GRAND RAPIDS CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich — The Food for Families Campaign is investing in both emergency needs and long term solutions that are needed for families across West Michigan. COVID-19 has amplified systemic inequities that previously existed in our food system. Families need food today, and also need Access to invest in long term plans to ensure that disparities are addressed through proactive strategy, not a continued emergency response. Our community needs a Good Food System that functions for everyone, especially in times of crisis.
Access of West Michigan has their sights set on transforming West Michigan's food system. Partnering with local farmers and communities, the organization works to keep the farming industry strong to provide healthy, affordable food.
When Access first started in 1981, the nonprofit was focusing more on aiding poverty through food pantries and other immediate assistance. Over the years, the staff started digging deeper, to try and prevent hunger in the first place.
"We really focus on systems change. How do we prevent issues of poverty rather than just reacting to it," Co-Executive Director, Emma Garcia said, "We can’t simply hand out food and think that it will change anything we have to get to the root causes of why our food systems aren’t working for everyone."
Garcia said systematic racism has affected food accessibility over the years, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disparities that have been present all along.
"One of the things that have come up in the season is looking at the marginalized ethnic groups who have experienced racism and oppression, food access is a huge part of that," she said.
Ways that Access of West Michigan is combating the food system, include investing in the system locally, and creating community-engaging initiatives like Fresh Markets.
"We’ve helped open five healthy food retail markets, they’re like a hybrid of a farmer’s market and a corner store. All the food is sourced from Michigan and then sold at half of the price, so that people can afford really good food in the neighborhood...People don’t want to rely on the food pantry for the rest of their lives. They want to have access to good food in a grocery style setting where they’re at."
The markets are open year-round. Shoppers purchase produce and value-added items at their convenience and can use SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks, and Fresh Food vouchers as well as cash or credit.
For more information on Access of West Michigan and its programs, click here.
If you’d like to help, click here or text HUNGER to 616-559-1310.
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