A Look into Youth Volunteering
From April 23-25th, 2021 Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) happens, the largest youth service and civic action event in the world and the only one that celebrates the contributions that all youth ages 5-25 make through service.
Jeffrey Puehler, The Community Impact Associate of United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties is acting to advance the common good with the help of our Junior Ambassador, Kate McMaster. In Montcalm and Ionia Counties there are numerous essential businesses. These businesses would not be able to operate without the tireless work of their staff.
Since Covid-19 has put a damper on many opportunities, they turned to a virtual event to get the community youth involved for GYSD. UWMI is facilitating the event where youth make homemade cards or uplifting notes for the essential workers in our communities.
Serving at a young age promotes healthy lifestyles and choices, teaches life skills, improves the community, and encourages a lifelong ethic of giving. Are you ready to join youth like these in making a difference? Read about our Junior Ambassador down below!
Youth Service America offers excellent resources and your local United Way can point youth and adults alike to the people and places in your community that need your support. Check out our Volunteer Center to find opportunities near you!
Start today, give for tomorrow
Tomorrow is full of questions. But the answers are up to us.
Our new normal is a world of uncertainty and change. That will take some getting used to. But we need to do more than adapt to a post-pandemic world. We need to build a better one. Thousands of people in our community devastated by the events of 2020 need your support to rebuild their lives.
At the beginning of the year, none of us were prepared for what we would confront. And no one knew how many in our community would need our help. Faced with a once-in-a-generation challenge, Montcalm and Ionia Counties stepped up. United Way staff, donors, volunteers and our entire community came together in an unprecedented way. We helped our neighbors who were most impacted by the global pandemic and economic downturn get the relief and support they needed.
- Raised $180,00 for the COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund
- Distributed 2400 rolls of toilet tissue to our seniors
- Distributed over 1 million dollars in food to our community
- Funded 56 mobile food pantries
- Provided food to 6,761 of households
- Responded to 2,095 211 calls and texts
- Provided $132,000 worth of mini grants to emergency shelters and food pantries
- Provided $115,000 worth of personal protective equipment to area schools
- Ran the 21 Day Equity Challenge to learn about hidden bias
But there is so much more to do. Over 4,000 individuals in our community still struggle with unemployment, food insecurity, housing and health challenges. Many don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or how they will pay the rent or the bills. Even more are teetering on the edge without back-up savings. Kids are struggling with an unconventional school year. Adults are facing mental health challenges like anxiety and depression.
Many of the Americans who were already struggling before the pandemic—like low-wage workers, people of color, LGBTQA+ individuals, and those with disabilities—were hit harder than the rest.
- 51 million Americans are unemployed
- More than 1 in 10 don’t know where their next meal is coming from
- At least 30 million people are at risk of eviction
- Almost three in 10 adults have no emergency savings
- Two out of three children don’t read proficiency for their grade level
- 15% of students don’t graduate high school
- 18% of kids struggle with childhood obesity
- Nearly 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness
These are our neighbors. And they cannot wait any longer for relief, for support, for equality, for the opportunity to live a healthy, thriving life.
This year has taught that we don’t live in the equal society we’ve always cherished. But we can make it so.
At United Way Montcalm Ionia Counties, we are working toward a new tomorrow for our community, one that offers:
- Strong starts for children
- Safe homes and warm meals
- Greater equity
- New career paths
- Fresh starts
- Opportunities for physical activity
- Access to health care
- Thriving families
We must build a better future for our community, one where every person has an equal opportunity to thrive.
Let’s not put off until tomorrow the work that we can start today. Respond to this need with hope, with possibility, with action.
Together, we can build a tomorrow that is better than yesterday. For every single one of us.
All we need to do is Start Today United.
100 Years After Women’s Suffrage, the Fight to Give Everyone a Voice Continues
8 Ways to Fight for Gender Equity in Montcalm and Ionia Counties
This year we are celebrating 100 years of the 19th Amendment, which gave all citizens the right to vote regardless of gender. But even with that accomplishment, it’s critical to recognize not all women have the same opportunities.
While the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Black women and other women of color continued to face barriers to voting. Today, Black people, Indigenous people and people of color still encounter hurdles to casting a ballot and being heard in our community.
