BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Before the food distribution event began at Washington Heights United Methodist Church on Friday, a line of cars formed stretching from the church’s parking lot to nearby North Wood Street.
Drivers waited patiently for at least an hour for the event to begin.
Then, when Damon Brown arrived with a large white truck filled with food, and the Rise Up organization set up the tent, table and speakers, cars drove up, one by one, and received their bag of groceries.
“What we have going on right now is a healthy food, hygiene, and cleaning supplies distribution,” Brown said during an interview with FOX 17. “So today we’re giving out healthy food from Sprout Urban farming, one of our partners. So, freshly grown fruit and vegetables. We have chicken. Our chicken is non-GMO.”
Brown, who’s president of Rise Up — a grassroots organization dedicated to helping residents in the Washington Heights and Post/Franklin neighborhoods remain well-fed and housed during the pandemic — said it was important for them to give people natural foods.
“We understand as African Americans, especially with COVID-19, that one of the underlining issues of why COVID was affecting us the most was because of health,” Brown said. “So we want to make sure that we’re intentional about doing healthy food.”
They also help with rental and utility assistance, he said.
Rise Up began doing food giveaways in the spring and Friday marked their 20th week of doing the event on Fridays and Saturdays. They’ve since helped 1200 families a month, he said.
“It was really outstanding to me the passion that they have for the community,” said Rev. Monique French. “We’ve made a collaborative effort to try to be a hub of hope to this community.”
French is the pastor at Washington Heights United Methodist Church. Rise Up uses their parking lot to distribute food, which subsequently helps connect the church to the community.
“We want them to know that we are here for them, that we are actually trying to launch ourselves as the hub of hope,” Rev. French said. “A lot of resources are being made available through Washington United Methodist Church.”
Brown said the events are made possible through a W.K. Kellogg grant and the United Way.
Rise Up is focused on serving the Washington Heights and Post/Franklin neighborhoods because they’re the poorest and most under-served areas in the city, he said.
“We understand that these two neighborhoods are the most impoverished in Battle Creek,” Brown said. “According to the Alice Report, Washington Heights is 27 percent under the federal poverty level."
The ALICE Report/Project, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, was conducted by the United Way. According to its website, it’s the "most comprehensive depiction of need" in communities across Michigan.
Brown said he’s grateful for their help in trying to make the city’s most impoverished areas flourish once again, he said.
“I want to see the Washington Heights community get back to what it once was. It was a community of love,” Brown said. “We want to make sure that we are a hub of hope for that.”