Feeding America West Michigan (FAWM) is one of 200 food banks in a nationwide network and a lifeline to food pantries all over West Michigan. Being an agency partner with FAWM enables Eleanor’s Pantry to obtain two categories of food (USDA-subsidized commodities and corporate donations) at significantly lower costs (currently sixteen cents/pound) than retail prices. Since it opened in 2009 the Pantry has partnered with FAWM and uses it as a critical source for nonperishable, frozen and fresh foods as well as non-food items such as paper products and cleaning supplies.
Eleanor’s Pantry orders from both the Comstock Park and Benton Harbor FAWM warehouses and in 2022, we purchased a combined total of over 73,000 pounds from them. With twenty-five deliveries/per year, this averages to 2,900 pounds/delivery. But because the inventory of products available through FAWM fluctuates on a near-daily basis, no two deliveries are ever the same, and may range anywhere from one to six pallets. Since 2017 our volunteer Nina has completed the Pantry’s FAWM online ordering every weekend after assessing how the past week of client service has depleted Pantry stock.
While every day is a busy day here at the Pantry, on alternate Thursdays the buzz gets quite a bit louder as the FAWM delivery truck arrives with the Pantry’s order. Randy, who has worked in operations as a driver for FAWM for nearly 12 years, delivers to food banks and pantries throughout Southwest Michigan, including Eleanor’s Pantry. It’s evident he enjoys his job and the interaction with staff and volunteers at the various locations to which he delivers. His arrival is something our volunteers also look forward to!
As the truck is unloaded our own committed volunteers (appreciatively referred to as a “swarm of locust”) quickly tear into the shrink wrap surrounding each pallet to retrieve various products and then work their way with those products through the Pantry maze towards coolers, freezers, and storage shelves in record time. These volunteers serve with such efficiency and enthusiasm, and their camaraderie and cheerfulness become instantly contagious. Most recently that volunteer “swarm”
consisted of Nina, Becky, Bruce, Rachel, and Everett.
For better or worse, the amount of USDA-subsidized and donated product available through FAWM has
dwindled in the past couple years (after pandemic-related surges) due to reductions in both USDA funding and corporate overproduction. This decline has increased our Pantry’s reliance upon other sources (local retail stores, food drives and donations). Our volunteers continue to maximize the benefit of each donated dollar by constantly comparing costs while still maintaining a reasonably stable array of products to offer our clients. Food drives (such as the recent one held by the National Letter Carriers Association) and food donations from our area churches, businesses, and organizations also keep our shelves stocked and give our guests a variety of foods from which to select.
To learn more about how Feeding America partners with food pantries and food banks throughout West Michigan, visit www.feedwm.org. Statistics on food insecurity by county can also be found through this link.
To learn more about Eleanor’s Pantry and opportunities to donate or volunteer, please check out our Facebook page and website. Our contact information is also listed in both locations.