If you are looking for a way to support gender equity and empower women of all races, identities and abilities take inspiration from the actions of United Way.
Vote for issues impacting women. From your local school board to the U.S. Senate, it’s important to vote in every election. Go out and vote, bring your daughters to see you vote. Encourage other women to vote. Find ways to help people in traditionally marginalized communities vote. YOU can determine our future by understanding the issues that impact women in your community and voting for the issues that help women improve their health, education and financial stability. Register to vote at unitedway.org/voteunited
Write a lawmaker. The International Monetary Fund has said that the global pandemic could hit women the hardest. As more women face economic hardships, they and their families face greater rates of food insecurity. Recent legislative bills, like the CARES Act, do a great deal to support people who are food insecure. But there are many year-round anti-hunger programs that could use more support. You can help keep these important programs in place and encourage lawmakers to pass policies that prioritize access to healthy foods for families by writing letters or calling our local lawmakers. Here are a few suggestions on what to advocate for:
- Protect access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest anti-hunger program. SNAP provides access to food for those who cannot afford it. It's an important temporary lifeline for millions of Americans.
- Support the Child Nutrition program reauthorization. Call on Congress to protect and strengthen access to these programs to ensure all kids can be healthy and thrive.
- Ask to increase funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program that stabilizes families when their incomes and assets are limited and ensures babies, mothers, children and families have access to nutritious food in tough times.
Support women experiencing domestic violence. Watch for the signs in women you meet. Have open conversations about the issue among family and friends. Distribute information about domestic violence shelters and hotlines in public places. However, never confront an abuser in public, as it can be dangerous for you and the woman. Instead connect with Relief After Violent Encounter or call United Way’s 211.
Volunteer your financial knowledge. Women experiencing poverty are less likely to have bank accounts or access to loans, and many live paycheck to paycheck. For Black women the pay gap between their earnings and those of white men and women is substantial. Black women earn $0.61 for every $1 earned by white men and $0.83 for every $1 white women earn. Local services can provide financial coaching and classes online, as well as free tax preparation. If you’ve learned the financial basics, share your expertise with others through local programs or your own social channels. For help in finding these programs call United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties at 616.794.9840 or call United Way’s 211.
Advocate for affordable child care. For working women, child care is a huge expense, costing even more than a college education. That burden is compounded for single mothers and low-income families. Many states are considering legislation to help ease this burden and make child care more affordable. Call your legislators and attend meetings on the issue.
Mentor a younger female colleague. Relationships between women in the workplace can be a confidence booster and a source of cross-generational support. But many women, especially women who are part of communities that are marginalized lack sponsors at work. According to McKinsey & Company, “Black women and women with disabilities face more barriers to advancement, get less support from managers, and receive less sponsorship than other groups of women.” Do you know a younger woman who would benefit from your professional experience? Don’t be afraid to reach out for a coffee meeting to get the conversation started.
Mentor a teenage girl. You may remember the many challenges that young women face during adolescence. Another adult to provide advice and a sympathetic ear can be a huge benefit, especially to young women experiencing poverty or who have experienced trauma.
Donate to United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties. We fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in the community. We help thousands of women and girls learn to read, graduate from high school, get job training and financial coaching, find apartments and jobs, and live healthy lives. Donate here.
Today, and every day, you have an opportunity to stand up for women in our community. How will you LIVE UNITED?
August 17, 2020
New Data Points Reveal Disproportionate Financial Hardship in Black Households Across Michigan
Nearly two-thirds of Black households statewide are unable to afford basic needs, United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties reinforces commitment to racial equity
LANSING, MICH. – The Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW) today released new ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) data, which shows 63% of Black households statewide are unable to make ends meet. United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties is taking action by reinforcing its commitment to race and equity in both policy and action.
“Poverty and racism have been inextricably connected since this country’s inception, yet official federal statistics have never fully portrayed the economic impact of that link. The ALICE and Black Households Data clearly illustrates the inequities that are deeply rooted in our national, state, and local systems and institutions,” Terri Legg. “Through the release of this data, United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties hopes to support the many efforts underway to dismantle racism, raise awareness, shift attitudes, and change outcomes. As an organization, we are committed to understanding and undoing racism in the communities we serve.”
