The Rapidian

GR goes orange for Hunger Action Month

More than 640,000 meals were raised during Feeding America West Michigan's Hunger Action Month campaign this year.
The City of Grand Rapids kicked off Hunger Action Month by lighting the Blue Bridge orange, the color of hunger.

The City of Grand Rapids kicked off Hunger Action Month by lighting the Blue Bridge orange, the color of hunger. /Ian Pokriefka

Underwriting support from:
A portrait of a food pantry client from Joel Sartore's "Feeding America" ArtPrize entry.

A portrait of a food pantry client from Joel Sartore's "Feeding America" ArtPrize entry. /Joel Sartore

Volunteers moved mountains of food and picked produce during Hunger Action Month.

Volunteers moved mountains of food and picked produce during Hunger Action Month. /Feeding America West Michigan

On Friday, Feeding America West Michigan wrapped up its Hunger Action Month campaign. The four-week series had two goals: To raise awareness of hunger and motivate people to take a concrete step toward solving it.

The result: more than 640,000 meals provided in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Hunger Action Month began when Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Feeding America West Michigan CEO Ken Estelle stood on the Blue Bridge together to declare hunger a public health threat that must be addressed if Grand Rapids is truly able to thrive.

“People going hungry is still a reality in our community and unfortunately it impacts a lot of children in our community,” Bliss said in an interview with WZZM 13, “and so my hope is that this not only raises awareness but really is a call to action.”

Feeding America West Michigan broadcast that call to action across the state with the goal of reaching people who may never have heard it before. The month included volunteer events, a matching gift drive, an ArtPrize partnership with National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore and fundraisers at local restaurants and breweries, including New Holland Brewing Company, Terra GR, HopCat, and Grand Rapids Brewing Company.

So what were the results?

In addition to the several thousand pounds of apples and other produce picked at Michigan farms, volunteers sorted and packed 431,393 pounds of food at Feeding America West Michigan’s warehouse in Comstock Park. That represents an 11 percent increase over September 2015.

The financial impact was also significant. Sponsors, individual donors, and pubs raised $69,831, money that will provide nearly 280,000 meals to people in need in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Staff and volunteers have spoken with hundreds of ArtPrize attendees a Sartore’s “Feeding America” photo installation at DeVos Place so far. DeVos Place management estimates that 250,000 pass through their doors during the competition.

The photos offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of Americans struggling with hunger. Hunger Action Month committee member Christen Sears has been speaking with attendees for the past two weeks.

“First they thought I was the artist, and I thought that was kind of funny,” she said. Several told stories of their own experience using a food pantry. “They felt really connected to the photos.”

On a personal level, Sears said the campaign was her first exposure to Feeding America West Michigan and local hunger relief.

“It’s just an eye-opening experience to see the struggle [people] go through and to know that I can do something to help really close to home.”

While Hunger Action Month is over, opportunities to get involved are not. Feeding America West Michigan is seeking volunteers for a number of events in October, an online matching gift drive continues through the 11th and tonight Greenbush Brewing Company is donating proceeds from their Autumn Harvest Party to the food bank.

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