9. Betty Alkema


Betty Alkema poses with some canned food. The photo is clearly from an old newspaper.After the food bank launched in April 1981, Betty Alkema led the mission through its debut year. At the time, she was the only paid staff member, and she worked only part-time.

Like today, the food bank aimed to connect safe, surplus food to neighbors in need, but we did so in fewer West Michigan counties, focusing on Holland, Grand Rapids and St. Joseph.

“Hunger is an issue with me but so is waste. I feel it’s a shame that food is being thrown out while people are going hungry,” Betty told the Grand Rapids Press a month after the food bank opened.

In that first month, Betty and her team distributed 4,000 pounds of food. Now, we distribute more than that every day.

A year after the food bank started, it faced its first recession. Betty sought additional sources of food donations due to rising rates of unemployment —something that sounds familiar to food banks facing increased need due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

“I want to be prepared for the crisis,” she told the Grand Rapids Press.

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An early newspaper article announcing the beginning of the food bank. The title is 'Gleaners' Hope to Put Dent In Waste, Feed Poor