We are fortunate to have a non-profit like Feeding America West Michigan in our community. Recently, they held their summer fundraising luncheon honoring those individuals and organizations that have gone above and beyond to assist those in need of food assistance throughout West Michigan, as well as the Upper Peninsula. Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan, shared that distribution was up 10% over last year, totaling 26.5 million pounds of food provided through associated pantries, mobile food trucks, and other hunger-relief agencies. Though the economy may be slowing improving, “a lot of people are still struggling,” stated Estelle. He emphasized that solving hunger here in our community requires “many hands” and the importance of organizations, corporations, churches, and individuals working together.
Honored this year was Food Donor, Kellogg Company, having donated over 740,000 pounds of food, as well as contributing an endless supply of volunteers and funding. The Nelis family were awarded the Excellence in Advocacy award for their tireless efforts in raising awareness. The Outstanding Partner Agency was awarded to Love INC Newaygo who serve over 900 families a month, running 15 mobile pantries. Since 2006 Love INC has distributed 3.8 million pounds of food. The Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank has over 3,00 volunteers, and Carole Griffeth was honored with the Exceptional Volunteer award, putting in 2400 hours of service since 2009.
While Feeding America and their many volunteer groups are known for distributing needed food assistance, perhaps the most engaging testimony of the day was given to a women who has been on the receiving end of assistance, Michele Childs. She is currently a client of Streams of Hope, an affiliate of FAWM, located in the Townline community of Kentwood. Just 3 years ago, Childs shared, she was told she was super morbidly obese. Super morbid obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 50+–normal being 19-24.
“At 40 years old I could not tie my shoes, get in or out of a bathtub, or fit in a restaurant booth,” she explained.
“I guess it’s true you are what you eat because I ate comfort foods, high in calories, carbs, sodium, and saturated fats.”
Childs and a dear friend, Charnette Perry, who was suffering from obesity, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, made a promise to each other to get healthy. After Charnette passed, at the age of 44, Childs felt the need to fulfill that promise. A struggling single mother of 2, having survived an abusive relationship, Childs was in a dark place and found herself at nearly 400 pounds. She admits that she was “clueless how to purchase and cook food” to improve her health. She needed help.
Knowing that she would do “whatever it took,” Childs underwent bariatric surgery in October 2011. Dealing with diabetes that was out of control, Childs’ dietician introduced her to the Spectrum Nutritional Options for Wellness (NOW) program at Streams of Hope. She shared that the first time she visited the food pantry she felt humiliated. Fortunately, Childs found that the staff and volunteers passed no judgment but were instead eager to help her with more than just food assistance. The staff provided not only calorie information but the right kinds of food, combined with exercise and education for making lifestyle changes.
Barbara Nauta, organizational leader for Streams of Hope, explains that beyond providing food assistance, SOH provides educational and emotional support, building relationships, mentoring, and meeting family needs, all leading to healthier communities. Streams of Hope currently serves 5800 families, providing 336,000 pounds of food, while providing exercise classes, student tutoring, and a community garden. As healthy lifestyle choices are not just for adults, SOH is gearing up for the 2nd annual World Cup Readers Soccer Camp, engaging kids in reading activities combined with games and sports, including a nightly cook-out.
“Surgery is just a tool,” explains Childs. “The programs and classes at Streams of Hope helped me before and after.” Childs has a brighter outlook today. Currently she has lost 180 pounds. She was not flown to a glorious ranch, did not have a personal trainer at her beck and call for months, or compete for a $250,000 grand prize. Michele Childs made a promise and with the help of Streams of Hope, is a beautiful example of the Biggest Loser in Kentwood. She shines as she proclaims, “I eat right for my life!”
Feeding America West Michigan and Streams of Hope are always in need of help: be it volunteers, food donations, or monetary contributions. As Ken Estelle shared, there are still a lot of people struggling, wondering where their next meal will come from. One in four children in West Michigan are still considered “food insecure.” We all have a role to play in ensuring that those in need find the food resources available in our community. To volunteer, or to make food or monetary donations go to Feedingamericawestmichigan.org.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:35