Food Bank luncheon provides 192,000 meals for local families

Judge Sara Smolenski, right, talks with guests at the Many Hands Against Hunger fundraising luncheon. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

Judge Sara Smolenski, right, talks with guests at the Many Hands Against Hunger fundraising luncheon. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

June 12, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — At its Many Hands Against Hunger fundraising luncheon Tuesday, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank raised $48,000, enough to provide 192,000 meals to food-insecure families in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Judge Sara Smolenski gave a keynote speech that wove anecdotes from her years on the 63rd District Court together with a plea to care for those struggling in our midst.

Judge Smolenski and Owen Ronning banter on stage. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

Judge Smolenski and Owen Ronning banter on stage. Photo Credit: Raymond D. Kopen.

To cap the program, Smolenski invited nine-year-old Owen Ronning to join her on stage. Ronning talked about how receiving food at a Mobile Food Pantry motivated him to become a Food Bank advocate. Last year, Ronning raised money to sponsor his own Mobile Pantry in Jamestown Township, feeding 117 families. His third grade class is now selling popsicles to bring a second distribution to the community.

If a nine-year-old can make a difference in the fight against hunger, Smolenski said, imagine what all of us can do.

The program also featured a performance by local artists Rebekah Rhys and Mark Sala, and an award presentation that honored Buist Community Assistance Center, Golden K Kiwanis, Country Fresh and the Northwest Food Coalition for their partnership with Feeding America West Michigan. Sysco and Kiolbassa Provision Company donated food for the event.

Many Hands Against Hunger was underwritten by Meijer with support from Metro Health Hospital and Star Truck Rentals.

9-year-old anti-hunger advocate to join Judge Smolenski on stage at luncheon

Nine-year-old Owen Ronning, center, raised money to bring a Mobile Food Pantry to his Hudsonville community last summer.

Nine-year-old Owen Ronning, center, raised money to bring a Mobile Food Pantry to his Hudsonville community last summer.

May 30, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — On June 10, Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank is hosting a fundraising luncheon to support hunger relief in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

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The event, called Many Hands Against Hunger, features an encore appearance from Judge Sara Smolenski as keynote speaker. This year, she’ll be joined by nine-year-old Owen Ronning, one of the Food Bank’s strongest advocates.

Last summer, Owen had an unusual birthday request: Instead of an Xbox game or a new bike, he asked for a Mobile Food Pantry. With his parent’s encouragement, he went door to door until he had collected enough money to give 5,000 pounds of fresh produce and other goods to families in need in his hometown of Hudsonville.

“We think it’s going to be a powerful moment,” said Food Bank CEO Ken Estelle. “He’s a living example of something we say all the time in food banking, that everybody has something to offer, whether it’s time, money, or passion. In Owen’s case, he’s given all three.”

In 2013, Feeding America West Michigan distributed more food than in any previous year: 25.6 million pounds, or approximately 20 million meals.

Judge Sara Smolenski of the 63rd District Court will deliver the keynote at Many Hands Against Hunger on June 10.

Judge Sara Smolenski of the 63rd District Court will deliver the keynote at Many Hands Against Hunger on June 10.

“In spite of all the positive economic signs, the need is growing,” Estelle said.

As the recent debate over Michigan’s minimum wage illustrates, thousands of Michiganders have gone back to work but aren’t making enough to get by. That means private organizations like Feeding America West Michigan continue to play a pivotal role in making sure that the 1.7 million people who struggle with hunger in the state can get enough to eat.

“As long as there’s a need for our services, we’ll be there to help,” Estelle said. “And we couldn’t do that without the financial support of people in the community.”

To reserve your seat at the luncheon and join Feeding America West Michigan in the fight against hunger, visit FeedingAmericaWestMichigan.org/Luncheon. The cost is $25 per person. Registration closes at noon on June 6.

Many Hands Against Hunger is being underwritten by Meijer with support from Metro Health Hospital and Star Truck Rentals.

