Sometimes all it takes to put a smile on a hungry neighbor’s face is knowledge of where their next meal will come from.
Thoupo, a regular volunteer and client at the monthly Mobile Food Pantry hosted by Holland Public Schools, is one of these neighbors. Her smile entered every photo, her eagerness to help warming everyone around her during the cold food distribution held in the school’s hallway this winter.
More than 30 years ago, Thoupo and her family came to the U.S. seeking refuge from Cambodia in response to the guerilla war afflicting their home country. Today, four of her nine brothers and sisters live nearby her home in Zeeland, and the rest reside across the U.S.
After she immigrated, Thoupo began working in a factory that made car parts. The workplace initially accommodated her disability – which requires her to sit down intermittently – but after 25 years, their policies changed and Thoupo’s chair was taken away, forcing her to leave.
“I get help from family and friends,” she said. “Also I have disability checks which I use to pay for the bills.”
Currently, Thoupo is allocating a lot of her funds toward medical bills. She spends much of her time taking care of her husband who faces osteoporosis and cannot sit or stand for long periods of time.
“I come get the food for him because he cannot,” she said. Thanks to the Mobile Food Pantries, Thoupo is able to cook the foods she likes for both herself and her husband.
“They have a variety of food that usually I don’t buy. I like it a lot,” she said. “I cook for myself – stir fry, soup. Lots of soup!”
Perhaps the soup is what helps Thoupo stay positive in the face of Michigan’s long winters .
“I love the four seasons and the opportunity that I can live and go to work and get my life balance,” she said.
Paired with Thoupo’s bright smile is her caring heart. Whenever she is able, she shares what she cooks with others – usually her son and sister. She tries to arrive early to each Mobile Pantry she attends, so that she can lend a hand.
“I just like to help out a little,” she said. “Not just to come and get.”
Feeding America West Michigan is constantly inspired by the kindness shown by its agency partners and neighbors facing hunger alike. Without the support of organizations like the Ottawa Community Schools Network and the Greater Ottawa County United Way – who help make the Holland Schools Mobile Pantries possible – Feeding America West Michigan could not be nearly as effective at reaching those in need throughout the region.
Story written by Juliana Ludema, Communication Assistant