Vicksburg High School Earns State, National Rankings

By Steve Fryling
District Communications Specialist

Springtime is the traditional season for awards and honors in education, and Vicksburg High School (VHS) has been placed in the positive spotlight recently by both state and national news outlets who rank high schools in Michigan and nationwide.

The national magazine U.S. News and World Report recently ranked VHS in the top 100 high schools in the state and awarded it a national silver medal. The rankings were based on state and national test scores, graduation rate, and measures of college readiness for the class of 2014-2015. VHS was ranked 82nd in the state and in the top 15 percent of all high schools in the nation. The U.S. News and World Report website ( contains all of the rankings both nationally and statewide, and provides detailed information about each high school. According to the site, only 12 percent of all high schools in the nation earn a gold or silver medal, indicating high student performance and college readiness.

A statewide magazine has Vicksburg High School an “Academic State Champion”, one of only 54 champs in the state. The designation was made by the publishers of Bridge Magazine, which is dedicated to improvement in education, health, and governance in Michigan, in an article released February 14. According to the article, “The schools (listed in the article) are best at preparing students for success after graduation.”

After studying graduation and college data from the graduating classes of 2009-2011, state champions were selected from schools with students in every economic category so that schools with students of similar income profiles could be compared. These schools had the highest percentages of students who scored as “college ready” on the ACT, as well as percentages of students who enrolled in postsecondary schools and those who graduated or were still in school after four years.

Principal Keevin O’Neill pointed out that both of these accolades were honors for the whole district, not just the high school. “It took the work and skill of the staff of each elementary and middle school to get the students ready for what they need to do in high school. It is a team effort.”

Charlie Glaes, Vicksburg superintendent, echoed those sentiments noting that, “These things don’t happen by accident, but are a result of a whole community of parents, taxpayers, and educators who saw to it that we invested in success for our kids. We know that these investments pay off, and awards like these are more proof of that.”

The ratings in the Bridge Magazine article placed Vicksburg in the category of schools with “above average incomes” by using data on free and reduced lunch rates. During the study period, the free and reduced lunch percentage for Vicksburg was 26 percent in 2009-2011, but has risen to 34 percent since then.

Vicksburg and 13 other Michigan high schools were selected from 179 schools in this income category for the state champion designation after it was learned that the school is also among the top 10 percent of the 179 for the number of graduates still in college or earning a degree after four years. Records show that 58 percent of Vicksburg graduates from the classes of 2009-2011 earned a degree or were still in college after four years.

Other academic champions listed in the area, in various income classes, include South Haven, Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix. Some high schools in the same income class as Vicksburg that earned the designation include Grand Haven, Mona Shores, Dearborn, East Lansing, and City High School in Grand Rapids.

Bridge Magazine, in a related article, linked high levels of students being successful in college to six factors which ranged from poverty levels to college “promise” programs such as the one in Kalamazoo, to college counseling of high school students and coaching and support services offered to college students by the colleges they attend. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of certificate programs in the category of “college completion”. These include careers such as hairdressing, nursing assistant, and information technology worker.

More details about the award and how champions were selected can be found on the Bridge Magazine website at

Schoolcraft High School Students Study Social Media

By Sue Moore

Parents often worry about their children spending too much time on their cell phones, tablets or computer but they may not be sure of what they can do about it, said Ric Seager, Schoolcraft High School principal. He discussed the issue with an audience of parents at a recent gathering to discuss the world of technology and its effect on students.

Earlier in the day, the high school students at Schoolcraft went through a day of classes related to social media. Subjects included social media safety, how the world sees a person online, cyberbullying, electronic communication through the law, screen time and your brain and an individual’s digital footprint. Students rotated through each session, met in discussion groups and finally joined together in an assembly dealing with texting and driving.

There were lots of lessons as the “take-away” for the day, Seager told the parents after they watched a movie about “Screen Agers, growing up in the digital age.” Several of the parents were concerned about the use of iPads that the school has furnished their teenagers and how to allow them to do their homework and spend less time playing online games.

Seager responded that all of the iPads go through the school’s filters. But he acknwoeldged that doesn’t stop kids from playing games on them. He cautioned that it’s important to set limitations as these devices are not going away. Those who can figure out how to manage the devices will have a big advantage over others.

