Consumers Energy Foundation Aides With Food and Other Assistance Programs

Community Action Agencies expanding local food and assistance programs across Michigan thanks to a $450,000 Consumers Energy Foundation grant

Grant will help agencies respond to urgent and growing needs

May 15, 2020 -- Moved by the plight of Michigan families hit hard by the financial and health-related impacts of COVID-19, and agencies trying to keep up with the huge increases in requests for assistance, the Consumers Energy Foundation has awarded a grant for $450,000 to eight community action agencies working to meet the emergency needs of low- and moderate-income residents in 43 counties in the Lower Peninsula.

“The beauty of community action is that we’re nimble,” says Lisa Bolen, executive director of Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency which provides core services such as food and emergency and short-term housing to individuals and families in 11 counties. Her agency will receive $200,000 from the Foundation grant and will likely spend part of it on a vehicle, as COVID-19 issues have significantly increased requests for food delivered to residents’ homes.

In April alone, food programs in Bolen’s largely rural region reported a 46% increase in their food distribution and a 76% increase in requests for home-delivered meals to those who are quarantined, who are considered high risk because of age or health, or who don’t have transportation to a food pantry.

“We are also looking at how we will stretch our resources over the next two years,” Bolen adds. “We know this will have a far-reaching impact and we need to be prepared for the long haul.”

Ernest Cawvey is director of Macomb Community Action, which serves 240,000 residents in Macomb County. The agency distributes about 1.8 million pounds of food through more than 50 pantries and groups such as homeless shelters and the Vets Returning Home agency.

“We have seen a 50% increase overall in the demand for food, but some pantries are experiencing an increase of more than 200%,” says Cawvey, whose agency will receive $50,000 from the Consumers Energy Foundation grant. “As with most effects of the coronavirus crisis, the impact of food insecurity falls unequally among our communities, and is hitting our poorest and most vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Like Bolen, Cawvey expects to spend some of the funds on equipment and supplies needed to get people the assistance they need while keeping volunteers, staff and beneficiaries safe and healthy.

“We saw a 34% increase just in the number of meals delivered by our Meals on Wheels program between mid-March and the end of April,” says Kerry Baughman, executive director of the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency. Between April 27 and May 1, the organization delivered more than 5,200 meals to nearly 900 clients across the agency’s 10-county region.

Baughman was thrilled with the Foundation’s generosity and plans to use part of the $100,000 her agency will receive to purchase a new forklift. It is a gamechanger in the massive effort to get food into the hands of those who need it most, including an increasing number of seniors.

“Our ability to move food out of our warehouse in Cadillac to distribution sites throughout Northwest Michigan depends on this piece of equipment,” says Baughman. “Without it, our crew would have to load and unload over one million pounds of food a year manually.”

“We are honored to help those on the front lines delivering food to Michiganders struggling due to the impacts of COVID-19,” said Brandon Hofmeister, president of the Consumers Energy Foundation. “More residents need help feeding their families, and it’s important we support the local agencies that are both meeting their immediate hunger needs and developing new ways to deliver vital services safely. Consumers Energy is committed to investing in our communities to help power through these challenging times together.”

The portion of the grant that each of the eight community action agencies will receive is based, in part, on the size of the agency’s territory and its ability to expand its infrastructure and programs.

“With this substantial grant, community action agencies will quickly scale up emergency food distribution, home-delivered meal programs, and other emergency services,” says Kris Schoenow, executive director of Michigan’s Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity, which oversees the community action agencies. “This grant will provide much-needed emergency relief in the short-term, and that will put individuals and communities in a better position to recover in the long-term.”

Community action agencies were created in the mid-1960s as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Today, they comprise a nationwide network of about 1,000 agencies that provide essential services and assistance to those with low incomes in nearly every corner of the country.

Michigan’s community action agencies serve residents in all 83 counties. They take on the dual role of working to alleviate the conditions and causes of poverty while empowering low-income individuals and families to become more self-sufficient. Part of their success is due to their robust community collaborations and partnerships with profit and not-for-profit organizations so they can identify emerging needs and share ideas and resources.

“We are well-positioned and truly responsive at the ground level,” says Lisa Bolen. “Whatever the direction of need, that’s the direction we move.”