By Sue Moore
A three-year, $3000 grant for purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables for the backpack program of Generous Hands, Inc. (GHI), has run out, so all proceeds from this year’s October Extravaganza fundraising event have been designated to be used for purchases from the Farmers’ Market next summer.
The grant was from the Conservation Fund for the purchase of fresh vegetables and fruit from the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market. “We wish we could supply fresh foods year round but the grant has run out,” said Sheri Louis, executive director of GHI. The backpack families received coupons each week in the summer for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers’ Market.
“It’s a win-win for our families because they are getting a better variety of food than when GHI began 10 years ago when members of the Lakeland Reformed Church on Sprinkle Road noticed that some hungry children in Vicksburg schools couldn’t perform as well as their peers. To alleviate this problem, they started a backpack program at Sunset School with 15 backpacks to be filled with food.
That was the beginning of GHI which today serves over 200 Vicksburg families whose children are on the free and reduced lunch program. The food goes home with children on the weekends to fill the gap between school lunches and breakfasts.
The program is meeting a need, particularly for children, that the food pantries cannot service on a regular basis, said Louis. Each family also receives $10 a week to purchase bread, milk, and eggs at Vicksburg’s Family Fare grocery store in their backpack.
What goes into the back packs is usually the basics such as peanut butter, Ramen noodles, fruit cups, and other donated or purchased food from Loaves & Fishes, South Central Michigan Food Bank, and area grocery stores. Louis also shops the food sales each week.
“We are trying some new things by getting away from juice boxes with more water being included,” said Louis. “Our board member and advisor on dietetics, Darci Schimp has been helping us the last few years. GHI has become an advocate for a healthy life style.”
Food donations also come from various sources such as the youth football program bringing in 780 pounds of food through a competitive food collection that was waged among the 12 different Vicksburg teams. That was equal to $1,671.99 in monetary donations to GHI. GHI recently started weighing all the food that comes in and placing a value of all donations, Louis said.
GHI uses hundreds of volunteers to pack on Wednesdays and deliver to the schools on Fridays, said Louis. Two volunteers from Stryker come in at 8 a.m. once a week to stock the shelves and Pfizer also sends volunteers to help with packing and sorting.
“I love the job and the rewards are even more than I ever expected,” said Louis. “By feeding hungry kids, you can connect with the families. It touches you in a special way.”
GHI’s expenses are covered by donations from individuals, United Way, Rotary, Lions, and special grants.