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Closing of Hartland WalMart hits county food banks

On Jan. 28, Livingston County lost one of three Walmart stores as a result of the company’s global restructuring plan announced last month.  The news drew mixed responses from county residents, ranging from disappointment to indifference.  However, for the county’s network of food pantries, the store’s closing will have an undeniable effect resulting in the loss of 250,000 pounds of food donations, annually.

When Gleaners Community Food Bank picked up the last donation of unsold inventory it signaled the end of a mutually beneficial partnership that had been ongoing since the store’s opening day.

“We’ll miss the Hartland store’s donations, but we appreciate all of the ways Walmart is committed to fighting hunger, including participating in food rescue,” said Bridget Green, Director at Gleaners.

Food banks like Gleaners depend on rescued food from grocery stores to increase the amount of fresh produce, bread, dairy and protein they distribute. Food pantries who give these items away are able to offer them along with shelf-stable foods in order to provide a balanced diet to the families they serve.

Gleaners and Walmart are discussing ways to balance the loss, but the nature of the donation makes that difficult.  Salvage, or “rescued” food, is unsold product that is donated instead of being hauled away to a landfill.  The type of food also makes it unique since it is not the typical canned goods and boxes that are donated in food drives.  These gleaned donations are, by nature, aftermarket and perishable. These foods are typically difficult for food banks to procure without rescuing from grocery stores like Walmart due to the high cost.

Rescued food is an important component to a community’s food security as it contributes to the over-all amount of food distributed through food banks and food pantries.  In Livingston County the food rescued from the Hartland Walmart alone accounted for 12% of their distributions.

A community’s food security is measured by a resident’s ability to have access to the food they need, when they need it. The Livingston County Hunger Council works to maintain the community’s food security by addressing gaps like the one left by the closing Walmart.

The Livingston County Hunger Council is asking for the community’s help to make up for the large loss. “A food-secure community is not the responsibility of one business or social service agency; we all contribute to Livingston County’s ability to stay hunger-free” said LCHC Co-chair, Michelle Ounanian.

When asked what the community can do to contribute she said: “Donate to the efforts of the council by designating a gift through the Livingston County United Way, or bring fresh donations like eggs and milk right to Gleaners for quick distribution. You can even donate produce you’ve purchased or grown yourself.”

The Livingston County Hunger Council is a coalition of diverse individuals, businesses, faith-based organizations, schools, municipalities, and non-profits, committed to finding sustainable solutions for hunger in Livingston County, because all people deserve nutritious food for healthy, active lives.  Having closed the hunger gap in Livingston County, the coalition is now focused on quality and building a more nutritious local food system.  Call 810.494.3000 to get involved.

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