Christmas in June food drive kicks off

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Just thinking about the holiday season can bring a warm feeling to the hearts of many. During the Christmas shopping season, donations to organizations can be so plentiful that it overwhelms the immediate need.

Charlotte Becker, director of annual campaigns with the United Way of Southwest Michigan, hopes that by evoking Christmas, an annual summer drive will bring that same feeling to residents across the region. The “Christmas in June” campaign with the organization to benefit food pantries kicked off on Monday.

The food drive is collecting monetary donations for 38 food pantries across three southwest Michigan counties, including Berrien, Cass and Van Buren.

Becker said the first three years focused on volunteer engagement. In its fourth year, things are structured differently to adapt to COVID-19 precautions and mandates. In the past, donations of food items were collected by volunteers in person, making a connection with community members. This year, the organization’s website features a different shopping experience to give. Pictures of food baskets highlight each level of giving’s fulfillment.

“This year, people can go onto our website and see what each basket costs,” Becker said. “We wanted people to still feel engagement and like they are purchasing actual items.”

Each giving level is outlined to what it can provide for families who will be recipients of the donations. For example, under the $10 gift basket [the description] details that the gift can provide 28 food items for a family of four. The items may provide 13 meals and last three days. A larger donation of $150 can purchase 402 items for a family of four, and provide 138 meals that may last for just over a month.

During the winter months surrounding Christmas, some food pantries the United Way distributes food to become overwhelmed with donations, according to Becker.

“A few were out of room to take food,” Becker said. “When we would return in the summer, [the same pantries] needed more assistance. Even though it is summer, food insecurity doesn’t go away.”

At the beginning of mandates and shut downs in Michigan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Becker said that the need for food assistance grew.

“We can track what calls are for. For the first few weeks of this, food insecurity was by far the largest need,” she said.

Becker hoped that by making the giving experience closer to a shopping experience, where those donating can get an idea of how their money will be used, more are open giving back to the region.

“We’re not just doing it for 10 pantries. We’re doing it for 38,” Becker said. “If you are looking for a way to get involved, this is the simplest, easiest way to make an impact.”

Donations are currently being accepted online at United Way of Southwestern Michigan’s website at uwsm.org.