Growing Local Roots

Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes Stocks the Shelves


Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is one of the major food warehouses in Kalamazoo, Mich. receiving on average about 70,000 pounds of donated food a month. They distributed between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of fresh produce alone this past summer.


By Holly Deal and Pat Sciame


It is literally a tale of two cities. Driving into the Edison neighborhood from South Burdick Street in downtown Kalamazoo, Mich. is like driving from one city to another. While Kalamazoo has a high percentage of individuals and families living below the poverty line, those who live in the Edison neighborhood are among those most in need.  


Among the run-down and vacant buildings and homes in the Edison neighborhood is nestled the Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes warehouse. Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is one of the major food warehouses in Kalamazoo, receiving on average about 70,000 pounds of donated food a month. With more than one-third of the City of Kalamazoo’s population living below the poverty line, donations of fresh produce from personal and community gardens helped to feed the hungry who came to KLF's warehouse on 913 E. Alcott St. this summer and fall.


King said that food donations come from everywhere. One-third

of the food comes from local donations, another third from the

Battle Creek Food Bank, and the last third comes from the

food that KLF buys with monetary donations.


 “One grocery cart full of food weighs about 90 pounds, and we receive

about 70,000 pounds of food a month, so do the math on how many

grocery carts that would be,” said Marvin King, food and warehouse

director of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.


That comes out to nearly 800 grocery carts filled to the top with food,

which, if put together in a train of grocery carts, would stretch

about three miles long, he explained.


 "They distributed between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of produce

alone over the summer,” King said.


While 70,000 pounds of food may sound like a lot, KLF is growing


 Each year the organization sees about 10,000 new people who need

food assistance, so soon they will need even more donations. The 2010

Census reported that 35 percent of the City of Kalamazoo's residents live below the poverty line, a percentage that is worse than Detroit's.  In 2007, KLF assisted nearly 53,000 people. Today, their numbers have sky rocketed. They are now assisting nearly twice as many people, according to KLF statistics.


While the food KLF receives from donors consists mostly of canned goods and non-perishable items, this summer and fall KLF also received donations of fresh produce.


[Our donations of produce] come from all over the place,” King said. “Sweet corn is always magic and melons always go quick. We do get fresh fruit, but never enough.”


KLF will have much more room for fresh produce when they move at the end of December to a new facility on Portage Street.


The new warehouse is at least three times larger than the current location,

said Kimberly Schoetzow, the communications coordinator of KLF.

The new location will provide more food options and will allow KLF

to better serve individuals in need.


The new facility also will be more beneficial for the food pantries that

are associated with KLF. The Sunnyside United Methodist Church

on Gull Road in Kalamazoo is one of the many locations that serve

as food pantries for KLF. They also have a community garden,

which supplies fresh produce to the people in the community

in need of assistance.


It’s difficult to find good food at reasonable prices," said Cara

Weiler, a deacon at Sunnyside United Methodist Church.


Sunnyside tries help individuals in need by having the food pantry

open every Tuesday. They plan on expanding their project.


We have a goal of opening [the food pantry] five days a week in

the next year,” Weiler said.


Sunnyside is one of 26 food pantries KLF supplies around Kalamazoo County.  Some of the produce that these food pantries receive comes from their own community gardens.


People who are involved in the community garden at Sunnyside are asked to pay a fee of $30 but are required to give at least 25 percent of their produce to the food pantry, Weiler said. The other 75 percent is for their own personal use, she said.


Fresh Fire AME Church's food pantry is another pantry that receives food from KLF to help those in need.


In one calendar year, Fresh Fire served 571 people and ordered 6,521 pounds of food, according to Meg Bowen, who works at Fresh Fire. Bowen said they are expecting to see this number increase in the upcoming year.


 KLF's food pantries, including Sunnyside and Fresh Fire, order a certain amount of food to supply their community.


 As for the individuals receiving direct assistance from KLF, a four day supply is given every 30 days to each person in the household. It is similar to grocery shopping because individuals get to pick what foods they want within their suggestions, Schoetzow said.


 KLF has a policy that individuals receiving the food have select an even balance of the USDA food recommendations. For example, foods like proteins, grains, produce and dairy, Schoetzow said.

 KLF also has other food programs for people who need more assistance than what they offer each month. They have a program called the Mobile Food Initiative, which served nearly 50,000 people this year, as well as the Weekend Food Pack Program for students in need.

 “There are children [in Kalamazoo] who go the whole weekend with eating only one meal,” Schoetzow said.


 This plan is to help those children who are in dire need of food, she explained. The children who are on the program receive a package of food on Friday at school, which supplies them with canned and packaged food to get them through the weekend, she said.


 While most of the service KLF provides to the Kalamazoo area is canned or packaged foods, the organization has specifically built large freezers and cooling facilities to better store a larger amount of produce, King said.


 KLF will advertise for donations of fresh produce next year.