GREENVILLE — Years ago, the back-stock facilities at the former Meijer grocery store on North Lafayette Street housed thousands of commercial items and various goods that consumers could purchase on a day-to-day basis.
Today, those back rooms sit mostly vacant and unused, with the exception of events such as the food drop-off day for the Montcalm Challenge Food Drive.
On Tuesday, those dark, dank storage rooms came to life, once again filled with thousands of food items, but this time those items were not to be sold, but rather to feed hundreds of needy families throughout Montcalm County.
Volunteers worked to distribute more than 28,000 items to 18 food pantries throughout Montcalm County with a goal to provide each pantry will enough food to last throughout the upcoming year.
“This is a godsend,” said Mike Wills of Hope Rescue Mission, as he worked with other volunteers to organize food and other items. “Our pantry was empty, we’ve been going through a lot of food every week.”
Operating since 1991, the annual autumn event is held to collect primarily nonperishable food items for the food pantries of Montcalm County. The challenge operates as a friendly competition between Montcalm County area businesses to raise the most food items and/or money per employee.
Before receiving food from a pantry, a family must first be denied food stamps by the Department of Social Services. Upon further screening by EightCAP Inc., a family approved for food distribution may receive food a maximum of one time per month.
Montcalm Challenge Food Drive Chairman Steve Foster said the demand for food and other goods in Montcalm County from families has risen in recent years, with no exception this year.
“Every year I say that food is more important than ever, and golly, this year it’s truer than ever,” Foster said. “We certainly hope the 28,000 items that are here and still in the process of being sorted for our 18 food pantries in Montcalm County are at least going to hold (the pantries) over for a little while.”
Ron Porter of Barry’s House Food Pantry said without the annual challenge, the pantry would likely face lengthy periods without any food.
“It’s tremendous, we need all of this food,” Porter said. “The need is greater this year than it has been in the past several years.”
Numerous volunteers and members of the food pantries worked for several hours to organize this year’s haul, including 40 students from the Montcalm Area Career Center, who participated while earning credit for a service learning project.
“It feels awesome to be able to help,” said Central Montcalm High School sophomore Paiton Bartz, 15. “It was really, really busy and a lot of work went into it.”
Once the items had been sorted, Foster announced the winners of this year’s challenge.
Taking first place in the small company division (under 70 employees) was Commercial Bank. In the large company division, McDonald’s restaurant placed first.
“This is amazing,” Commercial Bank Assistant Vice President Vicki Nelson said. “I work with one of the food pantries and I see first-hand what the need is. These businesses collecting all this food, it’s an incredible effort.”
Each food pantry was also the recipient of a $500 gift card from Meijer to be used to purchase additional items.
Foster said Michigan Sportsmen against Hunger has also helped to raise 1,400 pounds of venison so far this year to be distributed to the food pantries. He said he believes last year’s total of 2,300 pounds will be be matched, if not exceeded, this year.
Though the challenge was once again considered a success, Foster said the number of items continues to shrink each year as businesses find it increasingly difficult to donate toward the food drive.
Foster said this has created an ongoing problem that “needs to be addressed soon” as the needs from families in Montcalm County increases.
“Things are not all rosy and peachy,” he said. “We are facing some challenges that are affecting our drive and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with these changes as we go forward.”
According to Foster, issues for local businesses have been created due to “current day business policies, tax implications and tax regulations” regarding fundraising, raffles, lotteries, etc.
“We’ve seen some of our largest participant players being reduced to almost nothing,” he said. “That’s making a major impact on our drive as we go forward.”
Foster said over the past few years three of the largest local employers who participated have withdrawn from the challenge.
“We need to start a planning process to figure out how we are going to preserve this drive and keep it going in the future at levels that are of really big help for people in need,” he said. “We have to figure out how to adapt.”
A meeting has been scheduled for Jan. 24 at Greenville Chamber of Commerce Office.
Including this year’s totals, over the past 23 years, more than 764,737 food items have been donated through the Montcalm Challenge Food Drive. An additional $318,508 in funds have been collected as well.
A look at local food pantries
Angel Food Ministries (Blanchard)
Location: 200 S. 4th St. in Blanchard
Contact: (989) 561-5021
Info: Orders taken and delivered monthly. Call for more information.