The ALICE data indicates that 40 percent of all Michigan households did not earn enough to cover basic expenses in 2018, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a basic smartphone plan. The 63 percent of Black households falling below the ALICE Threshold was almost double that of white households—just 36 percent. The percentage of Black households unable to make ends meet is also almost three times higher than the antiquated Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
During the recovery from the Great Recession, outcomes didn’t improve for Black households. Instead, the number of Black households under the ALICE Threshold in Michigan increased by 11% from 2010 to 2018. The number of white households struggling to make ends meet increased by only 1% statewide during that time frame.
The data comes as United Ways across Michigan reinforce their commitment to race and equity, both in policy and in action. United Way Worldwide recently implemented the following benchmarks as membership requirements: develop, maintain and publicly post an organizational statement opposing all forms of racism; at least annually provide racial equity training for all board members and staff; and develop and use a racial equity funding criteria for all community investments.
United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties will launch a 21-Day Equity Challenge (https://www.liveunitedm-i.org/equitychallenge) on September 8, in tandem with other United Ways across Michigan. The challenge is a self-guided learning journey designed to deepen participants’ understanding of, and willingness to confront, racism. Participants will engage in a series of readings, videos, podcasts, and daily reflections as part of the program. The challenge facilitates a way for participants to identify and commit to their actions to advance racial equity.
United For ALICE was founded on the need to more accurately measure and track financial hardship nationwide. For more than a decade, its research has been shedding light on the disparity of economic opportunity that exists in every state. The Michigan Association of United Ways releases a study on the condition of Michigan’s working families, which it has dubbed ALICE households, every two years. The “ALICE and Black Households Data” is an analysis of new data points from 2018.
To learn more, check out: Financial Hardship in Black Households: The ALICE Data or Financial Hardship in Black Households in Michigan
August 3, 2020
Know your rights
- Registration: Michiganders can register to vote up to and on Election Day until 8 p.m. They can do so online or by mail until two weeks before the election. Within two weeks of Election Day, they must register in person at their city or township clerk’s office.
- Vote from Home: Voting by from home is a right all Michigan voters have as a result of the constitutional amendment passed by voters in November 2018 that no longer requires a reason to cast an “absent voter” ballot. Voting from home is a safe way to vote and protect your health, and the process is secure.
Make a plan to vote
- Check your voter registration. Visit Michigan.gov/Vote to verify your voter information or register to vote.
- Vote from home. Also known as voting by mail or “no-reason absentee voting,” Michiganders can vote early and from the comfort of their own home by requesting and returning an absentee ballot.
- Apply to vote from home.
- Voters with a Michigan driver’s license or ID may apply online for an absent voter ballot at Michigan.gov/Vote. They may also obtain an application online or from their clerk.
- Accessible absent voter ballot applications are available at Michigan.gov/Vote. Voters with qualifying disabilities may apply for an accessible electronic ballot that can be marked remotely, printed and returned to the clerk.
- If your application is received by 5 p.m. the Friday before the election, your clerk will mail you a ballot. Within two weeks of Election Day, due to possible U.S. Postal Service delays, voters are encouraged to apply in person at their local clerk’s office.
- Fill out your absent voter ballot at home
- Fill out your ballot with a blue or black pen, marking all your choices by completely darkening the box next to them.
- Place your completed ballot into the secrecy sleeve, and then place the closed secrecy sleeve into the return envelope. SIGN THE BACK OF THE ENVELOPE. Your vote will not be counted unless your signature is on the back of the envelope.
- Return your ballot
- You have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to complete the ballot and return it to the clerk's office. Within two weeks of Election Day, due to possible U.S. Postal Service delays, instead of mailing their ballot, if possible, voters should deliver it to their clerk’s office or a ballot drop box.
- Vote in person
- Vote early, beginning 40 days prior to Election Day, by visiting your clerk’s office. There you can fill out an absent-voter ballot application, receive your ballot, fill it out and return it all in one visit. Social distancing and hygiene protocols will be in place to ensure the safety of election workers and voters.
