By David Westman
It’s early morning on the third Saturday of the month. There’s a flurry of activity in the quiet confines of the Vicksburg United Methodist Church. Volunteers are working to get ready for arrival of a truck carrying food from Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.
The volunteers will unload and set up for the morning’s distribution provided by the Mobile Food Initiative (MFI), a year-round program that distributes food at six different county sites each month and is one of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes most recent programs.
The goal of the program is to get additional supplies of groceries into the hands of people who need it in Kalamazoo County. As a partnership with the Food Bank of South Central Michigan, the Initiative distributes perishable and non-perishable food items, including fresh fruits and vegetables, wherever they can easily be distributed. At VUMC, about 70 people will be coming to the church where food is given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 8:30-10 a.m.
The activities of the morning are overseen by Sally Kohler. She is the volunteer coordinator of the Mobile Food Initiative program at Vicksburg United Methodist church. In February, 2013, South County Community Services was going through some changes and needed to move the MFI program management from its control. A new coordinator was needed and Kohler stepped in to take over the program. She has helped hundreds of food-insecure people since that time just because she feels it is the right thing to do. “There are those that are less fortunate and why shouldn’t we help them?” she said.
Kohler is passionate about helping those in need both through the church and through her regular job. During the day, Kohler said, she is “just a cashier” in the pharmacy department at Walmart in Portage. But behind the scenes, Kohler works with her store manager GeriLynn Olson, to provide additional resources to those in need. According to Olson, her store gets credits from the parent corporation for employees volunteering. Walmart participates in the Feeding America program and donations from Walmart assist those who are food insecure, which describes about one in eight Americans who aren’t always sure where their next meal is coming from.
The in-store claims department at Walmart realized how much food was being turned into them and being thrown away. Often times grocery packaging is damaged and cannot be sold due to the defect.However it is only a cosmetic defect and the contents are perfectly fine. Kohler took on the responsibility to distribute these food items to local organizations with one stipulation. “I told them that I wanted the discretion to distribute where the need is greatest and they agreed.”
Generous Hands in Vicksburg has been a recipient of these donations.This agency supplies Friday Food Packs primarily to children in the Vicksburg community who qualify for free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs. Kohler works with the claims department collecting the donations and about once a month Larry Kohler, Sally’s husband, will deliver several cases of grocery items to the Generous Hands warehouse for future distribution.
One example of this donation was cookies that were sold around Christmas time with snowflakes stamped on them. After the holidays the seasonal items were removed from the shelves at Walmart and Generous Hands received so many cases of cookies that they were able to put a full package into over 400 backpacks of food.
In addition, Olson and Kohler were excited to share that they will be able to provide additional resources and foods such as dairy and frozen foods when the Portage Walmart becomes a SuperCenter later this year.
The needs of the many and their communities are often met by the dedication and actions of a few, said Sheri Louis, executive director of Generous Hands, expressing gratitude for the contributions of food and help.