Community school coordinators ensure Wyoming families have the food they need

The three community coordinators stand in front of a Mobile Pantry

JP, Anna and Sarai all have one thing in common: A love for the kids of Wyoming. They each work as community school coordinators at local elementary schools through Kent School Services Network. During the school year, they spend their days soothing empty stomachs with snacks, listening to kids’ concerns and connecting families in need to resources.

On top of it all, each month, the community coordinators take turns hosting Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantries, generously sponsored by Amway and the Wyoming Community Foundation. The food provided is nutritious and fresh – just what growing kids need to focus in school.

The three community coordinators stand in front of a Mobile Pantry
JP, Sarai and Anna help feed kids as community school coordinators in Wyoming.

“You can tell a student’s behavior is different if they miss breakfast in the morning,” JP said. “Sometimes it just takes us saying ‘do you want some fruit?’ and they feel better.”

Sarai and Anna shared similar experiences.

“A lot of the ones that would end up having to deal with the social worker or behavioral interventionist – a lot of the time, they were just looking for a snack,” Sarai said.

To help, JP keeps snacks in his room to share with hungry kids throughout the day.

Children who lack access to enough nutritious food risk side effects such as poor focus in school and, in extreme cases, stunted growth. In Kent County, 1 in 10 children faced hunger before the pandemic, but now that ratio is projected to be 1 in 5.

“I’ve known families that have struggled with getting food. They’re working up to two to three jobs, but they have to pay rent, they have to pay daycare, they have to pay their bills and it’s hard,” Sarai shared. “Maybe they have 20 or 30 dollars for food – and if they have five or six kids, is that enough for them?”

Maddox and Larissa attend Mobile Pantries with their mother.

During the pandemic, the community coordinators began delivering food to families who had lost jobs or faced unexpected expenses. And throughout the summer, they continued to connect with families and run Mobile Pantries. At these distributions, families received boxes filled with fresh produce, dairy and other food they need to thrive.

“It’s been a lot of joy to make sure that they’re okay,” Anna said. “When they see us, it’s just letting them know that we still care about them and that we’re still around.”

Growing up, Anna received free breakfast and lunch at school, just as many of the kids she now serves do.

“I feel I’m able to connect with them on a different level,” she said.

One woman who attended the food distributions with her grandchildren during the summer shared that receiving food from Mobile Pantries is how she made ends meet.

“It’s a blessing,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without it.”

Thanks to the Mobile Pantries, JP said, families “can continue to keep paying other bills and saving up money for other things other than just food.”

Sarai loads a neighbor's car

It’s the work of neighbors like JP, Anna and Sarai, and support from generous donors like Amway and the Wyoming Community Foundation, that make the food bank’s mission possible. With their help, we believe our community will one day put hunger behind it.