Celebrating the Power of Community with Clare County Food

Bonnie Smalley, Jeri Harm and Deb Mason with GLFB CEO Michelle Lantz at the 2024 Hunger Solutions Reception.

At more than 20 percent, Clare County, the northernmost county in Greater Lansing Food Bank’s (GLFB) service area, has the highest rate of food insecurity of any county in Michigan.

To help connect these more than 5,600 neighbors facing hunger with the food their families need to thrive, a small but mighty group of volunteers has more than doubled the number of households served at their Mobile Food Pantry in just five years.

In 2023, volunteers with Clare County Food served nearly 5,000 households — averaging more than 400 per month — through the group’s Mobile Food Pantry, a 40 percent increase compared to 2022. This need has continued to trend upward, with the group serving an average of 423 households per month in the first four months of 2024.

Bonnie Smalley, a Clare County Food volunteer who manages marketing and publicity for the group and its distribution, attributes much of their success to the whole network of volunteers who show up each month for their neighbors.

“Volunteers are what make the distribution the success that it is. Without our volunteers, it would not happen,” she shared. “It takes about 30 people teaming together to run the distribution smoothly and in a timely fashion.”

In addition to volunteers who help with registration and loading food into neighbors’ vehicles, members of Clare County Reserves assist with traffic control and safety, and two volunteers provide a forklift each month to help with unloading pallets of food. Clare County Transit and Clare County Fairgrounds also donate their facilities each month to host the distribution.

Smalley refers to Clare County Food as the ‘boots on the ground’ for GLFB in their area and considers their efforts a local extension of GLFB’s efforts to end hunger across our seven-county service area. In addition to Smalley, Jeri Harm and Deb Mason round out the team of volunteers that have led Clare County Food’s work in the past year.

“GLFB has been and continues to be a great resource teaching us what is needed to make the distribution continue happening in Clare County,” said Smalley. “I’m very proud to be part of the GLFB team and appreciate all that GLFB does for our community.”

In recognition of their incredible work, Smalley, Harm and Mason recently accepted a Hunger Action Partner award, which recognizes partner agencies displaying exceptional dedication and passion in the fight against hunger, on behalf of Clare County Food at the Food Bank Council of Michigan’s 2024 Hunger Solutions Reception.

And the group is already looking ahead to ways to continue growing to serve more neighbors.

My long term vision would be to no longer have a need for a distribution anywhere,” said Smalley. “However, our short term goal would be to have a building that is ‘ours’ so we can stay in one location year round — a building large enough to hold the 8 to 10 stations of food and run two lines of autos at once.”

The success of Clare County Food’s mobile distribution is an important reminder of the power of community and how we all have a role to play in the fight against hunger. When we all gather together, we can make significant strides closer to the shared vision of GLFB and Clare County Food — a hunger-free community for all.