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Hunger Doesn’t Stand a Chance in Michigan

Lori Cook, aka TV-personality “Maranda,” interviewed me about the importance of the Summer Food Service Program.

Lori Cook, aka TV-personality “Maranda,” interviewed me about the importance of the Summer Food Service Program.

Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation, and the State of Michigan is making sure that nutrition assistance programs don’t either. I recently traveled to the west side of the state to see some of the inspiring work our partners are doing to make sure that no one in their community has to face hunger.

I first visited Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids, where State and community partners are implementing new initiatives to improve the health of low-income Americans, such as fruit and vegetable incentive programs and nutrition education. A Michigan Department of Community Health employee even demonstrated a new pilot program that uses iPods and iPhones to accept SNAP and WIC benefits—very impressive! This means low-income individuals can more easily access fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, and local farmers can increase their consumer base. I also got a chance to share exciting news about USDA’s new wireless technology grants for farmers markets that currently do not accept EBT. These grants increase access to fresh, healthy food while supporting family farmers and the local economy.

Afterwards I headed to Kalamazoo, where community partner Loaves & Fishes hosted an energizing roundtable. Faith-based and community organizations from around the state joined me in a thoughtful discussion of the successes and challenges in operating the 15 USDA Food and Nutrition Service programs. I always learn something new by listening to those who work directly with the people who use our programs.

The Grand Rapids school district feeds so many children that it needs semi-trucks to transport all of its meals! This year, I was happy to see they designed the outside of the trucks to show just how important school and summer meals are to so many children.

The Grand Rapids school district feeds so many children that it needs semi-trucks to transport all of its meals! This year, I was happy to see they designed the outside of the trucks to show just how important school and summer meals are to so many children.

Later that afternoon, the Grand Rapids Press held an editorial board/community forum. This unique set-up gave me an opportunity to live Web chat with MLive readers about USDA nutrition assistance programs. We talked about everything from Summer EBT programs that allow families to feed children during the summer to the healthy changes USDA is making to school meals.

The next day the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank gave me a tour of their facilities. This food bank pioneered the concept of mobile food pantries. By modifying a beverage truck, the food bank was able to take fresh produce out into the community. Ken Estelle told me the food bank receives about 15% of its food from USDA Foods.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to attend a kickoff of West Michigan’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During the school year, more than 21 million children receive free and reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program. And yet, when school lets out, only 3 million children receive a meal through a summer program. USDA’s SFSP is designed to address that gap, and WOOD-TV personality “Maranda” makes sure that happens every summer in western Michigan. Thousands of children came out to enjoy lunch and lots of physical activities. I’m a big supporter of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative and it was great to see so many children playing outside and being active. What a fun event and a great way to end my visit to a state that is working so hard to improve the health and lives of its people!

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