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Do Good: Access Pantry seeks 1,000 volunteers to fill cupboards this fall

Emma Rosauer of Access West Michigan.

Emma Rosauer of Access West Michigan.

Emma Rosauer of Access West Michigan.

Emma Rosauer of Access West Michigan.

Want to make a difference in your community this fall? Mark your calendars for this year's County Wide Food Drive, Oct. 6 through 12. Help the Access Pantry Network fill 36,000 grocery bags of non-perishable food and personal items by volunteering your time, collecting food, and raising awareness about local issues of hunger and poverty. In Kent County, one family in six struggles with hunger, so the need is as great as ever. So, too, is the help of the community to solve this problem.

In 2012, food pantries in Kent County served 55,000 (one in 11) residents. Since then, the pantries have served 5,000 new people with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (i.e., food stamps). Those numbers may well increase in November, as there will be a reduction in SNAP benefits with the 2009 federal stimulus phasing out. A family of four can expect a decrease of $36 per month.

"The Access Pantry Network provides almost 20,000 food services each month," says Emma Rosauer, Access Hunger Response Director. "Last year, we collected 80 tons of food in one week, and we're hoping to collect 100 tons of food and personal care items to help meet those needs this year."

There are a number of items that people need and the pantries want to provide but are not always available at the food bank. Food drives increase the supply of high-need items such as soup, peanut butter, tuna, canned fruits and vegetables, and personal care items such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes… you get the idea.

All collected items will be distributed among local food pantries. "We are relying on the Kent County community to rally around this food drive effort," says Rosauer, who has worked for Access Pantry Network for four years.

Rosauer says that 13 food pantry centers serve thousands of people each month. The food that is collected during the drive lasts about one month at the larger pantries and can last eight, nine, or 10 months at the smaller pantries.

"The most rewarding part of my job is the people and relationships," says Rosauer. "I enjoy helping our pantries and networks serve additional people more effectively. Although we don't do direct service, we coordinate and help the pantries, and we assist outreach workers in helping people apply for benefits."

Food drives benefit everyone in the community. They are a great way to teach your child to share with someone in need. This learning experience can be far more valuable than putting money in a collection plate. Food drives also build community as people of various ages from a wide range of neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and churches work together for a common cause, get acquainted, and become friends.

"There are people in our community who are struggling," says Rosauer. "When we give to a local pantry, we are saying that we care about our nearest neighbors."

The Access County Wide Food Drive unites 75 pantries and hundreds of congregations, businesses, schools, and individuals in the fight against food insecurity. A variety of volunteer opportunities are available for the County Wide Food Drive. Some include distributing flyers throughout select neighborhoods, route collection, and sorting and boxing. Everyone is encouraged to participate, including individuals, families, small groups, congregations, corporations, school, and other institutions.

Currently, over 6,500 Kent County households are being served each month through the Access Pantry Network of over 75 food pantries.

Donated items can also be dropped off at any Kent County Spartan Store or Mercantile Bank locations. A complete list of details can be found on Access of West Michigan’s website.

Located at 1700 28th Street SE in Grand Rapids, Access provides a place for the community and those with resources and talents to interact and problem-solve the big issues of poverty and people in need.

Get involved:
- Request paper bags to fill: Contact Emma Rosauer by phone (616) 774-2175 x5, or by email. Just take a few bags home, fill them with food and personal care items, and during the week of October 6-12, drop them off at your nearby hub or arrange for a pantry to pick them up from you.
- Drop off a bag of groceries at your neighborhood pantry or nearby drop-off location during the week of October 6-12.
- Volunteer to be stationed at a local grocer to collect food.
- Volunteer to help do route collection, sorting, and boxing on Saturday, October 12.
- Send a monetary donation to Access via their website.
- Check out their Facebook page.
- Visit their Twitter page.
- They have an Instagram page, too.

Victoria Mullen is the Do Good Editor for Rapid Growth Media.

Photography by Adam Bird

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