Regional food security coalition launches new website

New site aims to inform and improve access to services.

Val Stone convenes the Northwest Food Coalition
Val Stone convenes the Northwest Food Coalition

Did you know that 1 in 5 northern Michigan kids are hungry at school? Furthermore, food insecurity affects over 20 percent of northern Michigan families. That means almost a quarter of our community does not have access to nutritious foods or they are uncertain from where or when they will get their next meal. Fortunately, grassroots efforts exist to help those in need. In fact, removing barriers that prevent northern Michigan residents from accessing the most basic of human needs is what one altruistic group of community stakeholders does on a daily basis.

The Northwest Food Coalition (NWFC) strives to “meet the hunger needs of residents in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties while continuing to address the greater issues of poverty.” From its humble beginnings 24 years ago, membership in the coalition has grown from just 8 pantries to nearly 60 members including an array of pantries, meal sites, churches, and other community-based organizations. Being a part of the coalition provides member organizations an opportunity to exchange ideas, share resources, and coordinate food drives to ensure all residents have access to adequate amounts of healthy foods. According to Val Stone, coordinator for NWFC, coalition goals for 2017 include raising more awareness of local food insecurity and improved promotion of member services.

To meet these challenges, the NWFC recently launched a dynamic new website that merges sleek graphic design with coalition facts and the latest data on hunger in America. Val believes this new communication channel will better educate the broader public, while also informing current or potential clients where and when food is available in the 5-county service region. The website does this through its ‘Find a Pantry or Meal’ function. This section of the website shows all of the pantries and kitchens, organized by county, with food available for clients. By clicking on the organization’s name, a drop-down menu appears displaying a variety of information including, but not limited to, contact information and hours of operation. The website is mobile-friendly too—meaning anyone with a smartphone can access this vital resource anytime, anywhere. Coalition members hope leveraging this new communication channel will increase participation at their sites, which on average served 381 people per month in 2016.

Addressing the nutritional needs of families in northern Michigan is of urgent importance. “High cost of housing, heating bills…daycare costs, and lack of good paying jobs—especially in rural communities—doesn’t leave much leftover for food,” says Val Stone. Thankfully, organizations like the Northwest Food Coalition are there to provide a safety net for those families struggling to make ends meet. If you would like to learn more about their efforts or find a pantry near you, head over to Michigan State University Extension is happy to support the goals of the coalition. 

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