- On Election Day, you can vote in-person at your polling place. Social distancing and hygiene protocols will be in place to ensure the safety of election workers and voters. Wearing a mask is strongly encouraged. Find your polling place at Michigan.gov/Vote.
Election information and security
Michigan uses paper ballots, which is the most secure way to conduct elections, as they can be audited and recounted. Learn more about the best practices Michigan has implemented to protect our elections at Michigan.gov/ElectionSecurity. Election misinformation, whether intentional or not, can confuse and even deter voters. The Michigan Bureau of Elections asks any residents who see evidence of this to report it by emailing Elections@Michigan.gov or by calling 517-285-9771.
Be prepared for the Aug. 4 primary election! You can check your registration status, view a sample ballot, track your absent voter ballot, find your clerk or polling place and get other personalized voter information at Michigan.gov/Vote.
June 8, 2020
Equity and Inclusion
By Terri Legg
The past few weeks have been incredibly challenging. First, we are responding to a pandemic that requires us to rethink what the new “normal” is and what that will look like in the future. And now, there is a blinding spotlight shining on the tremendously difficult issues of race and equity across our country. I have struggled to formulate my own thoughts and feelings both with COVID-19 and more recently with the senseless death of George Floyd. The recent events involving violence and threats against black people expose our society’s institutional racism. In the midst of all of this, we must come together to reject racism and violence, bigotry and hate. We at United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties will stand with partner organizations and individuals that espouse the same core beliefs, and that bring the voices and perspectives of those that are underrepresented and marginalized into the work that we do.
During this tenuous time, we recognize that organizations and individuals are being called upon to respond in many ways. It is the same for us at United Way. But now, more than ever, we must bring an intersectional lens on matters of race, equity, and inclusion, as they are more relevant than ever to our mission and to the fundamental essence of the work that we do.
Sitting on the sidelines is not an option.
It will take every one of us, UNITED, to make sure that each of our neighbors experience the same opportunities, education, safety and security so that they can thrive. We need to step up, get involved, use our passion, and our resources to truly face and fight the injustices happening every day, all around us. We need to recognize that long before COVID-19, many members of black and brown communities have never felt safe to move freely within our community. This fear is rooted in the country’s history of institutional and systemic racism, prolonged by policies, practices and cultural norms.
Together we can:
- continue to learn about our own biases and privilege.
- seek to understand some of the historical and current conditions that our neighbors, friends, and coworkers encounter every day.
- rely on one another right here, right now, to build up, our fortitude, our compassion and our commitment.
- remain unified in our efforts to bring light to the issue by advocating for racism as a local and national public health crisis.
Finally, and most importantly, United Way is committed to serving the people in our community and working in partnership with others to build a future where the color of our skin does not determine life outcomes. We do not have all the answers today, but the time is overdue for all of us to become actively anti-racist. We must LIVE UNITED.
United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties fights for the Health, Education, and Financial stability of every member of our community. A good understanding of financial literacy helps individuals control their financial resources in order to make informed and effective decisions to provide for themselves and their families. When teens understand financial literacy, they can manage their money more successfully and be better prepared to budget for real life situations.
According to United Way’s ALICE Report which looks at the population called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) in Michigan, low-wage jobs continue to dominate the Michigan economy, making it more challenging for workers to find jobs with wages that can support a basic household budge. The job market has shown improvement since 2010, but 61 percent of jobs in Michigan pay less than $20 per hour. Teaching teens in Montcalm and Ionia counties financial literacy before they graduate is vital to their success.
In an effort to build financial literacy and to help teens pave the way for financial success in the future, United Way partnered with several local financial institutions. PFCU, the title sponsor, along with platinum sponsors - Mercantile Bank of Michigan, Isabella Bank, and Independent Bank to encourage teens to submit short videos on an array of financial topics from credit scores, to saving for a car, how to fund college and more. Teens from Tri-County, Montabella, Lakeview, Vestaburg, Carson City-Crystal, Greenville, Central Montcalm, Belding, Ionia, Portland, Lakewood, Saranac, and Pewamo-Westphalia school districts were invited to participate and were encouraged to create a 90 second video on a financial topic of their choice. Suggested topics ranged from explaining a credit score, saving to buy a car, to how to fund college. The goal is that the teens would create a short video that would show his/her creativity and teach others about the financial literacy topic of their choice.
