Access of West Michigan’s Shared Mission Provides Essential Aid to Churches’ Neighbors. Walk For Good Food is May 3-13

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Cutline No. 1-8aWalk For Good Food will be accomplished with social distancing in mind.The coronavirus pandemic has produced seismic changes in the way people live. But what remains a constant are low-income people's continued need for the basics in life, a reality heightened these days through a loss of income and access to food. The Christian nonprofit, Access of West Michigan (AWM), is working to meet the challenge in helping the vulnerable living in Kent County.

Even so, AWM also has had to make changes of its with its annual Walk For Good Food, scheduled May 3-13.

The former Grand Rapids Area Center For Ecumenism founded the Walk For Good Food when it was known as the Hunger Walk. AWM took over the fundraiser 2011, which sees an average of 700 people to lace up their shoes to hoof it for this worthy cause.

Social distancing emphasized

Cutline No. 2-3aEmma Garcia: “There’s an ability for us to incorporate our values that’s incorporated into the entire food system.”In keeping with social distancing practices, individuals, as well as congregations, organizations and businesses, are encouraged to create teams but not physically walk together this year. Walkers can share on social media via photos, live videos, and posts about their walk. AWM, in turn, will share walkers' stories and posts, staying connected through #Walk4GoodFood2020. This year's goal is to raise $85,000.

Funds raised for Good Food organizations include, but are not limited to, Our Kitchen Table, Revive & Thrive, UCOM, and SECOM — 8 in all.

"We struggled if we should cancel (the Walk) or not," says Emma Garcia, AWM's co-executive director. "This is our 43rd annual (Walk), and it usually brings together 700 people in one day and most other individuals are on a church walking team who come out and raise funds. This year with the current virus, we really felt like people want to focus on something besides the coronavirus at this time. The only thing we should do is get out and walk and spread the good news. We're definitely recommending everyone do the Walk in a cautious way. During the May 3-13 period, people can walk the whole jaunt or a couple of days at a time."

More information about the Walk For Good Food is available at

AWM background

AWM was founded in 1981 after federal government cutbacks were wrought on social service programs. A conglomerate of church and community leaders leapt into action by establishing a central coordination of services in order to prevent duplication and maximize resources, giving birth to AWM.

Three-prong mission

Even when there is no pandemic, people's needs are great. But so too are AWM's solutions. The nonprofit's Christ-centered mission has a three-prong focus.

The first is its Access Congregation Connections, a program that links around 100 churches throughout Kent County to do benevolence ministries that help people to pay their utilities, rent and prevent foreclosure of their homes. Last year, 1,561 families were served. This is very much an example of churches linking arms to work for the greater good.


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"The dollar amount that congregations invested into basic needs in fiscal year 2019 through the Access Congregation Connections program was $314,520," says Garcia. "If a church cannot fund that person (in need) directly but the church will provide $200 and another church will help meet that need as well, it becomes a shared mission of churches helping our neighbors. We do all that background social service work so churches don't have to have social work degrees to help their communities. It's a free service to any church in Kent County. We also do community work lunch and learns about housing issues, affordable housing, one on one with churches to help with their benevolent ministry and anti racism training."

AWM's second program is poverty education that helps families overcome poverty and dispel the myths of financial hardship. Its big-tent goals include teaching emergency department doctors, high school students, pastors and government officials about the root issues of poverty, utilizing experiential workshops that demonstrate poverty is more than meets the eye, and as a community it can be prevented rather and not just react to it. Individuals with work barriers are employed to provide essential insights.

Finally, ACM's Good Food Systems Program in 2019 supported five year-round farm markets.

"The food system program is everything from growing and production to processing, transportation and consumption and along that continuum are areas of injustice," says Garcia. "Migrant labor over the last 100 years has been a contentious issue in our country. It's kind of a bizarre system where we have institutionalized a form of racism to make sure our food is harvested as cheaply as possible. Some farms treat their migrant laborers very well but that's not always been the case. That's one area of injustice in our production a lot of people are not aware of."

The Good Food program supports give year-round farm markets that make possible healthy food to low-income neighborhoods. As a result, $73,760 was invested in AWM's local farm partners.

Programming overhauled

"We completely overhauled our programming and now we focus on supporting a few targeted nonprofits organizations or clinics to do some in-depth food work that basically is focused on preventative actions, and things that support the Michigan agricultural economy," says Garcia.

"We're buying from local farms because we believe in supporting our agricultural sector. We're helping to create good jobs; we're supporting fair labor because we know these farmers. There's an ability for us to incorporate our values that's incorporated into the entire food system, not just feeding hungry people but looking at broader issues, instead of doing what is cheapest or what we think is most efficient."


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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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