Community Spotlight: Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes delivers despite pandemic

Community Spotlight

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — With a handful of workers busy loading boxes behind her, Greta Faworski reflected on the last 16 months at the food aid organization Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.

“I’ve been worked in nonprofit for 20 some years, and this is the most proud and exhausted I’ve ever been,” Faworski, the senior director of resource development for KLF, said. “I am just really proud of our organization for not sticking to what was and realizing that we had to reinvent ourselves, and that was OK.”

Not only OK, but necessary. KLF started as a small church group in the 1980s, but it has grown into an organization that distributes food through five programs with 77 sites, serving around 700 people groceries each day.

But in March of last year, the pandemic shut down KLF’s grocery-style store options. Faworski and the team knew that not only was the style for giving disrupted, but the number of people who could be thrown into hunger for the first time could also be about to dramatically increase.

“When everybody was worried at the very beginning about what was happening, losing their jobs, what the future held, we knew we had to be a solid part of the community,” Faworski said. “But how we used to do it didn’t work. So we basically pivoted and we turned to a curbside model and then implemented a home delivery system overnight.”

Staffers and volunteers say the look they saw in the faces of those pulling up for the drive-thru service was fear. Feeding America estimated that communities saw a 25% increase in those facing hunger.

A man packs meals at Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.

“This could be the lowest point of their day, and I don’t want them to feel like it’s a low point coming here. I want them to be happy to come here,” Seth Delossantos, the Melzer Pantry coordinator, said. “I just want them to feel comfortable, to know that they can come, no matter what, and we’ll always be willing to serve them.”

The staff began to see the changes they made were working. They saw it in new and familiar faces alike, shifting from fear to relief.

KLF began packing bags to hand out. Everybody got the essentials: milk, bread, eggs, frozen meat and more. The cars kept coming.

“The curbside model, while at first it was a necessity just to keep everybody safe, has become such an important part of everybody’s life who uses our services because they’re only here for a few minutes. They pull up and they get their food and they’re onto the next thing,” Faworski said.

She said it became key for time management or guardians with kids in the car.

The delivery service was another outlier; nobody knew how it would work. KLF started with staff throwing food in their cars and dropping it off to people who needed it. Quickly, they realized they were able to reach people they never have before. Those staff cars grew into two refrigerated vans and up to 70 deliveries of groceries each day.

“That was a big lightbulb for us, realizing that no matter how many physical buildings you had, there were still some ways that there were individuals who would not be able to get out and to bring it to their door is just one less thing to worry about,” Faworski said.

People pack meals at Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.

She said he’s not sure KLF will ever be the same and that’s good thing. She believes it is positioned better now to serve than it was 16 months ago. Some of the area pantries it once used may never reopen. The curbside model and home deliveries may adjust depending on what the community is calling for in a post-pandemic world.

There are some things that may never change. Of the 38,000 people in Kalamazoo County that face food scarcity, 9,000 are children. Childhood hunger remains a pivotal part of KLF’s mission to “feed hungry people and engage our community in the fight to end hunger.”

So it will once again partner with OnStaff Solutions for the Dollar Drive Thru, a 12-hour event on Aug. 5 where a $1 donation can turn into $10 worth of food for a family on summer break.

Though the last 16 months have been the most exhausting and reward for Faworski’s career, she knows no day is more important than today if you’re someone who doesn’t know where the next meal will be coming from.

“It’s really about treating the individual. And we really focused on being able to move a whole warehouse of food but then also know the favorite cereal of somebody who comes up to her or a door,” Faworski said. “It was also just super rewarding. I mean, just to see us make a difference and, and let go of things that we thought had to be and really make that change to making a more impactful, difference in the lives of our clients.”

If you or someone you know is facing an issue of food security, learn more about how Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes can help on its website.

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