Opinion | Detroiters help each other — but the need for food is desperate

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Winona Bynum is executive director of the Detroit Food Policy Council, which works to shape policy designed to address food sustainability and racial inequity. For more information about Food Secure Detroit or the DFPC, go to https://www.detroitfoodpc.org/

Even before COVID-19 hit, too many Detroiters were unsure where their next meal was coming from. The 2019 Detroit Food Metrics report found that in 39 percent of Detroit households someone experienced food insecurity. Then the pandemic arrived and revealed the cracks in every social structure designed to keep people healthy and well.

The devastating effects of COVID-19 on the city of Detroit have been particularly harsh. An analysis done by Feeding America in October found that the rate of food insecurity for individuals in Michigan’s 13th congressional district, which includes roughly half of the city of Detroit, is going up by 6 more percentage points. The projected rate is the highest of any U.S. congressional district. And the situation is almost as bad in the rest of Detroit.

The numbers are staggering. To put them in more human terms, think of your family and your immediate next-door neighbors. In Detroit, one of those three households is statistically likely to be experiencing trouble getting enough food. People you may know, through no fault of their own, are staring into empty cupboards and wondering how they are going to feed their children, or weighing whether to buy food or instead pay for medicine, their rent, or utilities. In one of the richest countries on Earth, no one should be facing these wrenching decisions, especially in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis.

We need real policy solutions that focus on the human toll of the virus. Solutions must put the needs of real people at the center, focusing on small businesses, families and others who are shouldering much of the burden of managing this pandemic.

All over the city, in big ways and small, Detroiters are responding to the dire situation all around them and stepping up to help their community. As important as these efforts are, they must be backed up with a policy response focusing on human beings, not corporations.

That is exactly what Detroiters are doing to meet this crisis— focusing on caring for neighbors in need. The group Make Food Not Waste organized grab-and-go Thanksgiving meals for 5,000 people. Oakland Avenue Urban Farms has been distributing produce boxes, while Eastern Market Corp. has distributed staple food to help get people through the winter. The lauded restaurant Saffron De Twah has pivoted to serving meals to the community at no charge. A coalition of community groups in Highland Park is mobilizing to provide food, water and solar power to residents in the event of another extended shutdown.

Detroit Food Policy Council has been honored to help fund these efforts and more through a grant from the State of Michigan. The state designated these funds to make a real difference in communities of color working to respond to the COVID-19 devastation that has disproportionally hit our city.  It’s a significant boost to these organizations that feel a responsibility to care for their community, often with little or no compensation.

These funds, like much of the relief legislation that was passed at the beginning of the pandemic, run out at the end of the year. As case counts rise, we know the virus itself is not at all over, nor is the economic crisis that came in its wake. Congress must pass meaningful relief and real reform, so that Detroiters and others can survive the current crisis and be more resilient to the next one. We can come through this crisis stronger than ever, if we listen to the voice of the people.

One thought on “Opinion | Detroiters help each other — but the need for food is desperate

  1. Bridge Detroit, you had me at Stephen Henderson! This type of journalism, by and for Detroiters is exactly what this region needs. I have been a fan of Mr. Henderson’s for years because of his WDET show, and I’m equally a fan of the variety of complex and relevant Detroit issues that Bridge Detroit tackles. I donated during the Fall and look forward to each and every
    news email bulletin that I receive. As a 1976 graduate of Cass Technical High School, I have seen the strengths and weaknesses of our beloved city exposed in the last several decades. Here’s to the knowledge, power and strength of Detroiter’s in helping us move forward in these challenging times. Bridge Detroit is already a cherished news source.

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