New Bridge Card policies will change the need for food assistance in the Kalamazoo
area. Although food Pantries, like Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, are prepared for
the increase, many people who depend on the Bridge Cards aren’t.
Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is preparing for an increase in the need to for assistance
to families in the Kalamazoo County because of changes to the Michigan Bridge Card
Bridge Cards, the food assistance program for struggling Michigan residents, have
helped many. However, because of cases of bridge card abuse, a new policy was created
last April. The new policy, created by the Department of Human Resources, began in
November and puts new restrictions on Bridge Cards.
Organizations like Loaves and Fishes believe the new policy isn’t the best idea,
but are prepared to handle an increase in their own local programs because of it.
"The policy is very misguided,” said Art Kohl, service director at Kalamazoo Loaves
and Fishes. “We as a community need to find ways to keep people’s food safe, not
take their current stable food sources away.”
Over the past few years, the Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes location has received a
steady increase in the number of calls to their hotline. In 2010 they served over
86,000 pounds of food -- the number of people they’ve served in 2011 already indicates
that they will surpass last year’s numbers.
Kohl said the increased need for food is just going to continue to grow.
“We’ve been having a steady growth in the number of people calling in for food for
years now,” Kohl said. “And with this new policy, we are already expecting a 15 percent
raise in the amount of food we are going to be giving out next year.”
To prepare for the increase for emergency food relief, Loaves and Fishes is not only
moving to a larger location, on Portage Street, but also in the process of increasing
the number of pantry locations they have, Kohl said.
The pantry locations are how people receive food. When a person calls into Loaves
and Fishes they are asked a few questions and then directed to the nearest location
to receive a four day food supply for their family.
“When a person in need calls, we direct them to the nearest pantry for food,” Kohl
said. “Depending on the information we receive from them, like the size of their
family, we inform the nearest pantry that they will be coming to pick food. Depending
on the members in the family, the pantry knows how many items of food the family
is allowed to receive.”
Currently there are 25 pantry locations in the Kalamazoo County including those located
in surrounding counties, Kohl said. However, with the increase in calls received
Loaves and Fishes is investigating plans for additional locations because there are
still many regions of high call values that don’t have a pantry near them.
“With every call that we receive our volunteers take down people’s addresses and
names and we load them into our computers,” Kohl said. “We then use this data to
make maps of our area and figure out where the most calls are being made from so
that we can make sure there is always a pantry nearby for a person who needs food.”
Each pantry is run by a different local organization, although most are run out of
churches or homeless shelters, said Kimberley Schoetzow, the communication coordinator
at Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes. The pantries work as an easy access point for people
to receive the food they need.
“We try and make food as easily obtainable as possible,” Schoetzow said. “We want
it to be walking distance to those who need it if possible.”
In addition to the food pantries, Loaves and Fishes is also working with other organizations
to bring more programs to people in the Kalamazoo area, Schoetzow said. One of these
programs includes the Weekend Food Pack program for Kalamazoo students whose families
are in food danger. According to Schoetzow, the program is given to kids who base
most of their breakfast and lunch meals from going to school and when home for the
weekend are in jeopardy of not eating.
“The program started a few years ago and has been a great success,” Schoetzow said.
“Teachers were dealing with students coming back to school and not being focused
because of lack of food, and now they are more attentive.”
Although programs like the Weekend Food Pack program are beneficial to local residents,
Loaves and Fishes is always working with other organizations to create better programs
for those in need, Schoetzow said.
“We are always looking for more programs to help people who need the food,” Schoetzow
said. “We encourage people to use all the avenues they have to obtain the food they
State Representative Margaret O’Brien said the Michigan government is trying to do
the same with the new policy that was just established.
"The policy is not being created to take away from those who need food,” O’Brien
said. “It’s been established to crack down on those who used the Bridge Card program
to in a way, milk the system.”
The former governor’s policy allowed nearly everyone to be eligible to get a Bridge
Card, O’Brien said. She said, the worst cases dealt with college kids whose parents
are financially able to take care of them and have Bridge Cards that don’t even need
“Let’s face it, most college students are broke. I personally had to work part-time
through my entire experience. So those kids who have Bridge Cards and don’t really
need them, because let’s say their parents are taking care of them financially, are
abusing the system,” O’Brien said. “It comes to a point when a school like Michigan
State has an article in their yearbook advertising Bridge Cards, right after tattoos,
that you have to ask yourself is it getting out of hand”?
O’Brien said the welfare system is only supposed to be used as a safety
net to help those who fall in to a bit of trouble until they are able to get back
on their feet. However, it’s been being used as much more than that in the last few
According to the new policy, students who work less than 20 hours a week and are
dependents of their parents will no longer be able to receive a Bridge Card. In addition,
the students who already have Bridge Cards will no longer be allowed to use them.
“It’s stupid what they are doing to us just because we don’t have time in our schedules
to work 20 or more hours a week,” said Chaynce Harris, a junior, studying business
at Western Michigan University. “Not only do I have extra bills because I stay in
an apartment off-campus I’m taking more credits than I should be so I can hopefully
Harris is not the only one of his friends upset because of the new policy. Harris’
parents who liked the extra monthly help from the Bridge Card are also upset because
of the new policies.
“My parents are upset over this, they now have to pay even more money for my education
than they did before,” Harris said. “Of course it’s not going to hurt them drastically
but it still is a change to the amount of money they had been planning on sending
Although college students are affected the most by the policy other people in the
Kalamazoo region will also see a change in their Bridge Card policies because of
an additional law that makes property taxes a variable in Bridge Card eligibility.
Many people currently believe that these changes in the food assistant program are
just occurring at the wrong time, O'Brien said. But she said this is the perfect
time for the change to occur.
“Yes it will leave a lot of people in a bad rut for a little while as they look for
jobs and adjust to the new changes in welfare and food assistance programs,” O’Brien
said. “But it will also hopefully manage to create steadier taxes, which will then
in turn make it more appealing for tax payers to stay in the state instead of running