JENISON, Mi. — An organization born out of our last recession in 2008 is bracing itself as more and more people reach out in need of help. Hand2Hand is one of many charities working together to help support those who are living through tough times. But as we've heard over and over, resources are being spread so thin. Yet founder and Executive Director Cheri Honderd says there is always hope, and a very generous community. She says, “In 2008, the recession hit and just heard about kids going hungry in Jenison of all places, a place we never thought food insecurity would be.”
Today it's clear there is no place in west Michigan where hunger doesn't live. But, since then, Honderd has made it her goal to reach the children in Jenison and beyond when they may not have access to food. She heard from teachers who said their students were acting out on Monday morning, unable to listen and learn. That was because they didn’t have access to food on the weekends and they were returning to school hungry.
Hand 2 hand started with just 19 children in one school. She says "we are now in 256 schools, serving 8301 kids, it's grown tremendously and there's just a need in every single community, there is child hunger. Breakfast, lunch or dinner and snack items for each child we will help anyone in need and that is just the way we've gone from day one, early childhood through high school.” But that need is consistently growing. Honderd says they went from serving 6600 students at the beginning of the school year. Nine months later, at the end of the year, they were serving 8100 students.
While more kids need help, Honderd says it's getting harder and harder to stuff those backpacks. "We are seeing less food resources, higher cost of the food that is available, even at some of our local agencies where we can purchase food at a reasonable cost, we're seeing less USDA food which is very inexpensive.” Hand2Hand partners with churches to reach students where they are, but again, this cycle of need is great. They partner with churches, many of them have been seriously impacted by the COVID pandemic. Honderd says, “We don't want to ask them to do more than what they're capable of but that is a goal of ours, we do have some churches that are serving through the summer so we will be getting them food.”
Honderd and her team press on, with the help of donations, churches and volunteers, hoping and praying for the best. "With more need there will be less ability for people to donate people that really want to donate and help families, especially children who are hungry who have that pain of hunger and they can't learn or listen or grow to their potential. And so we are deeply concerned. We are faith-based so I find myself praying a lot about what the future holds.” Honderd says she remains hopeful, because west Michigan is such a generous place, and she says every little bit counts. So, if you have the means to give, now is the time to do so.