer said in a statement. “With their generous support we will be able to supplement the meals with groceries and fresh produce boxes, as well expand our mobile meal program reaching several remote communities. In addition to summer food, they have also supported critical food distribution during the pandemic.”
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“This year is our second year of supporting," said Praveena Ramaswami, Community Relations & Corporate Communications at Toyota Motor North America R&D. “With the summer food program, Food Gatherers has really had to think about how to serve an even greater need, especially since the schools are closing. We’re really grateful for the work that Food Gatherers has been doing to address the needs of the community.”
Last year, the summer food program distributed meals five days a week, but considering the current health crisis and the significant financial impact is has had on many area families, Food Gatherers will be distributing meals seven days a week this year.
“This year, many more families are experiencing reduced or lost income as a result of the pandemic," LeRonica Roberts, Food Gatherers Community Food Programs Coordinator said in a news release. “The SFSP makes it easy for families to safely pick up and take home meals so that parents can focus on other important things and not worry where their children’s next meal will come from.”
After a successful pilot of its mobile distribution service last season, Toyota’s donation allows for Food Gatherers to help more than just students -- the food bank will be handing out extra groceries and produce boxes for families at these sites designed to reach those in the community with the least access to food.
Children up to age 18 can receive free meals as well as young adults up to age 26 who are currently enrolled in a state-recognized or local public educational program. Anyone who qualifies and is in need can benefit from the meal service.
In accordance with public health guidelines, all breakfasts and lunches will be made to-go for children. In total, 14 meals will be provided a week for each child. Children do not need to be present for pick up -- parents or guardians may pick up food for them.
For a complete list of free meal site locations, visit foodgatherers.org/summerfood.
Anyone who needs food in Washtenaw County is encouraged to visit foodgatherers.org/needfood.
Want to get involved? Visit the food bank’s COVID-19 response page at foodgatherers.org/covid19.