ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The shelves inside Harvest Stand Ministries in Zeeland look, at first glance, a little more empty than usual. But looks are deceiving.

While the shelves are barer, it’s not necessarily because less food is coming in. The need and service of the 25-year-old mission have increased dramatically over the last year.

“We are seeing more people come in to our pantry than we’ve had before. We’re up 50% over last year in terms of visits and July is normally our slowest month of the year. This year, it was our busiest,” executive director Jordan Palladino said.

Palladino said what he’s seeing is the sign of difficult times. Inflation, rising costs, and increased gas prices put a day-to-day monetary strain on the nearly 9,000 people Harvest Stand serves each year.

“I don’t want anyone to have to make the decision between do I buy fresh fruit for my child or do I pay for the gas bill this month?” Palladino posed. “That’s a choice that I really hope that we can help our clients not have to make.”

Harvest Stand has made itself a unique partner for those in need in the community. It offers free food and clothing and other self-help services to help break the cycle of poverty.

“We do not charge our clients for anything here at Harvest Stand,” Palladino said. “We’re a big believer that this needs to be a way that is an economic and financial relief for our clients.”

The organization runs on 96% food donations and 100% clothing donations. Through partnerships with organizations like Feeding America West Michigan, it is able to provide certain items.

“They’re an incredibly great supporter and advocate of what we do here at Harvest Stand, providing some more of that food backbone,” Palladino said of Feeding America. “It’s always great to be a part of the single biggest free food distributor in the nation. So anytime you can partner with an organization that’s as great as Feeding America to help serve the community, it’s a win for everybody.”

When Palladino sees what’s being done by students across West Michigan through the Football Frenzy Food Drive, he sees a healing hope ahead. He rooted for the West Ottawa students to out-donate Kenowa Hills’ record of 5,565 pounds in Week 1 this year. He knows that even if they come close, it will have an immensely positive impact not only on the picked-through shelves but on the community Harvest Stand serves.

“That is a lot of families we’re able to serve. That is a lot of kids who won’t go to bed hungry. That is a lot of families who can fill a grocery cart,” Palladino said of 5,500 pounds of food. “That’s a lot of families who don’t have to decide whether they’re going to put food in their bellies or pay the electric bill.”

West Ottawa ultimately collected 1,988 pounds of food — in a single day.