Experience of Food Insecurity Inspires Grand Valley Student to Help Others


It’s late September and Gabby Vernon is standing in a field in Allendale, launching a drone.

The drone lifts off and hovers more than a hundred feet above Ham Family Farm where a dozen volunteers are picking kale and loading it onto a van bound for Feeding America West Michigan.

A senior Film and Video Production major at Grand Valley State University, Gabby led a team of students this fall tasked with creating a video about Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Food Pantry program. Gabby’s video, completed this week, will be used to recruit new Mobile Pantry funders and host sites to bring food to more people in need.

From left to right: Gabby Vernon, Shawn Wasser, Sarah Ford, and Casey Perialas.
From left to right: Gabby Vernon, Shawn Wasser, Sarah Ford, and Casey Perialas.

Twelve years ago, Gabby was in a very different place. She was one of those people who needed food.

She and her older sister, Brittany, were being raised by their mom in Troy. Her mom was pregnant with her brother, Nico, and her dad wasn’t around that often. It was Christmastime and they didn’t have money for food, let alone Christmas gifts.

She remembers how helpless she felt. “I was young. I couldn’t do anything, just watch my mom cry.”

Her mom reached out to their school, and the school connected her with a food pantry and another service that delivered Christmas gifts to their house. Gabby never forgot that experience.

Gabby Vernon with her older sister, Brittany, left, and her mom.
Gabby Vernon with her older sister Brittany, left, and her mom.

“That’s why I jumped on this project. Because I know there are families struggling out there,” she says. “Who doesn’t want to be part of helping struggling families?”

Gabby and fellow students Casey Perialas, Shawn Wasser and Sarah Ford filmed a Mobile Pantry at Godfrey Lee High School in Wyoming. They captured footage of students setting up tables, unloading pineapples, onions and cases of yogurt and handing out cookies to kids. Gabby and Casey conducted the interviews.

“I can’t normally afford to go out and buy a bag of apples,” says Angela McDay, one of the women lined up to receive food. The Mobile Pantry allows her to provide fresh fruit to her kids.

“I could see the passion in her eyes when she was talking,” Gabby says. “Just to see that, it reminded me of my mom because that’s all she wanted to do, make us happy and get us fed.”

Passion is a word Feeding America West Michigan programs administrator Shay Krick uses to describe Gabby. “The thing that I noticed about her immediately is not just how passionate she was about the project, but that she really took the lead.”

Shay introduced Gabby to clients and volunteers, and Gabby took it from there.

“Seeing someone driven at such a young age, I was impressed by her. But also by the way she was so warm and friendly and inviting.”

With this project behind her, Gabby is one step closer to collecting her diploma in April. After that, she plans to move back to the Detroit area and apply for a marketing internship at Quicken Loans, where four family members, including her mom, now work.

But she tries not to think too far ahead. With 15 credit hours, a job at the Grand Valley bookstore and a leadership role in Rev@Campus, a Christian student organization, Gabby’s got plenty to keep her busy — and plenty of ways to keep helping others — right now.