White Cloud family of five feeds neighbors together

On a Tuesday morning once a month, Bryan arrives at White Cloud Church of God to set up tables and prep volunteers for that day’s Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantry. He works third shift at a local factory but doesn’t let the lack of sleep prevent him from making sure his neighbors know where their next meal is coming from.

“I do it because I see the smile on the people who come through,” he said. “They know me by name. People drive from all over to come here because we’re friendly!”

Bryan, his three daughters and his wife, Heidi (right), volunteer at the Mobile Pantries each month.

A few hours later, Bryan is joined at the food distribution by other volunteers from his church, including his wife, Heidi, and their three daughters, who sort food and load boxes into neighbors’ cars.

Volunteering provides kids with many benefits. In their year of volunteering, Bryan’s daughters — age 11, 13 and 15 — have learned about the need and their desire to help others has grown.

“I’ve seen them open up especially in their willingness to help and do everything they need to,” he said.

Bryan is a native of Newaygo, a town close to White Cloud, so for him, this is “community helping community” and hunger hits close to home. He was raised in a family of seven and at times was food insecure — his family couldn’t always access or afford enough healthy food.

Even today, Bryan at times can use extra help with groceries. Last year, he kept his job for the most part, but periodic pandemic-related closures meant his income wasn’t as consistent as usual. With three daughters and a mother-in-law residing in his home, being able to fall back on the Mobile Pantries helps a lot. But no matter his need, when he takes food home from the Mobile Pantry, he’s always last in line.

“If you’re in need, always come,” he said. “We never turn anyone away. I’ve even gone and handed my box to someone who came late. I’d rather see myself in a bind than someone else.”

The Mobile Pantry the church hosted in April was down a few volunteers due to COVID-19 exposures, but Bryan and the other volunteers didn’t let that stifle their energy and desire to fill neighbors’ cars. Bryan even brought a box of groceries to a church family in quarantine.

Volunteers prep produce at White Cloud Church of God’s Mobile Pantry.

Like Bryan, many who attend Mobile Pantries in White Cloud are employed or have another source of income that simply doesn’t cover all their expenses all the time. According to a new study of more than 600 Mobile Pantry attendees in our service area, more than 90 percent of study participants had some sort of income across household members. Like Bryan, 25 percent had a full-time job.

Feeding America West Michigan is glad we can be there to help families who need food, whatever their circumstances. We applaud the hard work of the caring volunteers at White Cloud Church of God — without them, our mission would not be possible! Support from the Fremont Area Community Foundation is another important piece to ensuring Newaygo County neighbors in need have access to plenty of nutritious food. Thank you!