COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — Feeding America West Michigan has gained assistance in providing food donations to 40 counties with the donation of a 53-foot refrigerated trailer and a semi from Yoplait.
The nonprofit Feeding America gathers and distributes donated food in an effort to reduce food waste and hunger. Yoplait’s donated truck and trailer will help with this mission by addressing refrigeration insufficiencies at one of the food bank’s Michigan branches.
“This was definitely a very valuable donation, specifically in our Cadillac, Michigan, region,” said Molly Kooi, communication manager for Feeding America West Michigan. “The branch in Cadillac had a really rundown (trailer and) truck, and it wasn’t working properly.”
Yoplait donated the tractor-trailer to ensure the food bank could safely deliver cold-food products and make dairy items more accessible across the northwest region of the nonprofit’s 40-county service area.
“As a company founded to make dairy more accessible, and being members of this community, we wanted to help Feeding America West Michigan,” a spokesperson for Yoplait said in a prepared statement. “We believe dairy is a powerful food. Most consumers are not meeting the recommended daily intake of dairy, and we are committed to breaking down the barriers so more people can have access to this power food.”
Feeding America West Michigan holds monthly mobile food pantries within its service area. To make these mobile pantries possible, the truck hauls anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 pounds of food to regions that have a high need for food support, according to Kooi.
The pantries were previously set up in the style of a farmer’s-market, but since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers currently load food into vehicles in a drive-thru operation.
As a side effect of the pandemic, Feeding America has seen a 64% increase in attendance of mobile food pantries. In 2020, there were 1,519 mobile food pantries with 580,000 people receiving food support.
With the increase in need, Kooi said Yoplait’s donation of a tractor-trailer is “very important.”
“This was really crucial to be able to get healthy, nutritious food to people in need,” she said. “I know Yoplait really focuses on fresh food and dairy, and having the refrigeration of that truck (and trailer) is crucial to be able to distribute it safely.”
The truck has been operational for a few weeks now, and a large-scale food distribution event was held March 15 to celebrate the new truck. More than 10,000 pounds of food — or 8,333 meals — were distributed at the event.
The trailer, which can hold 45,000 pounds of food, will allow refrigerated foods to be hauled to residents in several Michigan counties including Benzie, Grand Traverse, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford.
In addition to being used to distribute food, Feeding America will use the Yoplait truck and trailer for donation pickups.
“When we go to a grocery store, or wherever the donation might be coming from, we often have to pick up that food, so (the truck and trailer) will likely be used for that, as well as drop-off at some of our agency partners,” Kooi said. “Some of (the partnered food pantries) can’t transport large amounts of food, so we’ll drop it off to them as well.”
In the future, Feeding America West Michigan will need more trucks, according to Kooi.
“Last year, our truck drivers drove over 420,000 miles, which is quite a bit for what we do,” she said.
Although more trucks may be needed in the future, Kooi said the nonprofit also needs more drivers.
“We’re struggling to get enough drivers to drive the food where it needs to be, especially in certain areas of our service area, like the UP (Upper Peninsula),” she said.
The UP is a part of West Michigan bordering the three Great Lakes — Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
“It’s far away from our warehouses, so we need truck drivers to be able to go up there,” she said.