“Have clear expectations for your kids. Set strong boundaries and over time you can give them more and more autonomy, which is really empowering to kids.”

“My philosophy is we don’t want technology to get in the way of good communication. Digital is great for maintenance but bad for building good communications. It’s important to look for the right balance. We need to know and understand it.”

A parent asked what the next step should be in showing their technology concerns. Seager urged them to “come to school board meetings and let the trustees know how you feel. Get more people involved. Talk to your peers and let’s pull it together.”

Gourdneck/Webber School Reroofing Completed

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Don Ulsh, Schoolcraft township supervisor and Virginia Mongreig, Schoolcraft township clerk, check out the new metal roof at the Webber schoolhouse on Portage Road.

By Sue Moore

What was once the proud Gourdneck Prairie/Webber country school house had been deteriorating over the years with huge holes in the roof. Its doors and windows had been boarded up to prevent vandalism. That didn’t stop the critters who made it their home during the winter, said Schoolcraft Township Clerk Virginia Mongreig.

The Township became the owner of the building as Monty Mongreig, the supervisor in 1969, purchased it at a cost of $3,010. He wanted to use it as a township museum. The site is part of a township cemetery on Portage Road, just south of V Avenue.

Historical notes from Dr. Millard Roberts indicate the school was built in 1870 and was in Kalamazoo County District 6. He attended this one room brick school from 1915 as a pre-schooler and went there through the eighth grade. Roberts wrote his memoirs and donated them to the Vicksburg Historical Society. In them he said, “We were not supposed to go into the cemetery. This we did anyway as some teachers were quite lenient. We even played hide and seek there.

“Finding enough money in the budget to repair the building and the roof in particular meant that the building was neglected for many years,” Mongreig said. “We had several citizen complaints but could do nothing until this year when Dan Gettle of Vicksburg Roofing and Siding, gave the township a big break on the price of a steel roof. For now, we will try to keep the building winterized and hope to fix it up someday, possibly with some grant money.”

There were 20 one-room school houses in the Vicksburg school district before consolidation in 1947 according to Dr. Arle Schneider’s history of Vicksburg, published by the Vicksburg Historical Society in 2000. Most of them have been demolished or were sold by the school district to get the properties back on the tax rolls. Dr. Roberts went on to study medicine at the University of Michigan after graduating from Vicksburg High School in 1927. He practiced elsewhere and retired in Vicksburg.

“Smoking was tried occasionally by the boys in their outhouse. We would take old dried corn silk, roll it into a cigarette-like object and then smoke it. We would have a strong temptation to do this whenever farmer Cooley would raise corn adjacent to our outhouse. Another thing we would try was “powdered up old dried leaves. However, this was a little too potent for us.

“One time one of the boys brought a can of Prince Albert smoking tobacco. We all eagerly tried it, and this was the best yet! But when we left the outhouse to return to the school, our teacher and the girls were standing as a group in the distance. They knew what we were up to as they could see clouds of smoke rolling up from where we were. We got a severe scolding. The teacher threatened to report us to the school director, a local farmer. I think we stayed after school as punishment.

“Paper we used for rolling cigarettes was most any kind. Generally, it was tablet paper. We would stick it together by wetting it with saliva.” Three of Roberts classmates were Maurice, Victor and Vincent Rawlinson. Vincent worked at the mill for many years as purchasing agent. Maurice was the longest serving president of the Vicksburg village in the 1950s and 60s. He owned Rawlinson’s Appliances.

VCAC Art Camp Announced for 8-12-year-old Kids

Two Indian Lake students learn the basics in art but will get a chance to enhance their abilities if they enroll in the Art Camp.

By Sue Moore

“The arts bring the Vicksburg community together. It’s in our heritage,” said Syd Bastos as she was drawing up plans for a summer arts camp for 8 to 12-year-old children. Called “Arts in the Burg,” it extends the work of the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) into a new realm, she noted.

“We want to inspire kids to express themselves through instruction and studio work in visual and performing arts classes each day where they will be in a safe and supportive environment,” Bastos said. The two-week arts camp will run from July 10 to 21, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the community center.

