HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Churches in West Michigan are working to feed more students who are forced to go without on weekends. 

It’s through a program called Hand2Hand, established by Fair Haven Church in Hudsonville in 2008. Today, it serves 167 schools across West Michigan. Now, for the first time, the program will be expanding to schools in Muskegon County, where more than 18% of residents live below the poverty line.

“The need is greater than what people would think,” Hand2Hand Executive Director Cheri Honderd said. “We just want to come alongside these families and give them a hand up.”

The program partners with local churches to fill backpacks with food. They place those bags in students’ lockers to take home over the weekend.

On Tuesday morning, organizers met with dozens of faith leaders who will fill 8,000 bags weekly this school year.

“We already serve 100 families from our food pantry,” said Micah Pycraft with Blue Lake Community Church, one of the ministries serving schools in Holton this year.

“A lot of times we do things and we don’t really see how it impacts people but this is one of those cool ways that we can see when we’re making a difference,” he added.

In addition to Holton, the program will serve three other districts in Muskegon County including Muskegon Heights, where 93% of students qualified for free and reduced lunch last year.

“When I think about our teenage kids that are going home to no food, (I wonder) how do they dream of their future?” Honderd said. “They’re not thinking about college. They’re not thinking about trade school. They’re thinking about, ‘What am I going to eat this weekend?’ My heart breaks for those kids.”

The program will start in Muskegon County schools this fall. Hand2Hand says it hopes to expand to 33 more schools by the end of the year.