They also experience respect from the cadre of volunteers and two-person staff who keep this Christian nonprofit humming with purpose.
"Most importantly, we try to treat everybody with a little dignity and respect so they leave feeling good," said Sandy Jenkinson, an assistant to executive director Dale Echavarria.
Dignity is key
"It's a little difficult for people to come to a pantry. It's sometimes perceived as the homeless guy under the bridge. There are people underemployed and unemployed, their house burned down, or they've had a medical emergency. We try to treat them all the same and have them go away feeling dignified and respectful."
Family Network has had a handful of locations, but it's now located at 1029 44th St. SW, Wyoming where it was formerly the 44th Street Christian Reformed Church. The congregation aged-out and chose to disband.
"They decided to donate the church to us if we continue to be a food pantry for 10 years," said Jenkinson. "We're very close to attaining that goal."
Foodstuffs also accessible to diabetics, gluten free
Family Network's pantry features an array of foodstuffs thanks to donations that consistently flow to the nonprofit from area grocery retailers, as well as donations from a handful of truckers. Items for diabetics, gluten free food and a limited supply of personal care products also are available. Pantry hours are 2:30-5 p.m. Mondays, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
1,200 monthly hours donated
Family Network relies on its cadre of 43 volunteers, most of them retirees, who donate a combined 1,200 hours a month that in 2018 helped to feed 10,507 people from 4,000 families in its service area that includes Wyoming and Grandville and as far west as Hudsonville and Jenison, according to Jenkinson.
"In our service area alone there are 69 churches," said Jenkinson. "We are supported by many of those churches, many denominations, and have many volunteers from those churches. People come to us with different needs. Before the pantry opens on Mondays and Wednesdays, we have a team meeting which always ends in prayer, which guides us through. We offer comfort and dignity. I'd say we're very good at it, actually."
But for some, donations are not about boundaries.
"At our pantry if (people) find us on our website, we will serve anyone once whether they are in our area or not," said Jenkinson.
Some might assume with a booming economy and the Great Recession in the rearview mirror, a ministry like Family Network would not be in demand. Jenkinson said that does not reflect reality.
"Our numbers have gone down a little but not a lot because so many people are underemployed," she said. "Groceries are terribly expensive and some just can't afford it. You get the large families, you get the single people, you get folks who just lost a spouse and suddenly their income is cut in half. There's so much need. We determine how much they get by family size."
Family Network works in conjunction with the Kent County court system for those who have been ordered to perform community service. Clients are required to perform a minimum of six hours a week of service. At Family Network, that works translates into unloading trucks, stocking shelves, cleaning medical equipment and distributing food during the pantry's hours.
Merry Christmas (store)
Then there's its Christmas store offered during the Yuletide season. Working in conjunction with Grace Reformed Church in Wyoming, donated gifts from local merchants make it possible for an average of 600 children and their families to come to the church the first Saturday in December. Parents can spend $10 of gifts per child, up to $40 worth of gifts that are then wrapped.
"We have the Gideon's there if they need Bibles or would like some spiritual time," said Jenkinson.
Any gifts remaining the following Monday are taken to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital where their young patients can select gifts for their siblings or parents.
"The idea is to give them the feeling of Christmas, of giving," said Jenkinson.
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