There will be an art exhibit and performance for family, friends and the community to celebrate the participants’ newfound abilities at the end of the camp. Instructors will come from local artists and teachers who love to mentor young people. They’ll work with no more than 10 children per class. The cost to parents is $400 with the possibility of scholarships.

Four disciplines will be taught, with collaboration occurring between the disciplines for a more dynamic experience. All art supplies will be provided and a t-shirt will be given to the day campers who will be asked to bring their own lunches. Registration is online at

Bastos and Lisa Beams, who is in charge of the artists at the VCAC, want to extend the offerings of the Art Center to a broader audience as the Center looks to make this the definitive place for arts entertainment and exhibitions in the village. The Center has the support of over 20 artists who exhibit at the 200 S. Main Street location. It sponsors coffeehouse concerts on the third Friday of each month and has promoted Destination Dinners for the Ukraine and Ireland recently. It sponsored and promoted the Art Stroll in 2016 that attracted an estimated 600-plus visitors to downtown Vicksburg.

The VCAC is a program of the Downtown Development Authority.

Enjoy the Memorial Day Parade!

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Boy Scouts from Troop 251 will head the Memorial Day parade in Vicksburg.

The Capt. Charles Osborne Post 5189, Veterans of Foreign Wars, will be sponsoring Vicksburg Memorial Day activities on Monday May 29. The annual parade, led by Vicksburg High School’s Marching Band, will step off at 10 a.m. from the Vicksburg Middle School. The post is asking local organizations to join the parade with floats or marching groups and yes, it would love horses and vintage vehicles, said Senior Vice Commander Robert Rainwater. He can be reached at 649-1700.

Immediately after the parade there will be a remembrance ceremony at the Vicksburg cemetery to salute our fallen veterans. Commander Edward (Butch) Wesoloski hopes many neighbors will turn out for the ceremonies this year. The speaker will be Jan and Denny McNally’s daughter, Kenzi Pridgeon. She is an Air Force captain and a pilot in the Air National Guard.

The next five years are a period of time when 75th anniversary commemorations will take place of many major battles that led to victory in World War II. This would include the Tokyo bombing raid led by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the nation’s entry into World War I. A total of 117,000 Americans paid the ultimate price.

“This is a special time when all Americans should take time to reflect on the price that was paid to protect the life style enjoyed by our people. All children should be taught the importance and meaning of this holiday in American History,” said James L. Hamrick, the post’s quartermaster.

Memorial Day Schedule – Vicksburg

10 a.m. Vicksburg Memorial Day parade, will start at the Middle School and be led by the Big Red Machine marching band. They will march to the cemetery on Highway Street, via Prairie and Michigan Avenue, where a ceremony will take place. The speaker will be Capt. Kenzi Pridgeon.

Memorial Day Schedule – Schoolcraft

10:40 a.m. the parade begins at the corner of Cedar and Cass streets. It will travel to U.S. 131 and go north to Lyon Street, turn left on VW to the cemetery, led by the Schoolcraft High School band.
11 a.m. Ceremonies honoring veterans at the cemetery.

Memorial Day Schedule – Fulton

11:30 for participants to line up.
Noon for the children’s parade to travel south to the cemetery on 44th street.
12:30 the parade led by the Vicksburg High School Big Red Machine marching band will begin at the north end of the village limits and travel on 44th street to the cemetery for a short ceremony.

New Schoolcraft Township Cemetery Rules

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Troy Pryor and his son Austin, survey the tree stumps they created in the Vicksburg cemetery while cutting down the four dead ash trees in the older part of the township cemetery.

New cemetery rules were enacted by the Schoolcraft Township Board of Trustees at its April 11 meeting. “Some people are going to be uneasy about it, but we felt that it is necessary to maintain the general appearance and beauty of the cemeteries,” Clerk Virginia Mongreig said.

The rules as adopted are:

• No tree or shrub shall be set or planted on any lot or grave without obtaining approval of the clerk.

