Holland-area kids receive weekend meals during pandemic with help from Farm Bureau

Cindy, the Hand 2 Hand program director at Christ Memorial Church, is glad to finally have more hands filling bags with meals for kids in need. Over the last few months, Cindy packed bags with applesauce, soup and canned goods for 500+ Holland-area kids – often with just her daughter’s help. Now, volunteers have safely returned to lighten the load.

“Food is my love language. If anyone is hurting, I say, ‘I’ll bring you food,’” Cindy said.

Cindy (right) loads bags of food alongside volunteers.

Cindy knew she couldn’t cook for kids in need, but 10 years ago when she learned about Hand 2 Hand – a nonprofit that provides kids with weekend meals through their network of 100+ churches – she decided to start her own chapter at Christ Memorial.

After bags are packed, Christ Memorial Hand 2 Hand delivers them to the schools they serve. School staff then discreetly place the bags in kids’ lockers. Prior to receiving bags, families are invited to opt in or out of the program by filling out a form. During the pandemic, schools instead delivered the pre-packed bags to students’ homes.

At a high school Hand 2 Hand works with, the program followed a client-choice model prior to the pandemic. Cindy and volunteers would set up and run a mini pantry where kids “shopped” for the food they needed most.

Cindy and Terri, one of her volunteers and closest friends, load a van for delivery.

Teens Cindy regularly spoke with would share how much the pantry meant to them and their families. One boy in particular always made it a point to thank Cindy and share how, without the food, he wouldn’t know where his next meal was coming from.

“When we first shut down, I was worried he didn’t have food,” Cindy said. “I got in contact with the counselor and the family and brought them a box.”

Almost every item placed in Christ Memorial’s Hand 2 Hand bags and in the mini pantry is sourced through Feeding America West Michigan.

The food bank works with hundreds of agency partners across 40 of Michigan’s 83 counties, acting as a “hub” from which hunger-relief efforts flow. Agencies like Christ Memorial Hand 2 Hand pick up the food they need from the food bank’s warehouse – instead of having to manage and store large donations or pay high prices at supermarkets.

The pandemic continues to weaken the food system – reducing food donations and retail rescue – forcing the food bank to purchase more shelf-stable items than ever. Supporters like Farm Bureau are generously helping cover these costs.

Jerry, our purchased product and commodities analyst, keeps an eye out for low-cost food that will keep kids happy and healthy to fill any gaps on the food bank’s shelves. He then ensures backpack agencies such as Christ Memorial Hand 2 Hand pick up the food as soon as possible.

“Weekend programs are vital, just due to the fact that kids get a meal every day, Monday through Friday – so what will they eat the next two days?” he said.

Deb stands in Hand 2 Hand's packing room holding a bag

For Deb, a long-term volunteer, her service is all about the kids.

“I just want to get food to kids,” she said. “It’s not their fault that they’re hungry. I just want to help, and this is the way to do it.”

The efforts of neighbors like Cindy and Deb, who do all they can to put food on kids’ plates, are what pushes the food bank’s mission forward. Together, we truly believe we can end hunger in our community.