St. Mark’s Mobile Food Pantries fill grocery bags, provide hope

Scott holds a box of food, preparing to load a neighbor's car

Just before the pandemic, Loren was medically discharged from the Navy, after an injury left him without most of the fingers on his left hand. He began job searching, but when workplaces began shutting down, he struggled to find anything. Realizing options were slim, Loren and his wife, who works full-time, discovered Mobile Food Pantries, which have helped them make ends meet during particularly challenging months.

Loren sits in his car waiting for the Mobile Pantry

“It’s been really helpful. This isn’t food every day, but it helps subsidize,” he said.

One Mobile Pantry the couple attended in January was hosted at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. There, Loren was able to quickly drive through the line and receive plenty of fresh produce, cheese, meat and more.

Despite the bitter cold January morning, volunteers from St. Mark’s had no qualms setting everything up and serving neighbors. An hour before, many volunteers were helping with the church’s outdoor breakfast, which serves many local community members struggling with homelessness. Usually, church volunteers cook meals using food from the food bank, but since the pandemic, they’ve provided hot meals from local restaurants.

Two volunteers serve coffee at St. Mark's breakfast program

Being in the heart of downtown is part of what inspires St. Mark’s to give back.

“We stand at the crossroads of reaching out to neighbors in need, who can easily become invisible in the midst of growth, prosperity and the beauty of our downtown,” Judy, the church’s Mobile Pantry coordinator, said.

She’s been surprised at the number of new people living in transition and on the streets right now.

“There are not sufficient jobs and there also is a lack of affordable housing,” she said. “In other cases, substance abuse and physical or mental health issues keep them from being able to be employed. These situations all make food acquisition difficult.”

St. Mark's steeples touch the clear sky in the middle of Grand Rapids' downtown

Volunteers from East Leonard Elementary School and Third Reformed Church joined the ranks of the Mobile Pantry volunteers as the sun rose above the buildings. Sue, a priest at the church, emphasized the importance of working alongside others in the community towards the same goals — “It’s not a time for us to be ‘silo-ing’ and doing our own thing,” she said.

St. Mark’s used to help run the food distributions at East Leonard, but the pandemic means the school can no longer host them. Instead, St. Mark’s typically hosts the distributions at Third Reformed, which has a roomier parking lot. Support from the Baldwin Foundation is helping bring seven Mobile Food Pantries, including some of the ones run by St. Mark’s, to Grand Rapids neighbors this year.

Scott holds a box of food, preparing to load a neighbor's car

No matter their life situation, everyone is welcome at St. Mark’s food programs.

Scot, a longtime volunteer and church member summed this up: “It’s for everybody who needs food. You’re more than welcome to come.”

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.