Volunteers of all ages pack dinners for kids in Montcalm and Ionia Counties

A few volunteers stand in front of a mural of fruit, bread and more at IM Kids' Warehouse

As a retired nurse, Chris is passionate about helping people in tangible ways, so when she saw an opportunity to volunteer at IM (Ionia-Montcalm) Kids 3rd Meal, she was eager to jump on board. There, she packs dinners for kids in need who attend schools in Montcalm and Ionia Counties.

“There’s a lot of hidden hunger,” Chris said. “My daughter-in-law is a high school history teacher. She’s had kids come in who haven’t eaten since the day before.”

Chris makes sandwiches at the IM Kids Meal Site

Situations like this are what led Deb – a longtime employee with the Ionia and Montcalm Intermediate School Districts – to launch IM Kids in 2014. She recalled hearing the story of a young boy who would hide milk from lunch in his backpack every day. When asked why, he shared he had no food at home.

Since the program’s launch in 2014, volunteers like Chris have packed 384,000 dinners for kids who get free breakfast and lunch at school but may return home to empty cupboards. The food bank supports the efforts of IM Kids by providing bulk quantities of shelf-stable and kid-friendly food. This year, support from Cargill is helping us provide food for the program – which serves around 700 kids each week.

A few volunteers stand in front of a mural of fruit, bread and more at IM Kids' Warehouse

Before COVID-19, a total of around 4,000 children faced hunger in Ionia and Montcalm Counties. This fall, that number is projected to be higher.

Thankfully, the efforts of committed volunteers ensure these kids have dinners to take home. Each day, volunteers like Chris make and bag sandwiches. Then, volunteer teams – including kids from local schools – pack the sandwiches in bags alongside shelf-stable staples such as juice and fruit cups.

Tim, a Greenville High School teacher who frequently brings his students to volunteer at IM Kids, explained how the experience benefits his students as well as the kids they serve. Students pack bags with juice, sandwiches and more

“We’re doing a good deed, which we impress upon the students, and it’s vocational development for my particular class,” he said. “It really gives them an opportunity to develop their work skills and stamina to stay on their feet and work for a longer period of time.”

Packing food is a simple and fun way to serve neighbors. After she started volunteering, Chris couldn’t stop.

“If you do it once, you’ll be hooked. It makes a difference and there’s such a need,” she said.

Feeding America West Michigan relies on the efforts of volunteers like these to make our mission possible. With their efforts, and the support of organizations like Cargill, hopefully soon every child in need in Montcalm and Ionia Counties will have enough to eat.

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.