GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michelle Hatfield is the social concerns director at St. Alphonsus Catholic Parish. She’s also a Grand Rapids Catholic Central graduate, the crosstown rival of the school that will help stock the shelves at her food and clothing center, West Catholic.

“I’m gonna be a Falcon this week,” Hatfield said. “I am gonna cheer them on.”

Hatfield is hoping the success the Falcons have had on the field (they are a win away from an undefeated year) carries over to the cans and nonperishables they donate in the final Football Frenzy Food Drive of the season. Right now, the pantry could use the support more than ever.

“We’ve had some high peaks, and then the numbers dropped significantly during COVID. And now we’re back at a top level,” Hatfield said. “What’s unique is seeing families we’ve never served before. … We are seeing more homeless but I would also say just new people to the Grand Rapids area and new people having to utilize these types of services.”

Since the start of the year, the St. Alphonsus Food & Clothing Center has seen a 25% increase and is feeding more than 400 families, or 1,200 people, in the northeast parts of Grand Rapids each month.

“You see a lot of shame and embarrassment when they’re walking in the doors because there has been a lot of rejection or you’re in survival mode,” Hatfield said.

In the six years she’s been at St. Alphonsus, she said, she’s found her purpose through what it provides: dignity in a hand up to help those in need.

“We try to encourage people: That’s what we’re here for, we’re here to help,” Hatfield said. “This may only be a short season for you. And in that time, let us be that hand that can help you out.”

She said that help wouldn’t be possible without the outpouring support from the community. The donations that allow the pantry to offer free clothing and food, the volunteers who keep the facility running 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or the organizations who allow it to stretch what it has for the increasing number of mouths that need to be fed.

“We get a lot of food from Feeding America and it’s great because we can purchase it at a significantly reduced rate,” Hatfield said. “So the Frenzy Food Drive, is a huge blessing to us and it’s going to make a huge impact on our neighbors that we’re serving.”

No matter how the Falcons finish their season or where they rank in the Frenzy Food Drive standings, Hatfield finds victory everyday through the work being done at the St. Alphonsus Food & Clothing Center.

“I would say majority of the people walking out our doors are always saying thank you to us and how blessed they are that they had the opportunity to shop here,” Hatfield smiled. “And that to me is a win.”