As editors of Wyoming/Kentwood NOW, Colleen, Mike and I appreciate all the contributions we get from people willing to help us share news about our communities. Our mission is to provide something other than what might already be out there on mainstream media. Wyoming and Kentwood are big geographical areas with many neighborhoods. Finding the stories within them take volunteer citizen journalists, like Kathy Gray of Kentwood, to write out the information and share it with us online.
April is National Volunteer Month and along with Michele Smith-Aversa, we salute Kathy Gray for her time, talents and contributions to this website and the community. But Kathy does far more volunteering than just writing articles for us.
Here’s a woman who loves Kentwood. She’s been a resident here for some 22 years. She works full time for Spectrum Health in physician IT training, has a husband and two kids, and yet finds the time to volunteer – a lot!
I admire people who can do this. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do more of myself. So I want to know how and why?
“I think it started out when my kids were little,” Kathy explains. “I’d come home from work, especially in the wintertime, and I would hibernate. I didn’t like that.”
Kathy decided to change her routine. She began to get out more in the evenings, first by joining a church community and getting involved with groups there. “Once you volunteer for things, you find they are addicting,” she admits laughing. Anytime someone would approach her to volunteer, Kathy would ask ‘What do you need? What do I do?’
“I believe we’re all on this planet to help one another – that’s my Christian philosophy,” she says. “You do whatever you can. Even if it’s helping a mom with three kids getting groceries in her car – that’s why we’re here. And it feels so darn good at the end of the day!””
Over the years though she has learned to use discretion. “It has to be a good fit for me. Something that I look forward to doing.”
One of her favorite projects is running a mobile food pantry at her church, Kentwood Christian Church, with her good friend Laura Boumis. For the last seven years, they have partnered with Feeding America to provide 5000 pounds of food the second Monday of every month to roughly 150 families in need.
“All we ask is that they register by name and phone number. So they don’t have to show proof of need,” says Kathy. “Anyone can come for it.”
The produce, baked goods and dairy products are collected by Feeding America from area stores just prior to their expiration date. The church pays Feeding America $500 for the food truck which works out to one dollar per person from each church member.
“It’s about distributing good food for use before it goes bad,” she adds. “And there are a lot of people who need it.”
Kathy admits that she looks forward to working Food Truck Mondays, despite all the work involved. “There are some days we’re standing out there in the rain and the sleet and the snow and the heat, and by the end of the day we look beat but we feel great!
“There’s just no greater high in the world!”
In addition to running the mobile food pantry, Kathy, along with her 17 -year old son Daniel, volunteer as Sunday Sandwich Makers for Kids’ Food Basket. One Sunday a month, you’ll find the Grays and their friends and family on an assembly line making 2500 sandwiches for 37 schools’ Monday lunch.
“Ham and cheese sandwiches are the fastest. Peanut butter slows us down,” she laughs.
Her most recent volunteering project is perhaps her most meaningful. She and her husband of 28 years, Duke, have become involved in the West Michigan Honor Flight for World War II veterans leaving Grand Rapids on May 16th.
“My dad was a World War II veteran and I started learning more and more about how they are dying off so rapidly now. Their mission (Honor Flight) is to get veterans from all across the United States to see the World War II memorials and tour Washington D.C., ” Kathy explains.
The one day event is a full one for the senior veterans and their guardians, beginning at 4:30 a.m. and ending after 8 p.m. in the evening. Upon their return to Grand Rapids, they will be celebrated with a parade, dancing, music and well-wishes from the community. Kathy and her husband Duke will be in charge of the Wheelchair Brigade, 100 of them.
“When the veterans get to the hangar in the morning they’re assigned a wheelchair. Most of them are still spry and fit but during a long day like that, they might need a wheelchair to get off their feet. And by the time they get back here, they’re exhausted. It’s been a 14 hour day. They’ll really need them.”
For Kathy, being a ‘doer’ is the best option for living life. “Otherwise,” she says, “I have a tendency to get depressed being a couch potato. And it’s too easy to have a pity party!”