KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Of all the doors that high school opens for students, Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is proudest of theirs.
It’s a regular, unsuspecting, unidentified door that looks just like all the others through the school. The only difference is the nourishment on the other side: It’s not from teaching, but from food.
“Kalamazoo Central is one of 12 school-based pantries that we have. They’re all in Kalamazoo Public Schools,” Greta Faworski, associate director at Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, said. “What they really provide is an opportunity for students, who maybe they’re helping their family survive or they maybe are on their own making sure that they or their siblings are getting enough nutrition, can pop by.”
Loaves and Fishes provides meals for more than 750 people a day and more than 15,000 food orders a month.
In 2016, organizers began entering Kalamazoo Public Schools as an access point, a way to make getting food easier for parents who were already accessing the school — one less trip. What they found in the middle and high schools was that it became primarily students who used the service.
“We partner with Communities in Schools and they can pop by and get the things that they need. It may be just a few items. It might be a snack. It might be a single food item that they can take home for the night,” Faworski said. “But they really are created to be what the student needs.”
The school pantry offers the same items as the greater organization: meats, milk, non-perishable items and dry goods. And it strives to offer the food with a sense of dignity.
“I really shout out to the school buildings and to our partners at Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo because we can’t be here every day to make it operate,” Faworski said. “They are the ones that have the relationships with the students who are struggling and can make those connections. And we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Faworski also recognized the KC High School community and what the students do for their organization each year: a holiday food drive. Last year, the drive brought in tens of thousands of pounds of food.
“Kalamazoo Central is the center school that really is aware of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes. We have a longstanding food drive around the holidays that has gone on for almost 20 years,” Faworski said. “They’re very aware that there’s kids in their own school who are food insecure, and they want to help each other.”
The Frenzy Food Drive is coming in a critical year for Loaves and Fishes. Organizers have seen their needs skyrocket. They’re serving 60% more families now than this time last year, with many of them being first-time pantry users. And because 65% of their distributed food is purchased, they’ve seen their food costs rise from $600,000 a year to over $1.8 million.
“We’re very fortunate to be in a very caring community who really understands but it’s just, every day, it’s like, how are we going to stretch this a little bit more,” Faworski said.