Survey shows the local needs Christian Neighbors tries to meet
In 2017, Christian Neighbors in Plainwell supplied 2,681 visits to its food pantry—211 of those were for first-time visitors, marking a 4.5-percent increase from 2016.
Those and other metrics the charity measures tells them the need to fight hunger in the area is real, one of many reasons those with Christian Neighbors have tried their best to help.
The charity was started in an Otsego basement in 1983 by a local group of pastors and church members. Eventually they grew to what they are today, having moved to the 12th Street location in Otsego Township in 2008.
While the location has changed, the goal has not. Christian Neighbors aims to provide help, both with finances and food support, to the Plainwell, Martin and Otsego communities.
For the month of May, which is national hunger awareness month, Christian Neighbors did an anonymous survey of those who received its help during that month.
Of the 177 responses:
• 48 percent said that they have experienced hunger due to a lack of enough money for food.
• 71 percent have cut meals or the size of meals due to lack of food.
• 31 percent have gone an entire day without food due to a lack of money.
Christian Neighbors is working to help those who fall into these categories, but, according to Kim Shafer, the nonprofit’s community outreach director, it is also important to get the word out about those numbers.
“We believe that it is one of our jobs to educate the community on hunger and homelessness,” Shafer said. “This is coming from the people that are living in our community.”
One of the statistics on which Christian Neighbors focused was that 72 percent of those polled who have school-aged children do not have enough food resources in summer. Shafer said many families who come in rely on free or reduced lunches at school, something not always available in the summer. That means those meals now need to be added into already tight budgets.
After becoming more aware of the problem the charity started something it calls its “Booster Bag” program for the months of July and August. If a family has a school-aged child, 5 to 17 years old, they will receive two extra bags per child on top of what they already receive.
“It is mainly easy-to-prepare lunch and breakfast items for the kids,” Shafer said. “So, the kids can easily get it for themselves and prepare it for themselves.”
Christian Neighbors hopes that by doing this they will see a decrease in kids who deal with hunger during the summer. In 2017 they gave out 503 boost bags to families.
Ways to help
Christian Neighbors is a nonprofit charity, so they rely heavily on financial and food donations. Any time they are open, people can walk in and donate food items to the pantry or monetary donations—31 percent of their donations come from private donors, while 26 percent are food donations, making local support the largest source of resources and income.
“We have a lot of people almost every day that will just drop off bags of food,” Shafer said.
Adding to that is the “People Advocating to End Hunger” walk, or PATH walk.
One of the charity’s largest events, it will be Oct. 7 in downtown Plainwell this year but rotates communities every year to allow them all to take part in the event.
Participants gather sponsors for them to walk either the 1- or the 3-mile loops.
“We try to walk down some of the main roads, because it is also a way to raise awareness about hunger,” Shafer said.
Christian Neighbors also takes part in several smaller events throughout the year which include Stuff the Bus events, school fundraisers, sports team fundraisers and the annual business food drive in September. Others have asked for friends and families to donate in honor of them for birthdays and anniversaries.
Christian Neighbors also relies heavily on volunteers to keep the charity running.
How to get help
For those who need help or assistance Shafer urges them to stop by the office with the necessary documentation which is listed on their website. From there they will be directed to the appropriate case member who will take the time to meet with them and discuss needs.
“We try to make it as simple as possible, so people can get to us and get the help they need,” Shafer said.
Many who received help from Christian Neighbors were asked to anonymously explain what that support means to them.
“Christian Neighbors is my salvation right now,” one said. “I’m a single mother starting over on my own for the first time in 22 years and their support is necessary for myself and my children at this time.”
Here are others:
• “I am here for food for my family. My husband and I both work, but don’t make enough to provide. This help means that my kids get fed.”
• “I am a single parent and every week it is a struggle to make ends meet. Christian Neighbors has been a lifesaver for our family. I never want my kids to have to skip meals and we have before, but now we are so much better due to Christian Neighbors.”
For more information on Christian Neighbors and their upcoming events visit christianneighbors.org or call (269) 685-4166.