GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Every year during Thanksgiving and Christmas we air stories about companies giving back to those in need. From kids getting free toys to meals for the less fortunate, several local businesses and donors make it all possible.
This year with the pandemic, some of those same companies are the ones needing help themselves.
Jessica Ann Tyson is ready for the holidays. She and her staff at the Candied Yam in Grand Rapids are slicin’ and dicin’ for a big meal. Actually, a few hundred meals to help local families.
A majority of the workers here used to be incarcerated. The business is known for giving people a second chance and watching out for the less fortunate.
“And for me, it’s a personal thing. I grew up in the foster care system,” said Tyson. “So my identical twin sister and I just feel that it’s very important to do whatever we can whenever we can because we’ve been so fortunate enough to be blessed beyond our wildest dreams.”
The Candied Yam is known for its community involvement. From bringing Santa around for the holidays to donating to college scholarships, even giving out free meals to those in need.
The pandemic makes that giving a little harder, as the statewide closures cost them money.
“It’s a day by day journey,” said Tyson.
COVID has really had an impact on their restaurant especially after the governor shut down in-person dining. At one point in March, they only had 13 people the entire week.
“Some days you don’t know if there’s gonna be three customers or 30 customers and just do the best you can with all the rules and regulations and all the changes and do whatever you can to stay afloat,” said Tyson.
Right now, they’re focused on those without a home.
“We are at capacity right now, I think we have 85 families in shelter tonight,” said Kate O’Keefe with Family Promise in Grand Rapids.
It provides emergency shelter for families with kids facing homelessness. The need is even greater this year during the pandemic. Some who lived paycheck to paycheck are now without a place to live.
“We also have families who are experiencing unemployment or partial employment and really trying to piece it together,” said O’Keefe. “With the cost of living in Grand Rapids and the pandemic, the math just isn’t adding up.”
The agency needs to feed more than 400 people this Christmas and donors stepped up to the plate. They knew the coronavirus hit everyone hard including local businesses like the Candied Yam.
Jessica and her staff provided free meals during Thanksgiving. That’s why Family Promise used donations to pay for Christmas meals at $15 dollars apiece. That’s several thousand dollars to a local company needing more support.
“We turned around to the candied yam and said ‘we want to pay you for these meals, we had a couple donors from the community step up and we want to do right by you. So, we were able to get families another delicious meal for the holiday as well as supporting a local owned business and trying to give back to them as much as we can,” said O’Keefe.
The meals include freshly made mac and cheese, the kind of ham grandma used to make, corn and peppers, rolls, and some freshly baked cookies just for Santa.
“To have family promise call and make a promise to us it means that my people that work with me every day, they can actually have a Christmas, they can possibly provide more than just a meal for their family, maybe even a gift,” said Tyson.
We’re told the meals are fairly large and should provide plenty of leftovers.
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