Mercantile Bank of Michigan’s Vice President, Dan Mitchell had this to say about the program, “This program was a great way to learn of the talent and creativity of middle and high school students to promote financial literacy in our communities. The two finalists’ presentations were both accurate and informative, as well as, extremely creative and entertaining. Given the unfortunate timing of the contest and restrictions, we are excited to see how the program will grow in participants and topics in the years to come. Congratulations to the 2020 Winners!”
United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties is excited to announce the winners of United Way’s first Teen Financial Literacy Video Contest. Ian Mark, a 6th grader homeschooled in Lakeview, was awarded 1st place and a $500 prize for his video on How to Afford College. Alex Jacoby, a 7th grader of Central Montcalm Middle School was awarded 2nd place and a $300 prize for his video titled How to Calculate a Credit Score.
Dave Seppela, West Regional President for Isabella Bank stated, “The creativity and information that this contest drew out from our community’s younger generation was amazing. It gives me hope that they will in the future make good financial decisions based on what they learned through this contest.”
“Independent Bank is always looking for ways to promote Financial Literacy, and despite the setbacks of the Coronavirus, these participants and videos did not disappoint! Thank you for helping us to get the word out!” said Lisa Brown, AVP, Community Leader at Independent Bank.
As we help children and families move toward self-sufficiency, we know a key step is preparing children, youth and adults to succeed in school and life.
Congratulations Ian and Alex on a job well done!
Visit our programs page to see their videos.
May 31, 2020
Emergency Food and Shelter Program
In recent weeks Montcalm and Ionia County Emergency Food and Shelter Board Members, including United Way staff, have been working hard to distribute Phase 37 and Phase CARES money. Montcalm County received $22,841 through Phase 37 and $32,565 through Phase CARES. Ionia County received $13,241 through Phase 37. The local board works throughout the year to manage federal EFSP funds.
May 1, 2020
By Terri Legg
The coronavirus has severely interrupted our lives in a way that will have long-term effects on our community. Teachers and students have been forced out of their classrooms, unemployment is soaring to record levels and our community’s health is at risk.
When I think about the potential of businesses going back to work over the coming weeks, I can’t help but think that I do not want things to go back to normal. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to spend time with family and friends and go to my favorite ice cream shop.
But what is “normal” anyway? Before the coronavirus and before we began sheltering-in-place, normal meant that nearly 50% of Montcalm and Ionia Counties were ALICE households (Asset – Limited, Income- Constrained, Employed) that already struggled to make ends meet. Normal meant that we had a lack of affordable housing. Normal meant that quality daycare is often not available to many of our families. Normal meant that we have an invisible homeless population that is going to bed in a tent or in their car.
I hear people saying things like, “When it goes back to normal…” I challenge everyone to think about what the new normal could look like and what we can do to help create a better normal where 50% of our local community is not struggling to make ends meet.
As we begin to think about what the future holds, and we begin to learn, work, and connect with friends and family, we need to learn to invest in and support each other differently than we did before.
If you are a medical professional, a first responder, or a corrections officer, we thank you. If you are a grocery clerk or a postal worker, we thank you. If you are like me and have been promoted to the title of a fourth grade teacher in addition to all of the other titles that you might have, we thank you. If you have stayed home and wear a mask in public, we thank you. If you have volunteered, helped a loved one or neighbor, we thank you. And for all those that have made donations to our United Way Covid-19 Crisis Fund, we thank you.
We are joining nonprofits across the county in a global day of giving and unity on #GivingTuesday on May 5th, 2020. We hope that you will envision a new normal with us by donating to the United Way COVID-19 Crisis Fund.
Together, UNITED, we will get through this. Sending you and yours many blessings.
United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties.
May 1, 2020
8 Ways to Thank Frontline Workers
How will you participate in #GivingTuesdayNow?
Nurses. Doctors. Grocery store employees. Delivery drivers. Warehouse workers. First responders. Truck drivers. Cleaners. There are so many people who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak. They continue to help keep our community safe and the world running. To honor and celebrate their ongoing sacrifice, let’s say thank you!
