Oct. 12 2011 12:00 AM

Volunteers, community leaders pull together to continue weekend food supplement program for area schools


If you had asked Jim Ramos two weeks ago
how long it would take to restart a program that had provided
supplemental food to elementary school children two weekends a month
for 33 Lansing-area schools, he would have said January at the earliest.

Ramos certainly didn’t imagine a plan
coming together to restore the Weekend Survival Kit program to 15
Lansing elementary schools and seven area schools in two weeks — but it

“We’re hoping to make our first delivery Nov. 3 to the 22 schools,” Ramos said.
“I just can’t express my gratitude for all these public officials doing
this on their own time for these children they don’t know.”

Ramos, along with a team of community
organizers including Paul Shaheen of the Ingham County food systems
group, Kathe Smith from the Mid-Michigan Food Bank and Randy Bell from
Ingham County MSU Extension, have been meeting regularly to try and
sustain the program, which ended in August. The Food Bank had been
running the program but had to stop when the Mid-Michigan chapter of
the American Red Cross, which runs the Food Bank as a chapter service,
was forced to make cuts. The Red Cross provided the administrative
support for the program.

With the program in limbo, the city of Lansing, one of the program’s major contributors, has stopped funding it.

The Food Bank is applying to become
independent of the Red Cross, which would allow it to restart the kits
on its own, but the process has been slow, Shaheen said.

“There’s no delays, it’s just a process,” said Alison Bono, regional director of communications for the Mid-Michigan Red Cross.

The process began last July when the Red
Cross Board of Trustees decided to divest itself of the Food Bank so it
could fund other priorities, Bono said. A Red Cross committee is
studying how best to proceed with the divestiture. The Red Cross owns
the building the Food Bank is housed in, Bono said. It also has
employees that work in the Food Bank and completes all of the Food
Bank’s accounting.

If the proposal goes through, the Red
Cross would be able to concentrate more on its core mission, which no
longer includes food, and the Food Bank would be its own entity,
allowing it to pursue the programs it wants.

“I think it’s a win-win situation and we
just have to get through the details,” Bono said. While Bono said the
believed the deal would go through eventually, there was no way to
predict how long it would stay in committee or when it would be
finalized, she said.

Ramos said having the Food Bank’s full
support and resources would make running the Survival Kit program
easier in terms of coordinating food orders and assembling kits.

“Things would be a ton easier if (Red
Cross) would just release the Food Bank,” Ramos said. “This is an
awesome program and I know they were very disappointed when they were
told they had to stop.”

Bell said he hopes to run food
deliveries twice a month from November until May, but still needs
volunteers and additional financing to make it happen. He estimates the
program will cost $80,000 to complete based on costs from last year,
but did not know how much the group collected already because it was
still being totaled from various sources. Ramos also did not know the
current financial state of the project, only that it was below what was
needed to last until May. Volunteers are asked to contact NorthWest
Initiative, e-mail Ramos at jramosfam@yahoo.com or call him at (517)
862-1605. Anyone looking to make a contribution should contact Ramos as
well, Ramos said.

“Everybody just chipped in a little and we figured out a way to make it work,” Bell said. “The need is not going away.”

Make a contribution

NorthWest Initiative is looking for food
or monetary contributions to continue the Weekend Survival Kit program
for 22 Lansing area schools.

Contact James Ramos at (517) 862-1605 or e-mail him at jramosfam@yahoo.com.