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A voice for Michigan’s most vulnerable

Gleaners backpack program

Gleaners backpack program

By W. DeWayne Wells
Special to the Michigan Citizen

On Nov. 1, the 47 million Americans enrolled in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), otherwise known as food stamps, experienced a $5 billion, across-the-board reduction in their monthly benefits. The reduction — a result of phasing out the economic stimulus package of 2009 — amounts to an average cut of $36 for a family of four. At a cost of about $2 per meal, this means 18 fewer meals are available to households already struggling to put food on the table.

Gleaners’ partner food pantries and soup kitchens are already feeling the impact. Even before these cuts, SNAP benefits rarely provided for an entire month of food. According to Feeding America, which represents food banks nationally, 90 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month, and 58 percent of food bank clients currently receiving SNAP benefits turn to food banks for assistance at least six months out of the year.

Children are disproportionately affected by the cuts, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy, as they comprise 43 percent of the 1.8 million Michiganders who participate in the food assistance program. Twenty-six percent of recipients are elderly or live with a disability.

The cuts come at a difficult time for the most vulnerable Michiganders. Heating bills are on the rise as winter approaches. The holidays, a joyful time for most, bring added stress as schools close and children who rely on free school meals for their daily nutrition are home — and hungry. Additionally, some of our partners are reporting the reduction took many SNAP recipients by surprise, leaving them unprepared to absorb the loss.

In response to the continued high need for emergency food, Gleaners introduced the new initiative Hunger-free Holidays for Kids. Working with schools in metro Detroit where the need is greatest, Gleaners is more than doubling its Weekend Backpack program between now and the end of the year. This program sends children home with six nutritious meals over the weekend, so they can return to school Monday morning well fed and ready to learn. Gleaners will also provide additional food for children through its school-based Mobile Pantry programs through the holidays.

Additionally, the Gleaners Board of Directors recently assigned me the new role of National Policy and Advocacy Officer for the agency. As Congress negotiates potential additional cuts to SNAP ranging between $4 and $40 billion, the board recognized the need for Gleaners and our partner network to understand and respond to legislation and policies, like SNAP, that affect our work and those whom we serve.

I look forward to my new role as an advocate for policies and programs that provide relief from hunger and give everyone access to healthful, nutritious food. I am committed to ensuring those whose lives have been affected by hunger have a voice in the debates and decisions that affect their well being.

DeWayne Wells is president of Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. He is also a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council. He can be reached at 313.923.3535 ext. 208. To contact the DFPC, visit www.DetroitFoodPolicyCouncil.net .

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