May 5th: Say Thank You
Join United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties on May 5th as we rally the entire community to say thank you to the essential workers who have tirelessly and bravely continued to do their jobs. Our effort will be one part of a bigger day of giving and unity called #GivingTuesdayNow.
Every year people come together on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving for #GivingTuesday, a global generosity movement. As an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19, we are joining nonprofits and individual people around the world in a special #GivingTuesdayNow event. On May 5th people around the world will take action to collectively drive an influx of generosity, citizen engagement, business and philanthropy activation, and support for communities and nonprofits around the world.
We want to show the world that United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties is United for frontline workers!
8 Ways to Say Thank You
There are many ways to say thank you. Below are some ideas our staff put together. Choose one – or more – so frontline workers can know how much our community appreciates them! If you have other ideas let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to the list.
1. Donate a meal
Everyone loves a free meal. If you are thinking about donating a meal, be sure to coordinate with the location so your delivery can be done efficiently and safely. If you can’t make the delivery yourself, you can buy a meal instead. Many national and local businesses are delivering meals to support frontline workers.
Remember meal donations can be a great way to thank hospital workers as well as the staff at your doctor’s office, EMTs, police officers, firefighters and grocery clerks.
2. Make a sign for your window or front yard
Make someone’s commute to work brighter by posting a sign in your window or front yard telling frontline workers how much they mean to our community. This is a great project for kids!
3. Be kind
Essential workers who are keeping grocery, convenience and pharmacy stores open see large groups of people every day. When you must shop at one of these stores, be respectful of the people working there. Tell them thank you, wear a protective mask, keep your distance from employees and be kind to team members and other customers. These small acts can help workers feel appreciated and safer at their jobs.
4. Share a message on social media
As we all keep our physical distance, connecting online has become even more important. Using social media is a great way to thank frontline workers. You can tag people you know or send a general message using the hashtags #FrontlineLove, #FrontlineHeroes, #COVIDHeroes or #InThisTogether. On May 5th, you can also reshare posts from our Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn channels.
5. Leave items for delivery workers
Delivery workers are putting in long hours and many find it hard to get to the store. Help them by leaving items such as water bottles, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, snacks and other essentials that will get them through their day or save them a trip to the store. Remember to sanitize the items as best as you can and leave instructions so the delivery people do the same.
6. Email Congress
Show frontline workers you appreciate their work by helping them get the support they need. During this time of uncertainty and economic crisis, many people, including those still working, need a boost to make ends meet. Vital services like 211, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and SNAP can provide relief for frontline workers – and others – in need. You can ask your representative to increase funding for these services. Use this form to email your member of Congress.
7. Join a daily salute
Across the world, many communities are now doing a daily salute to frontline workers by lighting candles, applauding, cheering, howling or sounding horns at a certain time of day. Check neighborhood Facebook groups, posts on Next Door and local newspapers to find one that is happening in your neighborhood.
8. Stay at home
The most important thing you can do to thank frontline workers is to stay home. When we all stay home, we limit the spread of COVID-19. So limit outings to essential trips to the grocery store, medical appointments, picking up prescriptions, walking pets and helping the vulnerable. When outside, use social distancing to stay at least six feet away from others.
Even though we are apart, we can still be United. Let’s show frontline workers that we are in this together!
April 24, 2020
Volunteer Stories Series
By Faith Brophy
“Love is toilet paper. Love is a gallon of milk. Love is a mask, handmade for volunteers by those receiving food.”
In January of this year, Sara McCallum stepped in to help coordinate volunteers and food distribution at Barrie’s House at Settlement Lutheran Church in Gowen. She began volunteering as a way to help occupy her time after becoming an empty-nester. She had no idea how her time would be occupied so quickly! Yet, in the few short months since she started, she has encountered many unspoken heroes and experienced some remarkable moments of hope and generosity, especially in recent weeks since the Covid-19 crisis hit hard.
Many people immediately responded with, “What can I do to help?” Everyday heroes have been coming forward in a variety of ways. The response of people wanting to help has been overwhelming, and the indomitable human spirit has been on display in more ways than just handing out food.