Angel Food Ministries (Greenville)
Location: Greenville Church of Nazerene, 10087 S. Greenville Road in Greenville
Contact: Tim Deshaw, host site director, (616) 754-7605.
Info: Order at www.angelfoodministries.com
Location: Settlement Lutheran Church, 1031 S. Johnson Road, Gowen
Contact: (616) 984-5442.
Info: Food pantry and clothing center operated by Settlement Lutheran and St. Thomas Lutheran of Trufant. Open on Thursday.
Belding Ecumenical Food Pantry
Location: 301 W. Washinton in Belding
Contact: Rev. Byron K. Davey at (616) 794-2610
Info: Open hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Belvidere Community Church Pantry
Location: 6490 N. Miles Road in Six Lakes
Contact: Shirley Pool (989) 365-3264
Info: Hours are by appointment
Carson City Food Pantry
Location: St. Mary’s Parish, 404 N. Division St. in Carson City
Contact: Grazina and Al Giroux and Nancy Woodcock at (989) 584-6044 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Info: Hours are from 10 a.m. to noon every Tuesday.Those receiving food must be residents of the Carson City-Crystal Area Schools district and may come once a month for food.
Dolores Halvorsen Memorial Food Pantry
Location: 209 W. Washington in Sheridan
Contact: VFW Post 5065 Ladies Auxiliary (989) 291-9680
Info: Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to noon, second Thursday of each month.
Frost Seventh-day Adventist Church Food Pantry
Location: 977 Neff Road in Stanton
Contact: (989) 831-4518
Info: Hours are 10 a.m. to noon on the second Monday of each month.
Greenville Area Ecumenical Food Mission
Location: St. Paul Lutheran Church, M-91 south of Greenville
Contact: Candace Larkin at (616) 754-8532 or go online to www.greenvillefumc.org
Info: Hours are 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesday and Thursday; 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Food is available on an emergency basis. Must be resident of the Greenville school district and provide two forms of identification.
Greenville Church of Nazarene Food Pantry
Location: 10087 S. Greenville Road in Greenville
Contact: Dorothy Wells at (616) 754-7605
Greenville Community Church Helping Hands Food Ministry
Location: 6596 Vining Road in Greenville.
Contact: Shirley Bullis or Mark Henry at (616) 225-2105 or www.gcclink.com
Info: Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Pick up pre-packaged food box once a month. Valid ID required.
Greenville Food Kitchen
Location: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 305 S. Clay St. in Greenville
Contact: Hilda Sovari at (616) 754-3163
Info: Tuesdays only. Lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and supper from 5 to 6 p.m. Enter through east door.
Hands of Jesus Food Pantry
Location: 1220 N. Lafayette St. in Greenville
(Mailing address is P.O. Box 244, Gowen, MI. 49326)
Contact: Karen Morales at (616) 225-9999 or email email@example.com
Info: Open every Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed from noon to 1 p.m.) Must bring own boxes and baskets. Name, address, phone number and driver’s license required.
Helping Hands Inc. Food Pantry
Location: 210 Edgerton in Howard City
Contact: Fred Plath at (231) 937-6758 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope’s Pantry at Hope Lutheran Church
Location: 4741 W. Stanton Road in Stanton
Contact: Gayle Stull at (989) 831-5594 or (989) 831-4462.
Info: There are no set hours. Call to set up appointment.
Association Food Pantry
Location: P.O. Box 350, Lakeview, MI 48850
Contact: Ted Johnson at (989) 352-6836 or email email@example.com.
Info: Set appointment Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Must show identification for proof of person and residence. Serving only those within the Lakeview Community Schools district boundaries.
Montabella Ministerial Association Food Pantry
Location: 504 E. Main St. in Edmore, behind Potter’s House Ministries
Contact: Edmore Faith United Methodist Church (989) 427-5575 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Info: Hours are Wednesdays by appointment
Sheridan Assembly of God Food Pantry
Location: 4010 S. Sheridan Road in Sheridan
Contact: Bill Wright at (989) 831-7721 or (989) 291-3996.
Info: By appointment only
Shiloh Community Church
Location: 8197 Heth St. in Orleans
Contact: Sue Brownell at (616) 761-3584
Info: Distribution on Mondays