Beyond hunger relief: Congress Elementary garden gets kids excited about healthy food

Renee Howard shows her third graders how to plant vegetables at the Congress Elementary School garden.

Renee Howard shows her third graders how to plant vegetables at the Congress Elementary School garden.

May 29, 2014 — Grand Rapids, Michigan — Feeding America West Michigan works with a network of 1,200 hunger-relief agencies across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Many of those agencies and host sites do more than simply hand out food. Congress Elementary School is one of them.

On a May afternoon at Congress Elementary School in Grand Rapids, third grader Jadyn held up a plastic milk jug with a little green plant growing inside: a Brussels sprout. She’d picked the seeds out herself.

Why? “’Cause I love them,” she said.

At home, pan-fried Brussels sprouts are one of her favorite meals. “I like the crispy parts,” she said, “the burnt parts.”

Third graders check out a rattlesnake bean seedling. The students got to pick their own varieties from Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom seed association.

Third graders check out a rattlesnake bean seedling. The students got to pick their own varieties from Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom seed association.

Teacher Renee Howard and volunteer Kate Shockey brought the class of two dozen third graders out to the schoolyard garden to plant the flowers and vegetables they had been growing indoors all semester, everything from rattlesnake beans to sunflowers.

“We figured it’s better for them to be in the whole process and choose what they wanted to grow,” said Shockey, a lifelong gardener and a member of the East Hills Council of Neighbors, which partnered with Congress to create the garden last spring.

Congress is a diverse school with Black, White, and Hispanic students in roughly equal numbers. The poverty rate is high. Before the district extended free and reduced-price school meals to all students in 2012, 99 percent of students met the income requirements, according to Principal Bridget Cheney.

To keep students fed over the summer, Congress works with Feeding America West Michigan and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish to host a monthly Mobile Food Pantry. This year, distributions are scheduled for June, July and August. The school garden is a way of addressing food insecurity long term, cultivating a love of healthy foods and the knowledge of how to grow them.

“What we’ve been trying to impart to them is you don’t have to have a gigantic yard in a suburban or rural area,” Cheney said. “This can happen anywhere.”

The positive response from parents has been overwhelming, Cheney said, with parents and neighbors signing up to care for the plots over the summer.

D'Mikol, left, and a classmate plant green beans at Congress Elementary School.

D’Mikol, left, and a classmate plant green beans at Congress Elementary School.

On planting day, Howard reviewed concepts discussed in the classroom, like soil nutrients, decomposition and which parts of which plants are edible. Getting kids excited about vegetables seemed surprisingly easy.

D’Mikol, a third grader in a red jacket who has grown up gardening with his mom and grandma, said he loves green beans, especially as a side dish with steak.

“I’ve liked ’em since I was four,” he said. “I think everybody should have at least two servings of vegetables per day because you can get nice and strong.”

In a time when poverty pushes many families toward cheap, processed foods and away from fruits and vegetables, the Congress Elementary garden is a glimpse into a different future.

“If you want to change a mindset, one of the best ways to do it is through children,” Cheney said.

“Yes, there’s definitely a hunger issue, no doubt about it, but the nice thing is, we saw this as an obstacle and now we’re doing something about it.”

Tim Music, food banker from 2004 to 2013

Tim Music during the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive in 2007.

Tim Music during the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive in 2007.

May 21, 2014 — Comstock Park, Michigan — Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of Tim Music, who passed away this morning. A food bank truck driver and jack of all trades, Tim served from 2004 to 2013, when he left to focus on his struggle with cancer.

During his time with Feeding America West Michigan, Tim helped us send nearly 200 million meals to people in need in our community. He loved our mission and was loved by our staff. We miss him already.

Tim is survived by his wife Sharon, his children Melinda, Tim, Matt, Nick, and Josh, his grandchildren Skyler and Trent Verbeck, and his parents Don and Loretta Music.

A funeral service will be held on Friday, May 23, at 11 a.m. at Woodview Christian Church in Wyoming. The family requests that memorial gifts be made to Feeding America West Michigan.

Memorial service