SPARTA, Mich. (WOOD) — Humming from behind a door, tucked in the back corner of a church’s cafeteria and just a few feet away from the altar of Peace Lutheran Church, a commercial-grade freezer works hard to do its job.

Condensation from the intake filter is dripping onto the floor below as it tries to keep up with the demands from the temperature. Inside are frozen foods that will literally help feed a village. The freezer is key to the mission of the organization the church houses: the Sparta Food Pantry.

Since 1977, the Sparta Food Pantry has served the greater northern Kent County area from various wings at Peace Lutheran Church. Pastor Bryan Schneider-Thomas says it’s part of their mission.

“We’re called to serve, and so a huge chunk of this congregation is about serving others and really being outward-focused in how we care for others,” Schneider-Thomas said. “So, you know, the food pantry is, probably our original and our oldest program.”

Before the pandemic, the food pantry was serving 40 to 60 families a month, an impressive number given its size. The two rooms that house most of the food are no bigger than a small- to medium-sized bedroom. While Schneider-Thomas says he would love to be able to expand the pantry twice over, the reason for its success and longevity is because it is truly community-oriented.

“Without everybody working together, we couldn’t have the pantry,” Schneider-Thomas said.

By “everybody” he means just about everyone in Sparta. The local post office throws them a food drive each year; the high school pits classes against each other at homecoming to raise donations; area churches with other denominations host food drives for the pantry; the bowling alley does the same; the Sparta Community Foundation donated that commercial-grade freezer; and the partnership with Feeding America West Michigan allows them to purchase food for pennies on the dollar.

“The thing that is very obvious is that we can’t do it by ourselves, and Feeding America is an important partner in helping us,” Schneider-Thomas said.

The pantry is volunteer-run. It are always looking for extra help from within or outside of the congregation.

In fact, Schneider-Thomas believes that more than 95% of the families they serve are not members of his church.

Right now, the pantry is working through North Kent Connect to schedule a time for those in need to use the pantry resource. And he wants to encourage anyone in the community to utilize the social services of the church.

“I know a lot of folks that are in need that, that don’t want to come to the pantry because that’s not for them or feel like it says something about who they are and they don’t want to be that. And that just can’t be farther from the truth. And, you know, we all get into trouble sooner or later and need a helping hand,” Schneider-Thomas said. “I’m always excited when people who are recipients of something end up coming back to volunteer or, or, bring a bag of groceries back for the pantry or sign up to help with Family Promise. It’s just so cool to see them say ‘I had that help, so let me now give back.'”

There is a place for you at the Sparta Pantry — whether you’re a loud, hardworking freezer or someone who needs an extra meal for the day, the week or indefinitely — they will find a way to serve your needs, no matter the circumstance.

WOOD TV8 and our parent company Nexstar have partnered with Feeding America for a three-year, $2 million campaign to fight hunger across America. Find out more about that initiative here or donate directly to your community and join us in the fight against hunger.