GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Hung above the entrance of the Cutlerville food pantry and surrounded by construction dust, cones and a nearly completed addition is a sign that reads “Streams of Hope.”
Its placement is important. It is both the way into the nonprofit and a reminder of the change and growth the organization has had since it was founded in 2006.
“It’s just Streams now,” executive director Kurtis Kaechele said of the recent name change. “It’s all about love. So our mission here is to demonstrate the love of Jesus through programs and build relationships.”
Streams on 60th Street east of S. Division Avenue serves one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kent County. It began as a small nonprofit that worked to develop younger children by offering tutoring services. Today, it operates 12 total programs, including a food pantry, that are geared toward helping anyone break the cycle of poverty.
“Anybody can come to Streams,” Kaechele said. “If you need supplemental food or if your kids need help with education — math and reading in particular for grade school students — if your teen kids need a place to come and hang out and learn about life skills, if you need a GED or high school diploma, this is the place to be.”
Of all the programs it offers, the food pantry makes the largest impact. It serves 455 families a month, giving away around 30,000 of free food to those in need. The food gets neighbors in the door and is the starting point for the relationships that Streams uses to offer more aid.
“I can have families that average between nine and 13 in a family,” pantry director Heidi Vanderlaan said. “I have known many of these families, five, six, seven years, and we have helped them with their difficulties. But it’s more than just food. It’s getting them plugged into our other resources, whether it’s our tutoring, our after-school programming. It’s helping the whole person.”
Vanderlaan and Kaechele say lately, less food has been coming in and even as the demand to go out has increased.
“Our numbers have increased this year. They kind of plateaued last and now we’re seeing an influx of new families coming in,” Vanderlaan said. “The donations are not keeping up with the number of people that are starting to come back in needing food. So it’s been a little harder for us to get the food that we need to keep serving that many people.”
Food drives, they say, are vital, which is why they’ll have their eyes on Week 4 of the Football Frenzy Food Drive. Godwin Heights school community members collected 1,330 pounds of food, donating all of it to the Streams food pantry.
While all the food from the Frenzy Food Drive will help, so does Streams’ partnership with Feeding America West Michigan. Right now, meat is hard to come by but with the relationship Streams has, it is able to stretch dollars to go much further than at a grocery store.
“Feeding America is one of my sole places to get meat,” Vanderlaan said. “Meat prices have also skyrocketed. I only still need to pay 18 cents a pound for a pound of meat. So I still go there and they bless us with meat that comes in, so I can offer chicken and pork chops and beef, all of those items, but I’m still only paying 18 cents a pound. So that’s why it’s huge.”
Soon the shelves will be stocked from the Frenzy Food Drive and the construction outside will be complete. Streams plans to have a full medical, dental and behavioral Catherine Health Center to serve 15 to 25 uninsured or underinsured neighbors daily by Dec. 1.
With it will likely come a new sign above that front door, reflecting the change in the name — but step inside and it won’t take long to notice Streams will always provide hope to those in need.
“When I came on board in 2006, I couldn’t imagine the size and the scope of what Streams of Hope does now in the community,” Vanderlaan said. “It’s been awesome watching it.”