Breaking down barriers: A Benton Harbor nonprofit feeds neighbors

Group of volunteers poses with food and smiles at camera

For many neighbors living in Benton Harbor, healthy food can be difficult to access. In parts of the city, grocery stores carrying affordable, healthy options are distant, and many neighbors lack the transportation to get to them. As a result, these neighbors need to rely on fast food chains and convenience stores for sustenance.

Group of volunteers poses with food and smiles at camera
Sinceria (third from right) and her team of volunteers get ready for a February Mobile Food Pantry.

Just like electricity can be “patchy” in some places on a power grid, access to healthy, affordable food is “patchy” or even non-existent in parts of Benton Harbor. That’s why organizations that fill these gaps are so essential to the Benton Harbor community.

Community NHC is one of many organizations working to improve access to healthy options in Benton Harbor. The nonprofit runs a traditional food pantry, open to neighbors in need twice a month, and hosts monthly Mobile Food Pantries, sponsored by Heart of Cook and the United Way of Southwest Michigan. The traditional pantry provides basic staples while Mobile Pantries offer fresh produce and other healthy options for neighbors in need.

As a Benton Harbor native with a background in nonprofit work, Sinceria has seen many people struggle to put food on the table. When she began managing Community NHC, she decided to focus the nonprofit’s efforts on fighting hunger.

“I saw the need and decided that I really wanted to be part of the solution,” she said.

Sinceria smiles while signing in a neighbor to the Mobile Food Pantry.
Mobile Pantry volunteers and neighbors receiving food alike are quick to say how joyful Sinceria is.

Sinceria interacts with many grateful neighbors, but her experience with one man – who had just lost his job and had four kids to feed – really impacted her.

“He just kept thanking us for what we were doing as the tears continued to flow down his face,” she shared. “His openness really stuck with me.”

The organization serves many families in similar situations, like Monique, who attends their Mobile Pantries to help supplement the little amount in SNAP benefits she receives. She’s raising two kids, Jordan, 14, and Sierra, 10, all on her own, but doesn’t let that stop her from ensuring they have the food they need.

Monique carries a bag of food to her car.

She loves being able to receive fresh fruits and vegetables at Community NHC’s Mobile Pantries. The resource helps nourish her growing kids and she’s able to bring a box full of food to her aging mother, too. When Monique’s kids are at school, she selflessly cares for her mother, and her two siblings who are disabled.

“It really helps out,” she said.

Monique is among the 4,700+ individuals Community NHC served in 2019.

“Serving this many people was definitely an accomplishment, and showed that we were truly making a positive impact in our community,” Sinceria said.

Willie, a Mobile Pantry volunteer, has a deep love for his neighbors, and knows what it’s like to experience hunger. Many of those who go through the line are his friends and family.

He likes to create a joyful environment for everyone who attends the Mobile Pantries. He cracks jokes and is quick to carry heavy boxes for neighbors.

“We just try to do what we can for people,” he said.

Willie and Monique pose with boxes of food.
Willie helps neighbors like Monique carry their boxes to their cars.

Sinceria appreciates the numerous volunteers like Willie who come out to help.

“People are good at coming together when they know it’s for a good cause,” she said.

Feeding America West Michigan is proud to join Sinceria and the many volunteers at Community NHC in the fight against hunger in Benton Harbor. With the help of supporters like Heart of Cook and the United Way of Southwest Michigan, we can continue to make food access less “patchy” and ensure all our neighbors have the nutritious food they need to thrive.

Story written by Communication Assistant Juliana Ludema.