1 in 5 Oceana County residents may be facing hunger right now — here’s how one church is helping

Sharita stands in front of the church's sign

Sharita is an Oceana County resident who can’t accept the thought of any of her neighbors going hungry. So, she started volunteering at the Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Pantries hosted by New Hope Community Church. She quickly found herself volunteering at their traditional pantry as well. Today, she directs all of their hunger-relief efforts.

Sharita stands in front of the church's sign

“Sharita goes the extra mile,” said Deborah, a senior struggling with kidney failure.

One morning, Deborah had a doctor’s appointment scheduled at the same time as the food distribution. She called Sharita and asked if someone could leave her a box outside the door. Instead, Sharita and her volunteers waited.

“We came an hour and a half late, and they loaded up our car, and she actually prayed for me, which meant a lot,” Deborah said.

Deborah poses with a gallon of milk.

Deborah loves cooking and canning. Recently, she preserved a bunch of plums she received at a Mobile Pantry to store for a later date.

Like many seniors, she’s had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical expenses. She’ll usually pass up expensive produce at the store to save money in other areas, but at Mobile Pantries, it’s a different story.

“You come here and you get things that are really good quality. It’s a healthy blessing for my husband and myself,” she said. “I get a real happy feeling, because it’s like Christmas. You never know what you’re going to get.”

A volunteer picks up buttercup squash

Many Oceana County seniors face similar circumstances — Sharita often hears them debating between paying for groceries or prescriptions — and the pandemic has pushed even more neighbors to seek food assistance. Some of the county’s residents who once donated to hunger-relief efforts have now found themselves attending Mobile Pantries.

Sharita believes she’s called to feed her neighbors, and hasn’t skipped a volunteer day during the pandemic. She can’t bear the thought of anyone struggling without the church’s help.

“Seeing people come if it’s fog, snow, sleet — they don’t care because they have a need for food. It inspires me,” she said.

A nearby church’s youth group’s commitment to the cause has brought Sharita to tears many times. The students often volunteer to fill boxes and load cars multiple times a month — even when Sharita doesn’t ask.

Carleton, the youth group’s leader, said he believes it’s important for young people to learn to give back at a young age.

Carleton poses while volutneering

“I think everybody needs to learn to go help other people,” he said. “It’s living your life for others as opposed to living life for yourself.”

For the many in Oceana County who rely on Mobile Pantries, Sharita’s commitment means a lot. So does the support of the Bessie E. & Ethan Allen Gray Health Fund of the Community Foundation for Oceana County, which sponsors many of the food distributions. With their efforts, the food bank believes full plates for all is within reach.

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.