Expansion will give Kids’ Food Basket greater reach in Ottawa, Allegan counties

Kids’ Food Basket will soon have the capacity to reach more children in Ottawa and Allegan counties through its signature Sack Supper Program. Bridget Clark Whitney, founding CEO, announced Jan. 22 that the organization acquired a new facility at 652 Hastings St. in Holland.

The new building will serve the two counties by providing space for food packaging and storage, as well as programming needs. Renovations are already underway, and organizers plan to transition into the building by early June. 

The building will have space for volunteer groups of up to 50 people with the capacity to work longer shifts, provide ample and safe parking, and feature large dry storage areas, two walk-in coolers, and a walk-in freezer. Afton DeVos, Kids’ Food Basket chief operating officer, says the cold storage components will allow for larger food procurements at bulk discounts, which is good stewardship of donated food dollars. DeVos says the expansion will double the organization’s impact on food insecurity in a matter of three years.

Lakewood Construction in Holland has been contracted for the building’s remodeling and renovations. 

Current facilities and operation

Today, Kids’ Food Basket delivers Sack Suppers to a total of 11,000 children in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Allegan Counties. Nutritional Sack Suppers are packed at three different sites by 291 volunteers daily. 

Feeding Our Future Campaign co-chairs are from left Anne Nemschoff and Pam VanderKamp. Photograph by Bev BerensPeace Lutheran Church of Holland hosts space for local packing operations where volunteers from businesses and organizations gather to prepare meals. According to the church’s pastor, Clay Bates, most of the approximately 1500-square-foot room is used for storage, leaving limited space for volunteers to work.

“It has been an honor to say we are providing space for the ministry of feeding children,” Clay says. “It is an important part of our outreach to serve the community.”

Kids’ Food Basket has given notice to the church’s administration of its intent to begin operations in the new facility by June 1. However, Clay says the church is willing to be flexible with the date if the need arises.  

While not finalized, Peace Lutheran announced to the congregation plans to use the space for their diaper distribution once Kids’ Food Basket has vacated.

West Michigan food insecurity

The number of food-insecure children in Ottawa and Allegan counties alone is 11,000 individuals according to Whitney. Kids’ Food Basket will gradually expand to serve the six schools currently on its waiting list. Schools with 70% or more of children who receive free or reduced-cost lunches are the nonprofit’s highest priority.

Floor plans for the Kids' Food Basket facility in Holland. “We know that when kids receive healthy, nourishing food consistently, a variety of things happen,” Whitney says. “Truancy decreases because kids know their food needs will be met at school. There is significantly less sickness in the classrooms, less behavior issues, and higher academic scores.”

“It is proven that good nutrition has the power to change lives. A strong West Michigan begins with strong children.”
Sack Suppers transform the very fabric of the classroom, Whitney adds.

She says that in some of the schools where the program has been offered, academic performance has increased. As an example, Whitney points to an elementary school in Muskegon county where test scores rose by 21% in the first year the Sack Supper Program began serving the school.

Feeding Our Future Campaign

Funding for the new facility is being driven by the Feeding Our Future Campaign, which kicked off in June 2019. Total projected costs are $2.5 million, of which $1 million has already been raised through community partners and individuals. The money will complete the purchase and renovations of the Hastings Street building, provide long-term program sustainability, and eventually procure land for a second Kids’ Food Basket farm. The non-profit already has a Kent County farm in Grand Rapids on Leonard Street NE next to where the organization’s new headquarters is going up.

The farms will be used to not only grow produce for the meals but to teach children about where their healthy food comes from. The farm experience along with nutrition education programming is central to the organization’s strategic vision.

ampaign co-chairs: Kids' Food Basket CEO Bridget Clark Whitney and Chief Operating Officer, Afton DeVos. Photograph by Bev Berens“Where need is most met is where we bring education and food together,” says Keith Rothstein, board member and general vice president of merchandise operations for Meijer, Inc.

Kids’ Food Basket has already proven to be a reliable community partner in Ottawa and Kent counties in its mission to ensure food security for the most vulnerable, says campaign Co-Chair, Pamela VanderKamp. “Kids’ Food Basket believes in equitable access to nourishing food for all children and this expansion will allow them to continue to grow their mission and help students and families of Ottawa and Allegan counties.”

Feeding Our Future has been busy talking to community organizations, faith communities, and individuals to obtain the necessary funding for the new building. Committee members are now reaching out to the greater community to help push the campaign over the top. A series of community events will occur during 2020 where citizens will have the opportunity to add to the effort.

Contributions can also be made at Kids’ Food Basket website. Visit kidsfoodbasket.org/events-calendar for the list of community-wide fundraising events.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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