Streams of Hope uses good food to bring families together


Streams of Hope Food Center seeks to provide families with an answer to that all-important question, “What’s for dinner?”.

Grand Rapids’ Streams of Hope, an agency of Feeding America West Michigan, offers many programs for kids, adults and families, but the food center is what brings them all together.

Judy, left, and Barb show off the enormous apples they picked for the pantry shelves.
Judy, left, and Barb show off the enormous apples they picked for the pantry shelves.

Food director Barb Nauta makes sure that family is at the center of their work. Many clients at Streams of Hope are working and in single- or two-parent households that just can’t make ends meet. With low wages and the high cost of healthy food, “they still cannot provide the food they need for their families,” Barb says.

Streams of Hope’s client-choice pantry and Nutritional Options for Wellness (NOW) initiative with Access of West Michigan empower families to eat healthy and live better.

To reach their goal of becoming a 75 percent healthy foods pantry, they partner with organizations like Feeding America West Michigan. Once a week, a truck from Streams of Hope picks up a variety of food for the pantry especially meats, eggs, cheeses and, most importantly, fresh produce.

Barb says that as of Aug. 31, 2016, Feeding America West Michigan had provided over 119,000 pounds of food to Streams of Hope, an amount that helps serve over 450 families each month.

Whether through gardening programs, tutoring, healthy living classes or offering a simple recipe for produce, the goal is to bring families closer together.

“As we look at providing healthier food recipes, we hope that that would equate to family time,” she says. “We’re bringing back the sit-down suppers.”

Streams of Hope is something of a family in its own right. When a client or volunteer walks in the windowed doors, they’re no longer just a name. After a new client is registered, they get paired up with a volunteer who learns their story and becomes a friend.

“What I love about that,” Barb says, “is that they feel they’re part of a family, and feel like someone cares. We give respect in offering the dignity they deserve.”

Judy knows that feeling.

At 70 years old, Judy’s parents and sibling have passed. She says her son disowned her because of her Christian faith. She’s never even met her grandson.

Yet Judy volunteers at Streams of Hope with a warm and gracious smile.

Volunteer Judy loves volunteering and helping clients at the food center.
Volunteer Judy loves volunteering and helping clients at the food center.

Judy learned of Streams of Hope three years ago through a friend. Living alone on a fixed income and struggling with health issues, she sought an opportunity to get involved in the community.

Now, Judy has a family.

“This is my family here,” she says. “We’ve got really wonderful people who work here. I look forward to coming to work.”

The love she experiences is shared with her clients. “I like helping people to learn to better their lives,” she says. “I just love helping people.”

When Judy’s not at the pantry, she may be with the Kentwood Police Department writing tickets for code violations. She may be volunteering at Gift of Life, an organization she’s passionate about after having back surgery that required donor bone. She may even be at a hockey game cheering on the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Or, she could be in the kitchen. “I love cooking,” Judy says.

At Streams of Hope, she often discovers recipes using fresh produce and enjoys sharing them with clients. “I love explaining to them what it is and how to eat it,” she says.

As part of the NOW program, which caters toward the needs of clients with chronic diseases, she visits the pantry once a week to stock up on healthy ingredients. The program empowers Judy to manage her diabetes.

Like the hockey players Judy enjoys watching, she’s tough. She beat cancer. She lost a kidney. She’s recovering from back surgery and continues to battle diabetes. Yet she continuously seeks ways to serve others, and that ends up encouraging her.

“I’m getting out of the house, taking more control of diabetes, having a family,” she says. “I just love everybody that works here. I feel like I’m appreciated. I’ve never felt that where I worked.”

“Having no family, I just felt alone. Now, I don’t feel alone anymore,” she says.

By Ellie Walburg, communications intern