OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — Budget cuts to the Ottawa County Health Department are having ripple effects, with local organizations now pausing certain food programs.
The Ottawa Food Program is a joint effort between the county’s health department and the Ottawa Food Advisory Board.
On Monday, the board said they’re pausing two programs that help people in the most need.
“This is a direct result of the reorganization of the health department that had to occur from the new budget,” Ottawa Food Advisory Board member Christian Kleinjans said. “The advisory board helps the other 45 plus member organizations sort of corral their efforts and channel their enthusiasm and their desire to alleviate food insecurity in our county into programming that can generate the most good.”
The board is now suspending its gleaning program in Hudsonville, Spring Lake, and Georgetown. A program that collects fresh produce from local farmer markets and distributes them to nearby food pantries.
“That program did bring in several thousand pounds of food over the course of the year. Just at this location [Holland] alone,” Kleinjans told FOX 17.
Senior Project Fresh is also being put on hold.
According to Kleinjans, this program provided low-income seniors with 125 coupon books valued at $20 each last year.
“That money is going directly into the pockets of local farmers. There’s a huge economic impact. 90 cents of every dollar that’s spent from the Senior Project Fresh program stays in the community,” Kleinjans said.
In late September, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners voted in a majority to make cuts to the health department.
One cut was to Health Education by around $391,000.
The Ottawa County Department of Public Health adds that because of this change, they had to eliminate the position that coordinated with other food programs.
OCDPH sent FOX 17 this statement after the announcement of the pause on these two programs:
“The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) is a member of the Ottawa Food community collaboration and has historically provided a dedicated Health Educator to coordinate the activities of the collaborative. Unfortunately, due to a 48% cut to the Department’s Health Education budget for fiscal year 2024, OCDPH can no longer provide support for a health department employee to coordinate this initiative. OCDPH respects Ottawa Food’s decision to pause some of its programming in light of these budget and staffing changes. The Department also recognizes and celebrates the important work of Ottawa Food and its member organizations to eliminate hunger, promote healthy eating for all, and increase sourcing of local food in Ottawa County for the past 12 years.”
“Without that public-private hybrid that we’ve really sort of spent the last 12 years developing, it’s going to look different, and we wanted to let everyone know, we’re taking the time to figure out how that, how that’s going to look. So we can do it as well as we can,” Kleinjans said.
The Ottawa Food Advisory Board says they plan to continue collaborating with the 45 other local agencies.
However, at this point, they have canceled their monthly and quarterly meetings.