Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Punks With Lunch feeds Lansing community, creates connection

March 18, 2024
<p>Punks with Lunch volunteer, Lianne Thiel, left, serves stew and cookies to a community member at Reutters Park on March 16, 2024. Thiel's cookies are one of many baked goods served at the organization's outreach events.</p>

Punks with Lunch volunteer, Lianne Thiel, left, serves stew and cookies to a community member at Reutters Park on March 16, 2024. Thiel's cookies are one of many baked goods served at the organization's outreach events.

Photo by Daniel Schoenherr | The State News

Every other Saturday, volunteers from Lansing nonprofit Punks With Lunch can be found in Reutter Park behind tables filled with food, clothing and harm reduction supplies. Saturday lunches are just one of several ways Punks With Lunch addresses food insecurity in the Lansing area.

Punks With Lunch was founded six years ago with a mission to increase harm reduction resources for drug users and support people experiencing homelessness. Co-founder Julia Miller said that food distribution has grown alongside harm reduction because of the city's clear need for it.

"We can combine the two because there's obviously a need," Miller said. "The economic status of Lansing and the increase of the unhoused population within Lansing, the needs are there, in general, for people who are having food insecurities. And we're there hopefully (to) address that need as much as possible."

Throughout the week, community members can find food available at The Fledge, where Punks With Lunch is housed, as well as in the Tardis Public Food Pantry on Michigan Avenue outside of the Everybody Reads bookstore. Although these locations are limited in terms of food variety, they give individuals something to eat if they are experiencing food insecurity, Miller said.

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Punks with Lunch volunteers provide Irish stew and bakery goods to community members in need at Reutters Park on March 16, 2024.

The pantry and the snacks available at The Fledge are filled by donations from local businesses, including Strange Matter, Target, Walmart and Panera Bread. 

"It's a lot of bread," Miller said. "But you know, it all gets taken, it's extra calories, extra carbs for people … (a) it's saving it from being thrown in the trash, (b) it's going into somebody's stomach. It's making somebody less hungry."

Punks With Lunch also has a mobile distribution team that goes into the community throughout the week to provide harm reduction services. The team also brings snacks, water and coffee whenever available.

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Punks with Lunch volunteer, Daniel Rainers, right, mans the harm-reduction product table at Reutters Park on March 16, 2024. "I was a social worker in Germany," he said. "I wanted to do something similar here, and I was a punk as a kid."

Saturday lunches at Reutter Park provide another level of community connection and support. These lunches include hot food, desserts, sack lunches and are accompanied by other resources like clothing and harm reduction services.

Every other week, volunteers meet at The Fledge around 10 a.m. to begin prepping around 150 sack lunches. Another group of volunteers, affectionately called The Soup Ladies, prepares a hot meal before meeting up at the park at 11 a.m..

Volunteer and Soup Lady Suzanne Thiel has been attending Saturday lunches for a year and a half. After finding Punks With Lunch on social media, she began using her own passion for baking to give back to the community.

"I started out as a cookie baker," Thiel said. "And then I organized a Facebook group of bakers, and every other week, we do 14 dozen cookies for the sack lunches."

About six months after she started volunteering, Thiel ran into her old colleague, Ginny Flynn, at Meijer and quickly convinced her to join the group. A year later, Thiel and Flynn continue to come to food distribution, bringing hot food and cookies.

"I love the people on both sides of the table," Flynn said. "These volunteers are amazing. And our people that come to eat are also amazing."

While feeding the community, Punks With Lunch’s distribution efforts also create a stronger community in Lansing. This adds to the group’s harm reduction goal by building relationships and solidifying Punks With Lunch as a safe space to come to, Miller said.

"That's one thing we all have in common; we all eat and we’re all hungry," Miller said. "Who doesn't appreciate a Rice Krispie Treat? You can sit down with somebody with a cup of coffee and a sandwich or a snack and be like, 'Hey, what's going on with you?' … and find out what their needs are, what's happening, and what other opportunities we have that we could potentially help them."

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