In 2007 the Food Bank Council of Michigan released its report, “Blueprint to End Hunger”, which identified a 51% gap in meals provided to low-income residents of Livingston County. This gap represented over 5 million meals, and put Livingston at the bottom in state rankings on hunger alleviation efforts.
Further study revealed other critical issues. Livingston County ranked last in government food assistance program utilization, at a mere 27% of eligible county residents enrolled in the federally-funded Bridge Card program. And other research was documenting the huge costs and health risks of food insecurity , especially related to long-lasting impact on child development. All of this was eye-opening for our community and deemed totally unacceptable.
In response, the Livingston County Hunger Council was formed in 2009, bringing together people from across different sectors of the community such as business leaders, human service providers, government entities, churches and individuals, all passionate about addressing hunger. The Livingston County United Way (LCUW) was a founding partner to the Hunger Council, and has played a key leadership role. Jerry Olinik, owner of the local Olinik Family McDonald’s and LCUW board member, didn’t hesitate when asked to be chairperson of the county-wide initiative. An infrastructure of key committees was developed, with a laser focus on the specific issues that could be readily addressed and achieve a high impact. A strategic 5-year plan was implemented, and community resources were allocated.
Food pantries from across the county came together to share information and set standards – working as one network for greater efficiency and better service. Utilization of government programs greatly improved through education, outreach efforts, and a “no-wrong-door” approach to services. A summer food program emerged to serve school-aged children. Summer Lunch Bunch served 13,332 meals this past summer. Community Gardens were established to supplement the nutritional value of local food assistance programs. Almost 16,000 pounds of fresh produce were grown this past season involving hundreds of local volunteers and resulting in more fresh food for local pantries. Ongoing support for the local Meals on Wheels program has provided weekend meals for homebound seniors – eliminating the waiting list for some of our most vulnerable seniors.
Through the efforts, the Livingston County Hunger Council successfully eliminated the 51% gap in meals to support low-income households in Livingston County. The group received a special tribute form the Governor of Michigan recognizing Livingston County as the first “Hunger-Free Community” in the state on November 12, 2013.
The work continues. The Livingston County Hunger Council is committed to ensure the sustainability of the food delivery system through additional volunteer engagement, continuance of quality programs, and resources to support those programs. The goal is that anyone facing food challenges in Livingston County gets connected to the resources they need.
Livingston County United Way is dedicated to this important initiative – building on the foundation of its success to provide for the nutritional needs of all, support local agriculture, and advocate for policies which support our food system. For more information go to www.livingstonhunger.com.
The Livingston County United Way serves Livingston County in Southeast Michigan. Learn more by visiting www.lcunitedway.org.