My fourth week has been just as packed and interesting as the last few weeks have been! It’s crazy to me that we’re almost halfway done with the program. I feel like I just got started a week ago; I’m not sure how the time has raced by. Also, this blog post was originally going to be really, really long…so I’m splitting it up into two parts, and I’ll post the other one separately. (I’m too wordy for my own good with these blog posts, I think. Sorry!)
This past Wednesday, Peace (one of the three churches I am working with) gathered up some of its members to volunteer at Fish and Loaves, a local faith-based food pantry. I went with them and Pastor Kirstin to volunteer myself (Lisa also came along with me; she wanted to see how food accessibility Downriver compared to that of Detroit and to expand her educational experience this summer) but they ended up having an excess of volunteers that day. I also didn’t get any pictures, because it was a warehouse setting so we had to lock up our purses and phones and whatnot in lockers so as not to get them damaged. We did, however, get a tour of the facility and listened to one of the head managers talk about the place.
The way Fish and Loaves works is they receive food donations from the surrounding supermarkets (the only evidence that I’d gotten was that they received food from places like Walmart in the area that would have otherwise cost the company money to dispose of) that do not cost the companies any money. They don’t have pre-made bags or baskets for families; they set up their store room like a grocery store, with shelves of the same items and fridges along one wall for meats, dairy, and anything else that needs to be kept refrigerated.
I thought this was a fantastic idea: it both decreases food waste because the food that the families are picking out is food that they know their family will eat, instead of getting prepackaged food that either they do not have the means to cook or that nobody in their family will eat, and helps to decrease any loss of dignity families may feel for accepting this food assistance. It feels like shopping in a (bland) grocery store, only there’s no bill to pay when you check out. Fish and Loaves also often stocks feminine hygiene products, diapers, baby food, and other essentials that are expensive but necessary, which I thought was great. They also donate dented cans and containers to a local soup kitchen for them to open up and check the food inside. If it’s good, they use it; if not, Fish and Loaves sends the unusable food to a local farmer. A downside though is that all of the food is processed; they don’t have any fresh produce available, and when I went through the store front area there wasn’t any fruit or vegetables available that didn’t come in a can. While processed food is definitely better than no food, it still seems to be feeding into a system of giving cheap and unhealthy food to those who cannot afford fresher, healthier options. Fish and Loaves does solely operate off of donations, so I understand that they cannot control what is on their shelves, it just put me off a bit.
They serve 7 Downriver communities (Allen Park, Brownstown Township, Dearborn Heights, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, and Woodhaven; they are also thinking about taking on Lincoln Park, as well) and assist approximately 1,350-1,400 households monthly. I was surprised but happy that they help that many people, though I was a little disappointed by how strict their guidelines for participating households were. Everyone under 18 has to have a birth certificate or a health card, and if you’re over 18 they only accept state IDs or Michigan driver’s licenses. I understand the organization wanting a proof of residency in one of the communities they service, and a proof of income for the family, but I truly think that by requiring those forms of identification, there could be other families in those communities without birth certificates for their children or with expired IDs or licenses that need food assistance and aren’t getting it from Fish and Loaves. Though, I do know there are a lot of hunger-initiatives from many of the religious organizations in Southgate, Riverview, and Taylor, so perhaps those families are receiving some help there.