• The sod or seeding on any grave shall not be dug up, removed or disturbed in a space not to exceed 12 x 24 inches in lieu of a marker. Plants and flowers may be set in a space 12 inches wide next to, in front of, and along the length of the monument. Receptacles for cut flowers or potted plants will be permitted in lieu of set plants. No rose bushes are to be planted in the cemetery.

• The use of plastics and poly-resin decorations is prohibited. No structures shall be permitted.

• The township has the right to remove and dispose of any and all growth, emblems, displays or containers which have become unsightly, a source of litter or a maintenance problem.

Second Battle of Sunset Lake Coming to Vicksburg in June

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Representatives from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) marched through downtown Vicksburg last year during the re-enactment of the Revolutionary War, sponsored by the Vicksburg Historical Society. They will be back again along with over 200 re-enactors.

By Sue Moore

Over 150 Revolutionary War re-enactors and their camp followers marched down the streets of Vicksburg in a show of force during the Taste of Vicksburg’s annual celebration in 2016. “It was amazing to see so many marchers dressed in 18th century clothing, in close formation in downtown Vicksburg,” said Ted Vliek, then the president of the Vicksburg Historical Society.

The regiments will be back to Vicksburg in full force in 2017, camping out on property owned by Prudential Nursery, across the street from the Historic Village where much of the re-enactment battles will take place on Saturday. The nursery is located on N.
Richardson Street and backs up to Sunset Lake; thus the re-enactments during Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25, will again be called the Battle of Sunset Lake.

Nearly 200 re-enactors are expected this year, said John Polacek, new president of the Vicksburg Historical Society and the sponsoring agency. They will come from all over the Midwest as members of the Northwest Territory Alliance (NWTA). The Alliance was formed in 1976 as the U.S. celebrated its 200-year anniversary. Each year the 600-plus-member organization travels to historic sites as re-enactors. They choose to live in the persona of a person who fought either on the British side or for the Colonials. They are excellent at teaching young and old alike about this country’s history from 1776 to 1783 when the war with Great Britain ended. The public is encouraged to walk through the camp and talk to the re-enactors while observing their 18th-century lifestyle.

Events on Saturday, June 24 begin with a pancake breakfast served by the Vicksburg Rotary Club from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. The camp will be open at 9 a.m. to visitors, a special parade will commence at 10:30 and wind through downtown Vicksburg. Adding to the festivities will be a visit to Vicksburg by the Oakland Pontiac Car Club, a world-wide organization of these specialty automobiles, built in the early -to-mid-1900s. They will be on display at the closed Bobby’s restaurant on N. Richardson Street. Some of the cars and their owners will be offering rides around the village for a small donation that will benefit the Vicksburg Historical Society. They also expect to participate in the parade downtown, providing quite a contrast with the marching units.

The encampment’s move to Prudential Nursery from the Recreation Park is an effort to make it more visible to the public. Charlie and Cindy Krill have generously made their nursery property available to the re-enactors, while keeping their office hours on Saturday open for regular business. After the parade, which will be led by the River Valley Colonials Fife and Drum corps and the Kalamazoo Pipe band, the re-enactors will form up on the green in the middle of the Historic Village. They will present an artillery demonstration, stage a battle and present a women’s fashion show.

Sunday, there will again be an early pancake breakfast with the campground open to visitors at 9 a.m. If folks missed the events on Saturday, some of them will be repeated on Sunday only in a slightly different location. It will center on an area just west of the BP gas station on V Avenue with parking available all around the pavilion. The re-enactors pack up for home at 4 p.m. and head back to their day jobs in modern clothing and shiny automobiles, according to Stefan Sekula, lead organizer from the NWTA.

Vicksburg Farmers’ Market Opens in May

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Bridgette Leach of Avalon Farms in Climax, had plenty of asparagus to sell at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market on the opening days in 2016.

By Sue Moore

For those hungering for fresh vegetables and fruit grown nearby, the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market is aiming to please, opening its 2017 season on Friday, May 19 at the pavilion on N. Richardson Street.

Fresh asparagus, lettuce and spring peas are the most likely edibles to be found at the vendors’ tables in May, but it won’t be long before Michigan strawberries begin to appear. The market starts its fourth year in the pavilion, built with money donated through many members of the community who yearned for fresh fruit, vegetables and tantalizing baked goods, according to Stella Shearer, president of the market board.

