1 in 6 Muskegon Kids Faces Hunger—Here’s How One Program Is Helping

volunteers put lunch bags in kids' lockers

Kids who rely on school meals for nourishment may face hunger on the weekends. So, at 3 p.m. on Fridays, volunteers  gather at Oakridge Elementary School to place bags of food in kids’ lockers. They quietly walk the halls searching for lockers marked with small stickers shaped like brown bags. After placing each bag, the volunteers take a moment for silent prayer.

“We cover them with prayer for whatever is in the home that they’re struggling with,” said Vickie, who has volunteered alongside other members of her church, Fellowship Muskegon, for a year now.

Vickie prays over a locker
Vickie helps fill kids’ lockers with food each week.

Each bag includes two boxes of cereal, two bottles of shelf-stable milk, two juices, two lunch meals, plus a snack pack—plenty of food meant to supplement what the child’s family already has at home.

“Students are appreciative of it. They call our people the ‘food fairy’!” said Becky, the school’s behavioral intervention specialist. “We’ve had families call and say ‘thank you.’ Or call and say, ‘we’ve been part of the program but we’re getting back on our feet and don’t need it anymore.’”

An array of food that kids receive is spread on a table

Carrying on a Legacy of Service

Becky has worked at Oakridge Elementary for her entire career. She followed in her mother’s footsteps; she was a secretary at the school and always helped with programs that helped the kids, like supplying Christmas food baskets.

“She grew up very poor and they were on government assistance, so I think part of her calling was to help other people like that,” she said. “She passed that on to us—to help us be servants to others.”

Becky poses in a hallway at the school
Becky has served kids at her school as long as she’s been employed there.

In her role, Becky identifies students’ needs and connects them and their families to resources. Many kids at Oakridge can receive free breakfast and lunch because of the high rate of need in their community, so incoming kindergarteners are sent home with a form each fall. Many families live in a nearby campground and experience barriers to food access, so Becky makes sure they know about the program. Becky and the school’s teachers also refer older kids to the program when needs arise. An example is realizing the reason a kid “stole” extra breakfast items was because they didn’t have much food at home. Sometimes, families worry that by asking for help, they’re taking from others who may need it more.

“I try to reassure them that everybody struggles. Everybody has hard times. If we can eliminate or relieve your stress by helping provide weekend food—if we can take some of that burden off your family—you can use those funds to help your kids with other things or get gas.”

Serving Kids with Help from the Community—and the Food Bank

Rick coordinates the weekend meals program and ensures all volunteers are where they need to be. Their church serves all five of the Oakridge schools. They are able to serve any child who is in need thanks to a plethora of volunteers and plenty of food—50 percent of which they source through the food bank.

Volunteers place bags in lockers
Fellowship Muskegon’s volunteers love giving back.

“We get spaghetti and pasta sauce, mac n cheese, shelf stable milk, dried fruit, raisins,” Rick said. He noted that he can get a whole pound of raisins from the food bank, and the shared maintenance fee (which helps the food bank cover overhead costs) is the same as just one packet of raisins would be at the store.

“The thing that stands out to me is just the goodness of the people that are helping,” Rick said. “I don’t have to ask for volunteers. I don’t have to ask for food. We have a cart in church with a sign over it and every time I go in there, it’s stacked full!”

Programs that fill the meal gap for kids on weekends are so essential to ensuring our youngest neighbors don’t have to go hungry—no matter the circumstances at home. Feeding America West Michigan is glad to support Fellowship’s hunger-relief work in Muskegon, and we’re thankful for the generosity of Chick fil A, which has helped make this support possible!

Story written by Communication & Marketing Specialist, Juliana Ludema