Building Community: Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS l KALAMAZOO LOAVES AND FISHES

Preserving Dignity Through Service

A man pleasantly chats with those nearby while he waits in line for his turn to shop at Kalamazoo’s Loaves and Fishes (KLF) food pantry. When his number is called and a volunteer offers a shopping cart, he smiles and responds, “I only need what I can fit in my bag.” His name is Charles, and he is among the 700 people who receive assistance from KLF each day. He is currently homeless.

In 1982, a group of church parishioners took it upon themselves to start collecting food for people just like Charles, meeting them where they are by providing a fundamental need and right: to eat.

Meg Gernaat joined the agency three years ago as the marketing and communications director. She had volunteered with food drives in high school and college and knew she wanted to work in the nonprofit sector once she graduated. Gernaat shared some meaningful insights into how KLF’s work is not only a critical part of the community but also how it has changed her as a person.

“Working at KLF has opened my eyes to the fact that the stereotypes that we place on people are so incorrect. The clients we come across are some of the most generous and resourceful people we know. Oftentimes, they’ll come to us because they can’t justify spending money on fresh meat and produce,” says Gernaat.

Even a highly effective organization like KLF is sure to face challenges along the way, specifically in its attempt to acquire and store food in more savvy ways. As technology continues to develop and pressure builds for marketers to eliminate food waste, less is available to food pantries like KLF. Last year, the agency distributed over 3.5 million pounds of food, so a volatile food market would be of great consequence to an organization that operates, in part, by repurposing excess food from local markets.

Currently, the breakdown of KLF contributions looks as follows:

27% PURCHASED FOOD KLF increasingly must turn to wholesalers to secure important food staples. Bulk purchasing and researching the best deals help keep costs low.

 24% CHARITABLE FOOD NETWORK Through the Food Bank of South Central Michigan, KLF has a connection to the national charitable food network Feeding America. This partnership allows them to access no-cost and pennies-on-the-pound food items.

 23% FOOD RESCUE Volunteers pick up perfectly edible grocery store food destined for the dumpster because of expiration dates. They also currently rescue food from ten different stores each week.

15% GOVERNMENT SOURCED FOOD KLF receives food from the USDA to support the low-income seniors enrolled in the Commodities Supplemental Food Program.

7% COMMUNITY FOOD DRIVES From corporations to churches to school groups, community members provide essential food donations to help meet the service commitments of the organization.

4% FARMS AND GROWERS The hard work of local farmers provides fresh-from-the-field produce to KLF clients.

KLF has three main program areas to meet the needs of the community at large.

In partnership with other services in the area, the organization launched the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides food for senior citizens in need.

KLF also launched what is called the Mobile Food Initiative, which distributes perishable and nonperishable food items throughout the county to reach a greater number of people. There are no eligibility or paperwork requirements.

Their largest program offering is their Grocery Pantry Program, which fills hundreds of food orders to nearly 30,000 individuals each year.

What fascinated me about these statistics is how multifaceted KLF’s efforts are to keep their programming robust.

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes 901 Portage Street, Kalamazoo MI 49001 / (269) 343-3663 l KzooLF.org