GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On the outside brick of The Other Way Ministries is a mural that paints a picture of the neighborhood. One side shows a scene predating civilization, with the Grand River, fish and pines. The other side highlights the logging roots along the river, the rolling hills and the growth of Grand Rapids’ West Side.
Inside, the shelves of the food pantry are sparsely filled. Fresh fruit is at a premium and there’s no peanut butter. Bethany Joseph, the director of food and resources, says that’s because the local need post-pandemic has remained high while donations have stalled.
“Before the pandemic, our budget for the year was $2,000. For the last two years, it’s been about $62,000 a year. An immeasurable increase,” Joseph said of the need. “I could put it another way: Before the pandemic, we saw about 150 families (monthly). During the height, we were seeing about 900 a month and now we are still seeing about 750.”
The Other Way started in 1967 when then founder Dick TerMaat opened the doors as a bike repair facility to help get gang members off the streets and give them another way of life. In the 55 years since, The Other Way has grown to four main buildings and evolved to match the changing needs of the community. It now offers a variety of different programs including a pantry, fresh market, farmers co-op, men’s groups, children activities and the only licensed child care facility in the neighborhood.
“We try to have a holistic approach where we are both meeting immediate needs and at the same time preparing people to move out on their own,” Joseph said.
The concentration is the well-being of neighbors on the West Side. For Joseph, it’s a dream job. She started volunteering there and eventually worked her way up to managing the food pantry. It is the most utilized program offered and the one in an uphill battle to serve more families as fewer resources are coming in.
“I would love to have peanut butter on the shelves. I would love to have black beans and dried beans for our Hispanic neighbors,” Joseph said. “I would like to have a greater variety of fruit, a greater variety of vegetables instead of canned soups. We’re limited right now, right? Limited to what we can afford.”
Students at Union High School donated 1,854 pounds of food, which went directly to The Other Way Ministries. So far, Kenowa Hills has donated the most with 5,565 pounds.
“One of our volunteers organized a food drive with her church about a month and a half ago, just all on her own, and we ended up getting 2000 pounds of food from them,” Joseph said. “I’d say the food lasted us two weeks probably. So it goes fast, even 2000 pounds goes fast. But that was one of the most incredible donations that we have seen.”