At Feeding America West Michigan, we envision a community in which all neighbors are nourished and empowered within an equitable food system, and this includes all children. In order to make our vision a reality, we distribute food to over 700 hunger-relief partners—one of which is Hand2Hand.
Hand2Hand is a nonprofit organization in West Michigan dedicated to eliminating weekend hunger for kids. They work together with churches, schools, individuals and businesses to send kids facing hunger home from school on the weekends with nutritious food options.
It all began in 2008 when Executive Director & Founder Cheri Honderd noticed 19 students experiencing hunger when they went home from school for the weekend. In collaboration with the church where she worked, they decided to feed those students. Now, Hand2Hand serves over 10,000 students at 273 different schools in eight counties across West Michigan!
Students in this program receive a drawstring backpack with their school’s logo on it filled with 10 to 12 different food items. The items—in part provided by Feeding America West Michigan—are shelf-stable and sorted to make up a breakfast pack, a snack pack and a lunch or dinner kit. Church partners who help discreetly place the backpacks in students’ lockers also add fresh fruit into the packs.
Feeding America West Michigan partners with over 90 backpack programs like Hand2Hand. As a food bank, our role in these partnerships is to help provide backpack programs with kid-friendly food options such as granola bars, fruit cups, crackers, beef sticks and cheese sticks.
Similar to our Gather 2 Grow program, backpack programs exist in effort to fill the gap children face when not receiving meals provided by schools. Many kids receive free and reduced lunch at school five days a week, but are then left with a 68-hour gap without a steady meal source over the weekends.
While each backpack program is unique, kids are always put at the forefront in order to ensure they are able to enjoy nourishing meals and come back to school on Mondays ready to learn. Kids are at school to focus on their education; they shouldn’t be distracted by feeling hungry.