BY: NATHANIEL GAYNOR
LANSING STAR STAFF WRITER
LANSING–With the holiday season approaching, temperatures dropping and the House of Representatives recently passing a bill making cuts to America’s food assistance program, Lansing residents have been working to fight hunger in the area.
According to The New York Times, in September 2013, the House of Representatives passed a bill that cuts $40 billion over the the next 10 years to SNAP, the supplemental nutritional assistance program. The bill also limits the length of time people can receive food stamps to three months.
The law went into effect in October after the existing SNAP program expired, reducing benefits to 48 million Americans.
Enter the food bank
The Greater Lansing Food Bank is one place that is striving to help those in need.
“Due to these deep cuts, people we help will have to rely more on our network of agencies and pantries to supplement what they would be getting through food stamps,” said volunteer coordinator Sarah Szwejda.
While the food bank’s main priority is to serve people in Ingham County, they distribute beyond that.
“We served 55,000 families last year, and about half of those were in Ingham County, but we do serve seven different counties,” said Szwejda. “We have backpacks filled with food that go out to schools in the Lansing area, and we did that for about 2,000 students last year.”
The Greater Lansing Food Bank relies on volunteers for much of their day-to-day functioning.
Matt Walker is a Michigan State University alumni who lives in Chicago. He came back to Lansing for the weekend to visit his girlfriend and decided to stop by the food bank to see if he could help out.
“Today I came in to work at the pre-pack facility,” said Walker. “Food comes in and gets pre-sorted. Once they’re in these (pre-sorted) bins, we come in and organize them into smaller boxes by category. We label them, tape them up and stack them to be shipped out.”
Though the food bank does always need food badly, Szwejda explained why they can use money even more.
“We always tell folks that what $10 buys you at the store, we can buy about three times that much with that same $10 because we can buy it by the semi-load and connect with other food banks and with Feeding America to get really amazing prices for what we can buy,” said Szwejda. “It always makes more economic sense to donate money rather than food. Having said that, we always need food. We never discourage people from having food drives.”
The Greater Lansing Food Bank is also involved with the South Lansing Community Development Association, where they host a stand at their fall farmer’s market.
South Lansing and the fresh food mission
The local South Lansing Community Development Association has a mission to bring farm fresh produce to the traditionally undeserved South Lansing community.
The mission of the South Lansing Community Development Organization is “to create and sustain a strong, healthy, vibrant South Lansing community, where citizens feel connected to each other, demonstrate ownership in their community, share knowledge and resources and work together toward positive change.”
“In order to help people out, we have alternative payments,” said Jenae Ridge, the South Lansing Farmer’s Market manager. “We accept EBT and WIC Project Fresh, as well as credit card.”
According to Ridge the South Lansing community is underdeveloped.
“This population is labeled a ‘food desert’ by the USDA,” said Ridge. “There are few grocery stores in the area, and we help to provide fresh local produce to the residents of South Lansing.”
Ridge said the farmer’s market is special because of the way that the vendors and customers treat each other.
“I think the community between the vendors is special, and also the customers,” said Ridge. “The vendors have really gotten to know each other. You know, one person is struggling to get their tent up and three others go run and help them. It’s really nice.”
These vendors bring a variety of goods to Grace United Methodist Church each Thursday during the fall season, from apples, cider and doughnuts to salsa to wood work.
“Our vendors fluctuate throughout the season. We have a core of about 16 vendors right now,” said Ridge. “We have lots and lots of fresh produce, all kinds of vegetables and fruits.”
One of the produce vendors is Lansing Roots, an incubator farm run by the Greater Lansing Food Bank. It has the goal of providing support for limited resource communities on how to begin a successful farm. Another vendor is Nodding Thistle, a family farm vendor from Barry County with 25 years of organic certification.
“A lot of the farmers are small-scale, so they’re local. Therefore, they’re not officially certified-organic,” said Ridge.
There is more than just produce for sale at the community farmer’s market.
“We have two baked goods vendors who make things like cookies and breads and pies,” said Ridge. “We have grass-fed organic beef, free range chickens and eggs, honey and a couple craft vendors as well.”
These craft vendors include The Soap Sisters. They offer hand-crafted soaps, hand and body lotions and lip therapy and eye serum.
Other craft vendors include Al’s Woodcrafts and Faith’s Pillows.
According to Ridge, the farmer’s market has been around for four years.
“We started in 2009. It used to be at Benjamin Davis Park, over on the southside,” said Ridge. “We moved here last year and we doubled our sales.”
The season is coming to a close.
“We started June 6 this year, and we will go through Oct. 24,” said Ridge. “We will be having a harvest festival on the seventeenth.”
The harvest festival will feature community exhibits, fresh produce, children’s activities, arts and crafts and live entertainment.
Hunger and helping out
Both the Greater Lansing Food Bank and the South Lansing Community Development Association have been active this year in their goals to help out their communities.
“We’ve been very successful around this holidays each year,” said Szwejda. “However in January, February and March it tends to dry up, so we want to remind people that hunger is an all year round problem and to not forget about that once the holidays are over.
“A lot of people want to make an impact and help out around here,” said Walker. “There’s a lot of food, so its nice to come in and help out in your free time.”