Feeding America West Michigan Partners with Social Service Organizations to Foster Hope

For many families in the Muskegon area, Love INC is a beacon of hope. For Bob and Deanna Michaels’ family, it has been life changing.

During the last 6 years, Love INC and partners like Feeding America West Michigan provided for their immediate needs when they couldn’t do so themselves. This allowed them to be able to focus on other important issues in their lives, and strive for improvement in all facets of life, in the hopes to become fully self-sufficient.

When Deanna and Bob first met on the city bus, they were both facing challenging circumstances. Deanna was a single mom who was living in a house in Muskegon Heights with her two children, Jay and Emma. Deanna said that her home “drained every single dollar” she had. “I had nothing in this house. It was in the worst part of town. I was so naïve. That was not the kind of situation I wanted my kids in, but it was a roof over our heads,” she continued. Deanna didn’t feel safe or secure in that part of town, but felt stuck there. She didn’t know how to escape her situation, and that caused her a lot of stress. At this time, Bob was stuck in old habits. He said he was abusing drugs and alcohol. “I was 48 living like I was 18,” he said. He didn’t have a reason to quit until he met Deanna. After they got together, the couple gave each other a place to grow from and their lives began to improve. Together they were able to get out of their immediate predicaments, but there were more troubles ahead that prohibited them from flourishing.

Bob is disabled and his medical bills can be costly. In addition, they are raising two children which is expensive. Before becoming acquainted with Feeding America and Love INC, they stretched every dollar as far as possible but still couldn’t always make ends meet. They were forced to cut corners. Deanna works for the local Goodwill but her income usually wasn’t enough. Money for food had taken the backburner because of the vast amount of other bills they had. It was a constant struggle. Because of this, their home life wasn’t able to blossom. They were always worried about how bills were going to be paid, and how they were going to feed their family. The stress began to take a toll on their children. That’s when they decided to make a change.

Feeding America West Michigan was able to fill a void immediately. The family attended mobile pantries when they needed extra food. This help was vital to their wellbeing. But their home life was still struggling. Soon after receiving food from Feeding America, they discovered Love INC which continued to propel their lives forward.

Love INC is an organization that is run between churches and other community partners, like Feeding America, for example. When someone in need reaches out to them, Love INC provides essential resources, no matter what that may be. With the help of Feeding America, they offer food. With other partners they are able to offer clothing, personal hygiene items, furniture, transportation, and other essentials as well. If they don’t have the ability to provide a specific need, they will connect them to someone who can. Matt Kaley, the executive director of Muskegon county Love INC said, “We’re aware of the other resources around, so we’re kinda the bridge between folks being stranded and being able to get those resources.”

Once someone’s immediate needs are cared for, Love INC’s goal is to determine the root cause of their troubles and provides resources that help them progress in life. They have a program called “New Directions” which offers classes in a variety of subjects such as: budgeting, parenting, and other life skills. While the classes are extremely beneficial on their own, participants also gain points for attending. These can be to spent on food, often provided by Feeding America, and other items they may need. Kim Wernstrom, said they are “not giving them a hand out, but a hand up.” Similarly, Melissa Brooks explained that they are trying to give these people some dignity back. “We’re giving them the opportunity to earn,” what they need, she said. The Michaels saw these opportunities as their chance to fix things that needed to be fixed, and get their lives back on track.

Deanna and Bob started by taking a class called “New Image” and it really turned things around for them. It gave their family a new foundation in life and the springboard they needed to push themselves towards true happiness and stability. They saw a huge improvement after attending, so they jumped in and took many of the remaining classes offered. Deanna said that she finally realized “you don’t have to be miserable, the world is not out to get you,” After the program, they found themselves with a firm foundation in life. With goals set in place, and a mentor to keep them accountable, things were looking up. During their time together, Bob says, “we have scratched and clawed up the ladder to where we found a place in life where we’re both happy.” Thanks to help they received from community partners, they have gotten so much closer to their dreams and they are still improving every day.

Bob and Deanna’s son Jay said that before they decided to make a change, “we woke up in the morning and wouldn’t really look forward to the day. We always thought something bad was going to happen, but now, we look forward to the day and expect something better.” His sister Emma added, “before, everyone was mad at each other all the time. We didn’t have to be angry with each other, but we always were. Now, we can just be happy the way we are.” Bob explained how his family is “truly grateful for having a place to turn to, and to know that in times of need, we were taken care of.”

“A lot of Americans are one pay check away from disaster. It could be any one of us here today, on the other side of the window,” Matt said.

The Michaels are a great example of how people will prosper when given the chance. Love INC and Feeding America West Michigan have given this family a chance to flourish by providing for them while they learned how to better provide for themselves. Organizations like these help members of our community to succeed by giving them the tools to push themselves forward on the path toward self-sufficiency. When community resources come together they can change lives, and the Michaels are a wonderful testament to the powerful impact a community can make.

Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Intern