How the food bank is helping Godfrey-Lee Public Schools make nutritious food accessible — and desirable — for kids

Godfrey-Lee's community school coordinators accept the activity kits.

Eight years ago, Mike Donovan, a history teacher at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, heard that Mobile Food Pantries could provide easy access to fresh produce and other nutritious foods for students and their families. He knew this was a need, so he fundraised for the school’s first food distribution — and was surprised to see 600 neighbors show up.

“We knew there was a need but didn’t know it was so great,” he said. “The second time we did it, the same thing happened.”

Mike has served students, families and community members through Mobile Pantries for eight years.

Today, Mike continues to volunteer at the Mobile Pantries but has handed the reins to Godfrey-Lee’s community school coordinators. Their hard work is supported by that of many volunteers, including those from the nearby Lee St. Church.

Students like Briana and Kaylee, both eighth-graders, also help out at the Mobile Pantries. As members of their school’s volunteering club and the National Honors Society, they participate in part because they need volunteer hours, but also because they love doing it.

“Just helping people out made me want to do it,” Briana said. “I know some people who don’t have a lot of things so I want to at least try to help.”

“I just really like helping out and it helps the community and helps everything get better,” Kaylee said.

Kaylee and Briana load neighbors’ cars with fresh produce at a Mobile Pantry in August.

Mike loves that students can volunteer each month.

“It’s important for them to learn to care about others in the community,” he said.

Even though many of the kids are in need themselves, Mike often sees them put others first.

“Our kids don’t always see themselves as needy, they think ‘someone else has a greater need than me.’ They don’t want to care for their own needs as much as they want to help others.”

Mike’s example has influenced many students over the years, like Memo, a school staff member who recalls getting food from the Mobile Pantries back when he was a student at Godfrey-Lee. Now, he volunteers and encourages the students he mentors to volunteer as well.

Anselmo “Memo” is the middle school’s English learner success coach.

“It’s just giving back to the people who helped raise me,” he said. “The biggest thing is showing the kids that just because you come from this small community doesn’t mean you can’t make it big. It’s not always about being a doctor or lawyer but about giving back. I think it’s had a positive effect on the kids.”

Feeding America West Michigan is honored to help the staff and volunteers at Godfrey-Lee serve their neighbors.   We’re able to do so because of the generosity of supporters like Amway, which is sponsoring 26 Mobile Pantries at Grand Rapids schools in 2021. This year, thanks to a partnership with the Kent Medical Foundation, we were also able to provide 350 activity kits — each filled with a jump rope, activity sheets and book about vegetables — for schools to pass out at their Mobile Pantries. The kits showed kids fun ways to stay active and eat healthily.

Godfrey-Lee’s community school coordinators accept the activity kits.

Jackee, a community school coordinator who runs Godfrey-Lee’s Mobile Pantries, said: “Many of our younger students were excited to receive them because they came with a jump rope. I believe the activity kits will help kids stay active and do something other than be on an electronic. The books will allow them to learn about being healthy and using their energy in a healthy way.”

Teamwork is essential when it comes to fighting hunger. Committed volunteers of all ages, school staff members and local organizations are all needed to support this fight. Together, we can end hunger in school districts like Godfrey-Lee and across the food bank’s 40-county service area!

Story written by Communication and Marketing Specialist Juliana Ludema