Good Food Life: Kareemah El-Amin
Kareemah El-Amin is the Executive Director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan in the city of Lansing, Mich.
What is your role at the Food Bank Council of Michigan (FBCM)?
KE: My role is to provide leadership and advocacy to alleviate hunger in Michigan and to administer our programs, including the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Michigan Agricultural Surplus System and the Michigan Farm to Food Bank program, where we hire farmers before the growing season to grow culturally-appropriate foods for food banks in their region. I also help to bring entities together to provide thought leadership on how we can better address hunger in the state.
How does FBCM work towards the goals of the Good Food Charter?
KE: One of the primary things we do in terms of increasing food access is offering mobile food pantries. We’re trying to set up more and more of our pantries as mobile since many people don’t have adequate access to transportation or are unable to carry groceries home on the bus. Mobile pantries provide greater access points for communities that are underserved. They are also particularly important for distributing fresh food – the quicker people can access and consume fresh food, the more nutritious it is.
What do you find most exciting or inspiring about what you’re doing?
KE: What I love about the work, and in particular the mobile food pantries, is being able to see the faces of people getting food. I also love seeing families and communities come together at the mobile pantry distributions, which become gathering places. The pantries are not only helping to feed people, but are building community at the same time. Another exciting aspect of our work is introducing fresh produce to populations that aren’t used to buying fresh, especially when a food bank can provide cooking demos.
What opportunities do you see for moving toward the goals of the Michigan Good Food Charter?
KE: I can see us moving to a model of all mobile food pantries, as well as developing more farm programs. All of our food banks have a farm now – Forgotten Harvest has 100 acres! – but there is still more we can do to grow fresh food for our clients. We want to work to have a greater impact on families so they can focus on doing the things they need to do so, like finding a job, so they don’t have to be in food pantry lines long term.
What is one thing you’ve learned through your experience that you’d like to share with others?
KE: Don’t make assumptions about who utilizes food banks. They are people just like you or I. How many of us can go six months without a paycheck? People don’t go to food banks because they want to. It’s likely that everyone, regardless of where they live, has friends and neighbors utilizing a food bank.