Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fighting Hunger

Maybe you live in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and your family needs help. SOS Community Services is a social-service organization that offers housing services, help with utilities, food assistance, and various social services. Earlier this week, I visited one of the two SOS centers in Ypsi, which is around 20 minutes drive from my home in adjacent Ann Arbor. My goal was to learn more about SOS, which has been developing social services to meet the changing needs of the community for 45 years.

I was particularly interested to find out more about their food pantry, which offers families in the community choices of bread, produce, meat, and a variety of canned and packaged goods, all at no charge. Six times per year, a family member makes an appointment to visit the pantry and select from a variety of foods to supplement groceries that they buy, perhaps using government assistance like SNAP. Every week, produce is available to all clients on a walk-in basis. Most of the food comes from Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor, says Marti Lachapell, coordinator of the food bank.

The SOS Community Services Food Pantry -- staples, personal care products, produce, recipes.
At left: Marti Lachapell.
Some SOS families have homes with kitchens. Foods from the pantry that are helpful to them are bags of rice or dried beans, boxed mac & cheese, waffle mix, frozen beef or pork, fresh vegetables like potatoes and carrots, fresh fruit, bread and sometimes desserts, large bottles of juice, and many pantry staples. The quantity of food each family receives depends on family size. Certain items, like baby food and large containers of juice, may be limited, due to high demand, but every family goes home with a useful selection of needed groceries.

Produce, bread, canned goods, juice, peanut butter... to be chosen by the users.
The bakery goods shelves are nearly empty in the photo because my
visit was the afternoon after the pantry's morning open hours.
Homeless families or those living in an unstable situation are also among the SOS clients. For them, helpful items are foods like peanut butter, saltine crackers, or single-servings of apple sauce: portable foods that don't need refrigeration. Some families are "surfing" -- that is, they live temporarily with a series of friends or relatives. The food they receive here from often helps them to be more welcome as guests.

"SOS never charges for food," explained Chelsea Brown, SOS development director. "All of our food is free to consumers so that they can stretch their limited budgets."

This week, as pictured above, the pantry received a lot of radishes among the produce available, so Marti researched some recipes to help people figure out how to cook them, not just to eat them raw. Labels "GO" or "SLOW" appear on some shelves to suggest what's good to eat in any quantities, like produce, and what might be less healthy choices, like sweets or waffles from the available waffle mix. In the pantry there's also a bulletin board offering recipes for healthy snacks.

Rhonda Weathers, SOS executive director, and Chelsea Brown, joined Marti in showing me around the center and answering my questions. They described how SOS responds to changing needs and situations. For example, opening up the pantry shelves to allow families to meet their own needs is a new process. It replaced the old way that SOS distributed food until last year, which was to provide each family with a bag of pre-selected foods.

Also recently, Marti explained, they've expanded the choices of fresh fruit and vegetables in the pantry. Some produce is local; some comes from national distribution centers. Most of the items in the pantry are able to be restocked when needed; the category where demand usually exceeds supply is personal care items, which for the most part are not part of the Food Gatherers offerings.
Rice, mac & cheese boxes, more canned goods.
Food insecurity exists in every county in America. Around 14% of American families experience hunger. Here in Washtenaw County, Michigan, where I live, a number of organizations including SOS attempt to help people in need to overcome many of their problems, including housing, jobs, and stability for children. SOS works in partnership with other organizations, both local and national.

SOS, using HUD funding, provides temporary housing for homeless families, and attempts to place them in permanent homes and better jobs. They run a summer enrichment program for 40 kids called Sunny Days, which also includes a lunch program. Other sponsored activities for kids are a Girl Scout troop, tutoring programs, and after-school activities during the school year.

Maybe your family needs help, I said when I started this post. But maybe you are much more fortunate, and could help SOS Community Services with a donation or could volunteer in one of their volunteer programs. I hope more fortunate people will think about this.

Note: For more information see the SOS website. For nation-wide hunger statistics see this Feeding America Fact Sheet.


Jens Zorn said...

Thanks for this important post. Many of us need reminders of those in need.

Charlie Louie said...

What a fantastic service and it's so important places like this exist. I'm staggered by the amount of homeless there are in the US - there's really no reason why such a prosperous nation has such alarming rates of homelessness. And sadly, our homeless rates are also dramatically increasing. I do hope all those who can, make donations xx