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Meals on Wheels' applies specific focus to need for good food

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Attentive to the food concerns of the senior population in Grand Rapids, Meals on Wheels demonstrates that the most effective approaches to tackling broad needs are often focused on the specific.

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This year's Walk for Good Food brought together 750 participants and raised over $43,000 for a number of recipient organizations, all working to promote systems of food that are fair, healthy, sustainable, and affordable.

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Danielle Simmons, Meals on Wheels Western Michigan pantry manager

Danielle Simmons, Meals on Wheels Western Michigan pantry manager /Ian Gibson

The need for good food is evident and extensive. Each individual around the world requires food to survive, and systems of food that are healthy, fair, affordable, and sustainable are catalysts for flourishing communities. While this need is not unique to Grand Rapids, a number of local not-for-profit organizations have adopted unique strategies for addressing it.

Meals on Wheels, a multifaceted organization that coordinates meal delivery, fresh produce voucher programs, and a number of pantry locations, recognizes the need for good food both in Grand Rapids and worldwide. As well as addressing the dietary needs of seniors, they provide resources for counseling, utility help, and nutrition education.

The mission of Meals on Wheels reflects an important principle in charitable work: while many community needs are broad and far-reaching, the most effective approaches to tackling these issues are often focused, spotlighting a singular niche or community margin. For Meals on Wheels, this focus is the senior community.

Many seniors face the obstacle of transportation. While insignificant to some, the physical barrier food presents becomes a significant struggle for seniors living without easy access to grocery stores or regular transport. The senior population of Grand Rapids is united in age but not necessarily locale, and Meals on Wheels is addressing this need with an increasing number of pantry locations and services.  Future plans include the introduction of more mobile pantries, as well as a transit van.

For other seniors, the cost of food creates difficult ultimatums.  Danielle Simmons, a Meals on Wheels Western Michigan pantry manager, described the choice many find themselves having to make: “A lot of our seniors are forced between having to buy food and pay for their medications….All of our seniors are living on a fixed income...our biggest goal is to provide them with as much nutritious food as we possibly can.”

This year, the partnership between Meals on Wheels and the Access Walk for Good Food is working to meet that goal. Funds from this year’s Walk will be put toward Senior Project Fresh, a statewide program which provides nutrition education and coupons to seniors to be used at local farmers markets.

Meals on Wheels is an national organization, but just the single local pantry managed by Danielle Simmons serves over 1200 seniors each month—a number that’s tripled in under two decades—and has distributed one million pounds of food in the past year. These numbers are demonstrative of not only the many Grand Rapids seniors reached by Meals on Wheels, but also evidence the extensive need for good food. With continued attentiveness to the specific challenges facing Grand Rapids seniors, Meals on Wheels is growing to meet this need. Simmons expresses hope that, “We’ll be able to go further out in the community—help out those that can’t reach us.”


by Molly Vander Werp, intern at Access of West Michigan


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