GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Right around 10 a.m. on a sunny afternoon in September, a line started to form outside of the doors of the Westminster Downtown Food Pantry. The group was waiting for the doors to open in 30 thirty minutes and take home nearly a week’s worth of free emergency food.
When the doors were propped open and the group makes their way in one by one, there’s a special interaction that was noticeably witnessed — mutual gratitude. The clients and volunteers of the more than 30-year-old pantry are fulfilling more than a service or mission, there’s a sense of friendship among them.
“You develop friendships with people, so it’s great,” business administrator Angie Kelley said. “They live here. This is their home and their area and they want to give back as well.”
For more than 30 years the food pantry has exclusively served those in the Heartside community of Grand Rapids. It’s part of the Westminster Presbyterian Church’s core missions and a responsibility the staff and volunteers are emotionally tied to.
“I mean, I guess our motto is ‘dignity, food, respect,'” Kelley said as her eyes welled up. “You also develop friendships with people. So it’s really important. It’s a duty, to give back to the community.”
Kelley said they serve around 100 people each Thursday, many known by name. Most are struggling with food and housing, she said.
“A lot of it we hear is, food is tough for them. It’s really hard for them to get through a whole month without help from us, which is what we’re here for,” Kelly said. “Then housing is also another one that is an issue for people. That’s probably the number one thing I hear about.”
Relationships and partnerships are what the pantry was built on. Thirty years ago, Kelley said an ecumenical group was formed to find the needs of the community and help fill the gaps. Food insecurity was near the top of the list and remains there today. Without those relationships they would not be able to serve to the extent they can, relying on both monetary and goods donations.
“We’re ecumenical for sure, that piece of it is really important to us. Our board is made up of several members of local downtown churches and the community. So it’s not just the Westminster thing,” Kelley said.
Two major relationships have been built with Catholic Central High School — less than a half a mile down the road — and Feeding America West Michigan.
“We can get about 10 times the amount from Feeding America, just because of how they are set up in their 501c. Their prices are so much lower that it allows us to purchase more,” Kelley said, acknowledging they couldn’t serve to the extent they do without their partnership.
The organization has a similar feeling toward its role with Catholic Central. The Cougars hold an annual Thanksgiving food drive that often benefits the food pantry. Kelley said each year that has helped provide nearly a month’s worth of food.
“Catholic Central High School, Deacon Dennis and all the kids have been so supportive of our pantry over the years, at least since I’ve been doing it,” Kelley said.
She was the pantry’s volunteer coordinator for eight years.
The 70 pounds of food donated by the Cougars in week three of the Football Frenzy Food Drive will also go to support the pantry.