Weekend Survival Kits Keeping hungry children fed

Most people in the Greater Lansing area probably don’t give a second thought to where their next meal is coming from, however, one out of five children in Michigan leave school on Friday worried about what they will eat during the weekend. Three Rotary clubs in the area have banded together to help keep affected children in Ingham and Clinton counties fed through the Weekend Survival Kits program.

“Children that go hungry on the weekend come to school on Monday – not ready to learn. Teachers and counselors report that it is well into the afternoon that the benefit of the regular free and reduced-cost lunch and breakfast programs can take effect,” said Katie Donovan of the East Lansing Rotary Club, one of the three participating clubs in the area, along with Haslett-Okemos and Williamston Sunrise Rotary clubs.

What is the Weekend Survival Kit Program?

A precursor to the Weekend Survival Kits began in 2009 when Dave Muhleck, owner of Allegra Marketing | Print | Mail from the Haslett-Okemos Rotary Club, was contacted by the Greater Lansing Food Bank about starting a project to feed hungry, local children. He brought the idea to the club and, during its first year, the program supported 229 students. The kits are distributed to children who are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

“Dave knew this would be a huge undertaking but knew our club would do everything it could to feed area children,” said Haslett-Okemos Rotary Club member Julie Brixie. “It has become the most popular service project our club has undertaken because of its obvious importance.”

In 2012, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, the Many Hands Foundation, was founded by Jeff D. Gorsline, the executive director of the Weekend Survival Kits program. The new organization took over and expanded the feeding program, becoming its fiduciary agent in 2013. They oversee the program’s food ordering, packing sessions and deliveries in coordination with the Feeding America Network and the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Gorsline was assisted in expanding the program, created in Haslett-Okemos by East Lansing Rotarian John Saltzgaber.

As of 2017, more than 3,500 children have been provided food kits every other Friday during the school year. Fifty-four schools throughout 15 districts in Ingham, Eaton, Macomb and Clinton counties are served, including the cities of Dansville, DeWitt, East Lansing, Haslett, Holt, the Ingham Intermediate School District, Lansing, Mason, Okemos, Webberville and Williamston. The program is also scheduled to expand into Livingston and Wayne counties through a partnership with Delta Dental.

Volunteers, Local Businesses Help Support Program 

The program is supported by service clubs, including the Rotary clubs in East Lansing, Haslett-Okemos, Delta-Waverly and Williamston; Kiwanis Clubs in East Lansing, Okemos and Williamston; Mason Optimist Club; Kohl’s, the East Lansing Masonic Lodge #480; Okemos Community Church, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Haslett, the Joe D. Pentecost Foundation, R.E. Olds Foundation; and the Optimist clubs. Local businesses, parent groups and area employers such as Delta Dental, Jackson National Life and the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union are also supporters. These groups assist in packing, assembling, distributing and donating to the program. 

“The support from area service clubs and others who are providing for the Weekend Survival Kits program is simply awesome,” said Gorsline.

Where Does Weekend Survival Kits Food Come From?

The Weekend Survival Kits Program operates in conjunction with the Feeding America Network and local food banks, and is authorized to buy food items from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food. The Rotary clubs of East Lansing, Haslett-Okemos and Williamston recently presented Weekend Survival Kits Inc. with a $16,500 grant to buy food for the kits. Each club gave $3,000, and the remainder came from Rotary Club District 6360.

Each kit costs $3.50 to $5.00, depending on the availability of USDA food or donated food at the local food bank. Each kit contains kid-friendly, nutritious food that requires little to no preparation, such as canned soup, vegetables and fruit, granola bars, single-serve cereal boxes or oatmeal packets, rice or boxed macaroni and cheese, raisins and crackers. 

Additionally, special items are sometimes added. For example, PS Food Mart held a fundraiser to provide 5,000 Pop Tarts as a special treat for the children. It is possible for anyone to donate money to the program via the Many Hands Foundation’s website or by mailing a check to:

Weekend Survival Kits
1288 W. Grand River Ave., Suite 400
Williamston, MI 48895

“Food donations are not accepted,” said Donovan. “That’s because buying the food is actually less costly and more consistent. Also, donated foods are sometimes expired or a product the children aren’t interested in eating and otherwise, they simply take more time to examine and sort.”

The Weekend Survival Kits program helps to feed thousands of children in the Greater Lansing area, and it continues to expand its numbers every year. For more information on the program or to donate, go to weekendsurvivalkit.org.

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