We talk with Molly Kooi about her interest in hunger relief, what she’ll be doing this summer, and why she thinks telling the stories of those who use our services is so important.
So you’re a student at Grand Valley State University? What are you studying?
I’m a health communication major and I’m a junior. I’ve been there for a while though (laughs). I took a break there in the middle when I found out I was pregnant with my son.
What’s your son’s name?
His name is Landon. He turned two in March. He’s a giant, but that’s to be expected when you look at the rest of my family. He’s stringing words together now. He tells me what he wants and when he wants it!
What will you be doing for Feeding America West Michigan this summer?
I’ll be writing client stories. I’m going to get to know people who benefit from Feeding America West Michigan and share their stories. Everybody’s got a story, myself included.
You had experience with Feeding America West Michigan before starting this internship, right?
Early on in my son’s life, I was pretty much broke. I didn’t get a paid maternity leave, so I was at home singlehandedly taking care of him and didn’t have any money. I couldn’t go back to work yet because he was too young and I wanted that time with him, so I utilized permanent food pantries and Mobile Pantries to eat. At the time it was really crucial in order to feed my child, and myself.
Why is it important for food bank clients to be able to tell their stories?
I think everybody’s story’s important, unique, and worth sharing. You never know what someone is going through in this life until you ask. Not a lot of people knew what was happening to me. They just assumed that I was doing fine. I put on a brave face. These resources helped me get to where I am today. If I didn’t have them, I don’t know where I’d be. I’d be hungry though, I tell you what. Organizations like this one are helping people live the way they should be able to even if they don’t have the means to do so. I just think it’s cool to show what people are doing for others.
Also, it shows other people that need help where they can get it. Because some people don’t know these resources are available. I didn’t. I didn’t know where any of the food trucks were before, or that I could have gotten food from them. I saw signs on the road for a couple of them. I just followed them until l I got to where they led me. The other ones I attended I learned about from programs at the hospital (Maternal Infant Health Program) and through the social workers at Catholic Charities. They gave me the information I needed to find food.
That’s a great illustration of how organizations in West Michigan are working together to help people access healthy food.
It was really funny. When I was at the internship fair (at GVSU), Feeding America West Michigan was there, Catholic Charities was there, and Alpha Women’s Center was there and all three of those organizations I had received help from, so I went to all the tables to see if I could help out and give back. Obviously having an internship this summer helps me progress, because I need the credit for school, but I wanted to help more than I wanted it for myself.
When you’re not saving the world what do you like to do?
Spend time with my two-year-old and my boyfriend. I’m very family oriented and like to see the rest of my family when I have time to spare. I love to cook, which is part of the reason I’m so into food, and Feeding America. I love to be outside and be active. That’s why summer’s my favorite. I am an animal lover. I enjoy music. I play piano, guitar, and I love to sing. I also enjoy art projects when I have free time.
What would be your dream job after graduation?
I would be with a nonprofit for sure. I’ve been with a nonprofit since 2013 (Goodwill Industries), and I’m definitely passionate about doing things for other people. I want my career to have something to do with health. I’m really passionate about food and how it can contribute to your health.
Veganism is a big thing in my life. I’m very passionate about animal rights and the health benefits of a vegan diet. I understand veganism is a privilege in itself. Not everyone can afford to live a vegan lifestyle. But we can incorporate more plant-based, healthy foods, which is why I was so intrigued by the NOW Program.*
I just want to make a difference is the main thing. I don’t want a job where I’m not changing lives.
*To learn more about Nutritional Options for Wellness Program, which provides healthy food and health education to 300 people in West Michigan each month, visit accessofwestmichigan.org.