When Sally Hadden, an associate professor of history at Western Michigan University, saw a story about Feed the Fight — an effort to help Washington, D.C., restaurants during COVID-19 by buying meals from them to provide to front-line health care workers in that area — she knew a similar effort might be needed in Kalamazoo.
After talking to that group’s organizers about how it got started, she reached out to Jodi Michaels, executive director of Colleagues International. Hadden knew that, through her work with CI, Michaels might have some ideas for implementing Feed the Fight here. CI is a nonprofit that engages in citizen diplomacy by bringing leaders from around the globe to Kalamazoo to engage with peers in their fields.
“Sally knew I know a bit about what’s going on around town,” Michaels says, “and was originally looking to find out if anybody had started something like this locally. I knew that many restaurants had been very generous donating food, and I made a few calls and found that no one had really organized around those efforts yet.”
At the same time, Michaels became hooked on the idea. With no visitors coming through CI, she was looking for ways for the organization to be able to continue to contribute to the community. “I was like, ‘You caught me at a great time,’” she says with a laugh.
So, along with game designer Adam Strong-Morse, they launched Feed the Fight Kalamazoo in mid-April. In just seven days, the organization went from idea to launch, purchasing more than 800 meals from 15 restaurants and delivering those to health care workers at such locations as the Family Health Center, Bronson Hospital and Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety stations.
In an interview with Encore in mid-May, Michaels discussed the work of Feed the Fight Kalamazoo (FTFK).
What synergies did you see between the FTFK effort and Colleagues International?
Colleagues International strives to enrich the local community with global diversity one relationship at a time, and in 2019 it brought more than 380 leaders from 52 different countries to Kalamazoo. But in this moment of COVID-19, we are not doing in-person exchanges. While borders have always existed between countries, we now have borders between apartment units. People are staying in and not engaging with each other in person.
I saw this effort (FTFK) as being in sync with the part of CI’s mission that focuses on enriching the lives of our local community. FTFK will help these restaurants, most of which are small businesses, to stay afloat by ordering food from them. At the same time, it will also show that the local community supports and appreciates the work — amidst dangerous circumstances — that our essential workers in the health care and first responder realms are doing.
I reached out to our board of directors, and Sally prepared an overview about what it would look like, and the board said, “Wow, this is, this is amazing!” They did an online vote and agreed for CI to become FTFK’s fiscal sponsor, to facilitate and manage donations for the effort.
What’s your role now?
I am 100 percent volunteer organizer. FTFK has no staff. It is entirely volunteer run. Sally, Adam and I all volunteer about 30 hours a week, but we also have more than 60 volunteers working in a variety of teams, from public communications to logistics to restaurant recruitment to the folks that built our website and do our social media. We have also had so many people who want to volunteer to drive the meals out to the smiling faces of the health care workers and first responders.
How many meals are you delivering each week?
We are in the range of providing more than 800 meals a week and hit our 3,000th meal the week of May 11.
How did you recruit restaurants to participate?
We set it up so restaurants could register online, and we’re adding partners and restaurants all the time. In fact, Bravo! did a delivery yesterday (May 7), just as they’re closing for good.
The feedback that we’ve been receiving from restaurants has been so wonderful — a lot of thank-yous and telling us how much these orders are appreciated. It’s a way for restaurants to feel they’re helping the community too.
How long will FTFK continue to do this work?
Depending on who you talk to, it seems West Michigan has not hit its COVID-19 peak yet. And even as things begin to open up, it is likely the restaurant community is not going to be opening back up to what it was before.
In addition, our health care system will be dealing with COVID-19 on an ongoing basis until — if and when — there is a vaccine. And it is such a high-stress environment for them. You know, everyone at these organizations, from the people who are cleaning to the medical workers, are keeping people alive. We want to show them support.
We don’t know what the next phase of this might look like once places open up, so for now we will be here through the biggest time of the crisis.