For the first three years of the market’s existence, its home was the asphalt parking lot at the empty Bobby’s Restaurant on the corner of Richardson and North streets. There wasn’t room to expand the market and it needed a permanent location, Shearer explained. “It has become the community gathering place during the 21 weeks the market is open each year. Not only can people buy fresh food, it’s a place to connect with friends, where children can enjoy food by participating in Kids Plate once a month, and the vendors are super friendly.”

It has grown from about 15 vendors to over 50 in this year, with annual vendor incomes estimated at nearly $60,000. Farmers Market Coalition research shows that for every dollar spent at the farmers’ market an additional $1.36 is spent at local and nearby businesses. This means that well over $80,000 is added to the local economy for the greater Vicksburg community during the market season.

For five years, Generous Hands has been supporting the market with a cash infusion in the form of free coupons distributed to families in its backpack program. This was initially funded by a three-year-grant of $3,000 per season. For the last two years, the donations from Generous Hands’ autumn fundraiser have supported the coupon program at the market, with $2,952 in 2015 and $3,100 last year.

The Vicksburg market signed on in 2012 with the state’s Bridge card, the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program, WIC and Project Fresh. These programs also distribute hundreds of dollars to those shopping each week at the market. These benefits are available to those who qualify, applying at the market manager’s table in front of the pavilion and run by Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki, the co-market manager.

Almost all of the familiar vendors will be back this year, with some new ones making application in time for the opening day. There will be a couple of surprises Meyer-Niedzwiecki said. Vendors are the heart of the market. Offerings include prepared food, baked goods, coffee, homemade soap and local meat. The weekly music that revs up the market has been a treat from the Kalamazoo Folk Life organization with June Kucks volunteering each week to schedule the entertainers.

A grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was recently awarded to the nonprofit market board for strategic planning that included funding for a new website, Shearer said.

Eating From the Food Pantry

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Kaye Bennett surveys the pantry offerings to choose what she will take home for her four days of eating from the South County Community Services (SCCS) selection.

By Kaye Bennett

Recipe tip: Tuna salad without lettuce, celery, onion, pickle or mayonnaise is, basically, tuna. And tuna, right out of the can, is pretty blah.

I made this discovery halfway into an experiment I’d come up with as a result of volunteering with South County Community Services (SCCS). One of my Monday afternoon duties there is to help fellow volunteer Sue Ripley distribute food from SCCS’s food pantry. After several months, I started wondering what it would be like to obtain my food that way and to limit myself to what those shelves had to offer. Here’s what I learned (in addition to the tuna lesson):

“Shopping” in the pantry for one person, I was able to get:

• 6 protein items (I chose hamburger, eggs, milk, tuna, and macaroni and cheese.)

• 4 fruit and vegetable items (My choices: one can each of green beans, corn, peaches and peas.)

• 2 grains (I got a bag of oatmeal and a bag of rice.)

• 2 “extras” (a can of tomato soup and a box of Jello.)

I did not take my items off the pantry shelves (that seemed wrong somehow), but purchased what I didn’t already have at home from Family Fare in Vicksburg. The cost of the food on my list came to a little over $20.

I tried to eat nothing but what was on the list, but I have to admit to cheating a little. I drank coffee every day. (Because it’s expensive, coffee is rarely donated to pantries.) I added a little mayonnaise (not on the list) the second day, to make the tuna more palatable. And I drank a glass of wine once (sorry!).

What did I miss? Fresh fruits and vegetables.

What else did I learn? As so often happens, I was reminded of just how lucky I am – not only because I have ketchup and coffee and year-round fresh fruit, but because right now I am in a position to donate and volunteer. Like anyone, I could someday become a pantry client instead.

Area Food Pantries

South County’s pantry is one of 25 pantry sites for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes (L&F), which serves 30,000 individuals in Kalamazoo County each year. At the SCCS site in 2016, there were 799 pantry visits, representing 242 households, says Drew Johnson, SCCS’s emergency assistance coordinator.

Deb Josephson is the services coordinator at L&F. She explains that the goal of L&F and its pantries is to provide enough food to last each family member four days. More than a four-day supply, it has been determined, would be more than an individual could carry and potentially more than some of the local pantries could store.

