In hunger relief at UCOM, volunteers become family


At United Church Outreach Ministry, volunteers who sort bags of produce and stock shelves of rice milk are not just names on a list. They’re members of a family.

UCOM, a partner agency of Feeding America West Michigan, is a ministry in Wyoming emphasizing a holistic approach to care not only for visiting clients but volunteers as well.

Program Director Shawn Keener loves her job, in part, because of the people she works with. “We encourage clients to volunteer and become a part of the UCOM family,” she says.

Annette has found such a family at UCOM.

Before joining UCOM, “my life was a mess,” she says. Stuck in an abusive family that struggled financially, “we sometimes had nothing to eat.” She struggled with anxiety and depression.

But things began to change when Annette sought food assistance from UCOM and began volunteering.

“When I started helping out, it was helping me,” she says.

When she became pregnant with her first child, UCOM helped her not only with food but with other resources, such as diapers and formula. In both receiving assistance and helping others, she says, “they made me feel like I was part of the family.”

Sixteen years later, Annette wants to pass her passion for volunteering on to her four young kids.

In addition to volunteering Monday through Friday at UCOM, Annette also works at her kids’ school in the kitchen. “I feed the kids, clean everything. Well, I do that at home too,” she jokes.

Whether they see her working at school or volunteering at UCOM, Annette says she wants her kids to view her as a role model for helping others. “They love me doing this, and they’ll tell people,” she says. Annette has even heard her kids admit, “I want to be like my mom, I want to volunteer.”

Passion for helping others can be contagious. “They get excited, and so I get excited,” she says.

For Annette, UCOM has helped in both feeding her family and fulfilling her passion for helping others, a passion she hopes will continue for generations.

By Ellie Walburg, communications intern