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Fresh Food Initiative helps fill the gap for stretched budgets

By
JACKIE KOCH

A local organization that distributes fresh food to area residents with stretched budgets aims to fill the gap between surviving and thriving, by providing vegetables, fruit and other pantry items to those having trouble making ends meet. With a higher income limit than other food assistance programs, the Fresh Food Initiative is able to give a helping hand to individuals and families left short on grocery money despite having a regular income.

The distribution is typically held starting at noon on the third Saturday of each month at the Tecumseh United Methodist Church, 605 Bishop Reed Dr. “It takes a village,” said Jan Jones, secretary of the Fresh Food Initiative board. “We have a lot of volunteers.”

Anne Walker, president of the board, said the program got started when Nancy Bishop, who knew Walker through United Way Advisory Board meetings, saw that the South Michigan Food Bank (SMFB) was looking for another distribution site and wanted to find a location in the Tecumseh area.

Walker said a meeting was set up with a representative from the food bank, and area churches and organizations were invited to join the effort. “Miracle of all miracles, everybody came to the meeting,” she said. The group received a grant from the SMFB to cover the first four months of operation and the Tecumseh United Methodist Church was chosen for its convenient features, including a covered pavilion where bulk food could be set up for distribution. “And when we left that meeting, incredibly, everything was set,” said Jones. “We worked for a couple hours and we were set to go when we left the meeting.”

The local organization purchased vegetables, fruit and other non-perishable and frozen food from the SMFB and began distributing free food in September 2018. The SMFB, founded in 1982 to provide hunger relief, nutrition education and hope to those in need, has a distribution center in Battle Creek where fresh and non-perishable food items are collected to then give to organizations that help families in Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Hillsdale, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lenawee, and St. Joseph counties. The food comes from local donations, the Michigan agricultural surplus system, food drives, national donations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and is also purchased through monetary donations.

Sharon Dicks from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and the Tecumseh Service Club is in charge of recruiting at least a dozen volunteers each month for the Tecumseh’s Fresh Food Initiative. Before the pandemic, distribution days brought out 20 to 30 volunteers every month, but since April the numbers are down due to changes in the system. Those seeking food stay in their cars and drive through while volunteers confirm their eligibility and load their vehicles.

The board is representative of many local churches and organizations. Walker is from the Tecumseh First Presbyterian Church and the Kiwanis Club of Tecumseh; Vice President Jackie Schultz is from Newsong Church and food pantry; Jones is from Tecumseh United Methodist Church; Treasurer Debra Davies represents the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh and Kiwanis Club of Tecumseh; and Lolly Luegge is from Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Britton and the God’s Bread Basket – Dinner’s On Us free meal program at Tecumseh Church of Christ. Dick Northrup, from Tecumseh United Methodist Church, oversees security and traffic during distributions, and Brad Peake, also of the Tecumseh United Methodist Church, handles the loading section of the distribution.

Jones said the Fresh Food Initiative receives financial support from substantial individual donations and grants. The money goes to purchase the food at a reduced cost from the SMFB. “The grant writing that we’ve succeeded at has all been to Jan’s credit, and I also want to say a huge thank you to the South Michigan Food Bank and to the Tecumseh Arbor Chapter of Gleaner Life Insurance Company, which gave us a big donation last fall, and also to the Lenawee Community Foundation Lenawee Cares program,” said Walker.

To qualify for the boxes of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and other staples, the income limit for a single person is $25,520 per year; for a family of two, $34,480; a family of three, $43,440; and a family of four, $52,400, for example. The organization serves around 175 households each month and had to turn away people when they ran out of food the past two months. Between January and September, the Fresh Food Initiative has distributed 5.5 tons of food.

“I think all of us are passionate,” Jones said. “We love it. It’s challenging, there’s eight different opinions, but we all are passionate, and that’s what makes a good board.”

For more information about the Fresh Food Initiative, whether to volunteer, join as an organization, donate to the cause, or inquire about eligibility for food, call 517.902.2211, or visit tecumsehumc.org for a link to the Fresh Food Initiative flyer. The next distribution date is Saturday, Nov. 21 at noon.

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