Most clients of L&F pantries, Josephson says, have other food resources to supplement what they receive at the pantry. For people who qualify, food stamps and WIC are available. However, there’s a waiting time of up to 45 days after people apply for such programs, so food provided by pantries may be all some people have to eat for that time. Johnson points out that some food stamp recipients may receive as little as $16 per month, so pantries are crucial to meet their needs.

The average client, Josephson says, uses the pantry four or five times a year, but people can come in as often as once every thirty days without a referral. With a referral from a community agency, they can visit once a week.

The primary source of funding for L&F is private donations, with additional funding from foundations. Food also comes from private donations and L&F’s association with regional groups such as the Food Bank of South Central Michigan. According to Johnson, half the 31,000 pounds of food distributed to South County families in 2016 came from local donors, with the remainder from L&F. The SCCS pantry also receives help from local supermarkets. Meijer’s SIMPLY GIVE cards bring in at least $10,000 per year, and Family Fare, in addition to donating an ongoing supply of bread and pastries, does a register scan that brought in $2,200 last year.

Josephson says the profile of pantry users has changed in recent years, thanks to economic challenges. “Since 2008, people who never needed help before now do,” she says. “It’s not that people aren’t working; they may have several part-time jobs.” But they are still struggling to make ends meet. “You need a car to get to work; you need a roof over your head. But food is discretionary, so they shave the food budget.”

Feeding hungry children is especially important. When school’s out, Josephson says, families need more help, because the one or two meals their children received at school must once again be prepared and eaten at home.

How to Access, How to Help

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Postal carriers collected bags of food in 2015 for the South County food pantry.

By Kaye Bennett

Most of us assume that two types of people are interested in food pantries: those who need food and those who want to donate or volunteer. But there can be quite a bit of overlap between the two.

As people’s lives change, they may migrate between the groups, says Drew Johnson, SCCS’s emergency assistance coordinator. He notes that one former SCCS volunteer now is a pantry client, while other clients want to give back, and do so by volunteering at the center. “We work to help people realize that there’s no shame in getting help, and it’s OK to give help,” he says. Deb Josephson, L&F services coordinator, agrees, “People who use food pantries are a cross section of the community. They’re our neighbors.”

How to Access South County’s Food Pantry:

• Call Loaves and Fishes at 343-3663 between 9 a.m. and noon. (Hint: the best time is 10-10:30 a.m.)

• If that line is closed, call L&F’s main line at 269-488-2617; tell them you are from South County and you need food.

• If that doesn’t work and you can’t wait till the next day, call SCCS directly around 12:30 (Monday through Thursday) and request an emergency pantry.

Hints for Helping:

• Johnson says, “Think about the foods you and your family like to eat. I wouldn’t want dried beans all the time and neither do clients.” Condiments and healthy snacks like raisins and granola bars are always needed. Based on my own experiment, in which I longed for ketchup for my hamburger, I bought 27 bottles of ketchup – on sale at Family Fare that day – and donated them to the pantry.

• Food drives during the holidays and the postal drive in May keep pantries well stocked at those times, but there are empty shelves waiting for your donations in other months, especially February through April and summer through October.

• Note the expiration or best-by dates on items you donate. Food pantries can use items up to one year past the best-by date, but items older than that need to be discarded.

• In addition to food, the SCCS pantry can also give clients a bag of household items once each quarter. These bags include dish soap, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste and other necessities. Check the SCCS website for a complete list of items you can donate for these bags.

• Johnson is happy to talk with you about creative ways individuals or groups can donate. For example, churches and businesses often have “micro” food drives, and the Vicksburg District Library recently granted amnesty for fines to users who brought in food for the pantry. Some local people have found that even if they only need one, they take advantage of a market’s two- or three-for-one sales and bring extra items to the pantry. When people host parties but don’t want guests to bring gifts, they may suggest that guests instead bring a non-perishable food item; the “gifts” are then donated to SCCS.

To learn more about how to donate or how to volunteer at SCCS’s food pantry, check, or call Drew Johnson at 269-649-2901.