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'The only meal they get is at school'

Locals help families through tough times

No small potatoes! New pantry coordinators Kelly Fuller (left) and Sandy Klersy (right) show off a donation from Forgotten Harvest. Photo by Leah Yanuszeski (click for larger version)
July 14, 2010 - By Leah Yanuszeski, Review Intern

Summer might spell happy thoughts of no books and no teachers for many students, but an increasing number of children are finding summer vacation comes with a price.

Forgotten Harvest teamed up with southeast Michigan Walgreens' to provide children with meals throughout the summer. Handfuls of students rely on school meal programs for their next meal; however, when school ends so does the meals. Hence the 'Million Meal Challenge.'

Forgotten Harvest is attempting to bridge the hunger gap while schools are out of session.

"Unfortunately for many kids who live in poverty, the only meal they get is at school," said Russ Russell, Chief of Development for Forgotten Harvest.

Forgotten Harvest will pick up food donations from Walgreens locations and deliver the contributions to local food banks and shelters.

"We try to come alongside agencies and give them extra food that is kid friendly," said Russell.

Forgotten Harvest has been rated as the second largest food rescue organization in the United States, the most efficient organization, one of the top ten organizations in the United States, as well a four-star organization, the later two named by Charity Navigator. This is their 20 year in operation.

"We have doubled our operation in the past two years because of the hunger crisis that we will experience for several more years," said Russell.

Forgotten Harvest has made an impact on the local scene as well. They have been working with Orion/Oxford FISH for six years.

"We love 'em," said Sandy Klersy, new pantry coordinator, "they bring us our fresh fruits and vegetables."

FISH saw 151 families come into the pantry this past June, up from 141 families in May. They continually have new clients coming to the pantry due to the economic downturn. Klersy said they make sure their shelves are stocked with kid friendly foods throughout the summer, such as peanut butter and jelly.

"We couldn't have made it without FISH," said Mary McGeachy, "[FISH] is a Godsend, an absolute Godsend." Her family has been clients of FISH for one and a half years now, coming to the pantry only when absolutely necessary. She has five children to feed, and said that they would have gone hungry without FISH's aid.

"The people at FISH never take away your dignity," said McGeachy. FISH allows clients to come and browse the pantry. "We are the first pantry in Oakland County to be like a grocery store," said Klersy, "we don't give you a box."

So what can you do help? According to Russell, Forgotten Harvest can accept donations one of three ways:

1. Purchase food at Walgreens that can be donated at the store, thereby keeping donations consistent with what agencies would like

2. Purchase a 'Million Meal Challenge' wristband for $2

3. Call 888-332-7140 (toll free) to donate money – $1 purchases five meals for a hungry child

Klersy said FISH is always looking for donations and volunteers as well. To contact FISH, call their hotline at 248-693-0638. Donations can range from household items and personal products to canned goods.

Walgreens will be accepting donations until the end of August. Lake Orion locations include 450 North Park Blvd. and 3520 South Baldwin Rd.

"Shop often, and go often to donate," said Russell, "We are so grateful to anyone who will donate any item or any funds. Your donation will make a difference."

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