Those in the more susceptible demographics have been asked not to volunteer in the distribution of food, but one woman wanted to find a way to help anyway. A skilled seamstress, she made over 30 masks for Barrie’s House volunteers. Once word got out that she was making masks, she happily fulfilled requests for additional masks for volunteers’ family members and friends.
It’s not just volunteers who want to help. One family that has been receiving food from the pantry for a number of years asked how things were going. When they found out that masks were needed, they showed up a few days later with dozens of handmade masks for Barrie’s House to use or give out.
What Sara McCallum has learned is that it’s really important for people to be able to give, no matter who they are. Even those on the receiving end of the food distribution ask what they can do to help. One family was so thankful and wanted to give something back. All they had was a roll of pennies, but Sara says, their heartfelt gift demonstrates how important it is for everyone to be able to meet needs.
Local businesses and restaurants have collected and donated food items and other necessities. Volunteers have shown up to help distribute food. Even volunteers from other pantries came to observe how a food distribution operates but ended up helping hand out food. When there was a surplus of food the first week of the food truck, Barrie’s House offered the surplus to volunteers to help distribute the more perishable items to others. One volunteer brought a gallon of milk and some other food to a neighbor, a single mom of 5 children, who teared up with thankfulness and the admission that her family hadn’t had milk in days.
Sara says that while sending the surplus with volunteers is certainly an “unconventional way of distributing food, but when you have a surplus, you figure it out!”
In the first three weeks of the Feeding America Food Trucks, Barrie’s House distributed 5000 pounds of food, which translates to 5000 meals served. Before the Covid-19 crisis, Barrie’s House served about 20-30 households each week through their food pantry. That number has now doubled and includes many new families who haven’t needed it before.
While Barrie’s House is busier now than it’s ever been, Sara says this current crisis has revealed some of the best aspects of the human heart and spirit. The overwhelming response of the community through collaboration and rising up to meet needs in creative and amazing ways continues to be remarkable.
“Sometimes you go into something thinking you’re going to help people, and at the end of it, you realize they ended up helping you,” Sara reflects on her volunteer role. “There’s always something you can learn from everyone.”
Barrie’s House at Settlement Lutheran Church is a food pantry and clothing distribution center that has been serving the community since 1992. They are a Feeding America Food Truck distribution site on Thursdays at 11am during this Covid-19 crisis.
6 Ways to Work for Equity on MLK Day
January 18, MLK Day
In his 1963 book “Strength to Love,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “The ultimate measure of a man is … where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
We continue to see examples of the underlying inequity in American life, including unequal police response to protests based on color, increased police violence against African Americans and the overwhelming and disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on communities of color. In response, millions joined.in the fight for racial justice and equity in their local communities and across the nation.
Aligning with the fight for equity, United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties’ work focuses on health, education and financial stability for every person in our community, particularly those in traditionally underserved neighborhoods.
We, as a community, can and must do better to guarantee that the basic human rights and
freedoms of every person in Montcalm and Ionia Counties are protected. We must all do our part, working United, to make our community a place where everyone has the resources, opportunities, and support they need to thrive.
To that end, we are calling on you to join us in the fight for equity and justice in Montcalm and Ionia Counties. On January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, consider taking one or more of the following actions in order to honor Dr. King’s legacy and keep up his work in the 21st century.
- Volunteer with United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties. Join us on this National Day of Service in one of these COVID-safe volunteer opportunities :
- Decorate lunch bags for school age third meal programs. Bags can be dropped off at the United Way office at 302 South Bridge Street in Belding, Michigan.
- Pick up trash at a local park.
- Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk.
- Educate yourself about systemic racism and oppression. Spend a few hours on Martin Luther King Jr. Day reading, watching, or listening in order to learn more about our country’s history of racial injustice and how people are organizing for change.
- To Read:
- To Watch:
- To Listen
- Sign and share a petition. Good options include:
- Support local minority-owned businesses and restaurants.
- Call or write your local or state officials to express your support for policies that promote racial justice.
- Talk to a child in your life about race. Reading a book is an easy way to teach this complex concept to children. Good options include:
These ideas are just a few ways you can get started. The fight for racial justice and equity should continue beyond MLK Day. It will take everyone working together, year-round, United for equity, United for change.
As Dr. King once said, “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”