The hands of countless volunteers have facilitated Feeding America West Michigan in impacting the lives of an unmeasurable number of neighbors since our origination. Each person who gives their time is an essential part of our organization. Mary Esch is one in particular who, without a doubt, has earned the spotlight today. With the passing of her 90th birthday, we are inspired as she continues giving her time to help those around her.
When speaking with Mary, we discovered that she has been volunteering with our organization since it “was just a little cement block place down on Jefferson and Wealthy (in Grand Rapids),” as she recalled it. This location was our first, and it opened back in 1984. Mary gleaned and sorted food for her neighbors in need with the other volunteers at that time. She recalled picking apples, plums, and sorting melons brought in by large trucks. When that location closed, she ceased volunteering and began working a part time job. However, when she learned that we were opening our current location in Comstock Park in 2000, she was here, ready to sign up and get to work. Today she sorts and packs food so that it can make its way to the neighbors who need it, just like she did at our original location.
Mary has been with us so long, there is no record in our database of the beginning of her journey with us. When we asked how long she thinks she has been involved, she estimated around 30 years, which is very plausible. While reflecting on her work throughout the years, she said, “It’s a good place to be, and it’s good to know that what you’re doing is worthwhile.” Mary was an integral part of laying the foundation in our earliest years that propelled us forward to where we are today, and she continues to be a part of our story. It was truly moving to learn about all she has done for her community throughout the years.
We wondered how long she planned on continuing to volunteer, and she responded frankly “as long as I’m upright.” We look forward to seeing her walk through the front doors each week. Mary is truly an inspiration to all of us and we couldn’t be more honored to have her continue to be a part of what we do here at Feeding America West Michigan.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Intern