Twelve Baskets Feeds the Multitudes

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Two volunteers at Twelve Baskets are busy stocking shelves.

By Sue Moore

John 6:13 Twelve Baskets

The name Twelve Baskets originated from the twelve baskets of food that remained after Jesus fed the 5,000 at the Sermon on the Mount. Thus, the mission statement for Twelve Baskets food pantry: “To lead the fight against hunger in our community by bridging the gap between the need and the excess while restoring hope, dignity and self-respect”.

Twelve Baskets Food Pantry at 10332 Portage Road will be celebrating its sixth year of operation in June. It serves the communities of Portage, Schoolcraft, Three Rivers and Vicksburg. The pantry is open for distribution four times a month. Clients can shop twice a month if needed.

The pandemic has affected the way Twelve Baskets operates. But it will return to a normal mode of operation once this is over. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the pantry is experiencing a 50 percent increase in families receiving food assistance. It’s averaging 155 families per week, though on April 25, more than 170 families received food.

“In the past six weeks, donations have increased, partly because the name is becoming known in the area and partly because those that have the means are more sympathetic to our need,” said Joann Wespinter, the nonprofit’s board secretary. “I receive phone calls every day asking about the need for donations of food and or dollars. The pandemic has certainly created a greater need among the families in the area.”

Twelve Baskets is open the first and third Friday evenings of each month and the second and fourth Saturday mornings of the month. “There is an evening distribution and a morning distribution to make it workable for families,” Wespinter explained. “We do not require proof of need, just their word. We made this decision in the very beginning because we felt it was hard enough for clients to admit need, let alone prove it. They must live in our area, however. We do not serve Kalamazoo. There are many areas of food assistance available there”.

Twelve Baskets purchases food from Feeding America and accepts donations from many grocery stores and restaurants. It has three vehicles for food pickup; they are on the road seven days a week, with several pickups on most days. It has a real need for drivers for these pickups as the ones it has are overworked. Sometimes the pantry requires extra vehicles and drivers, depending on which direction they are going and how far away it is. That requires the use of personal vehicles.

In normal times the pantry operates like a grocery store. Clients arrive, get a grocery cart and shop for things that they need, based on the size of their family. During this shutdown, the pantry is packaging the food in advance. Clients drive up and open their trunk. Boxes of food are placed in the trunk; the clients are not getting out of their cars to maintain a safe distance. Clients receive a generous amount of food, almost two weeks of meat, produce, milk, canned and boxed goods, bread, eggs and baked goods.

“Each week we receive a generous amount of food and money donations,” Wespinter said. “Because we are a 100 percent donation, 100 percent volunteer pantry, we would not exist if this did not happen. Foods that are hard for us to purchase and difficult to acquire are peanut butter and jelly, vegetable juices, soups, vegetables, and pasta sauces.

“As an example, a man called recently and said he was on his way to Sam’s Club and what could he buy that we needed,” Wespinter said. “I listed some items and because it was a Sunday, I told him to put the items in the donation box at the front of the pantry, the driveway side. He didn’t even give his name. A bit later, my husband went over there and put the food inside. It was a fine, generous donation.”

Twelve Baskets began operating using the pantry idea in October of 2013 and opened its doors officially in June of 2014. A group of parishioners from Lake Center Bible Church worked on the concept. They also decided that they wanted their clients to be able to shop twice a month, because produce, bread and baked goods had a limited shelf life.

They operated under the umbrella of the church until the pantry obtained its 501(c)3 nonprofit status. “In the beginning I didn’t think this would pan out, but God has been with us and he has provided and continues to fill the pantry with food each week” Wespinter exclaimed. “Most clients are short term. For others, circumstances will never change and the pantry has become a social place. They arrive early, set up lawn chairs and just enjoy each other’s company. The socializing is over for the present, but I’m sure it will return once the pandemic is over.”

In the summer, Twelve Baskets receives fresh produce from Herman Koeideel, an organic gardener who lives on Portage Road, next to Eimo’s manufacturing plant. Koeideel was looking for somebody to help in the garden two years ago and found help from one of Twelve Basket’s families.

“Four years ago, we were facing a big problem of not having enough volunteers to continue operating. An idea was hatched and we approached our clients, clipboard in hand, to see if they would be interested in volunteering. About 20 of them said yes. About half of those original volunteers are still with them.

“Some are still clients, some are no longer in need but continue to volunteer,” Wespinter said. “Since then, we have recruited more clients, and about 65 per cent of our volunteer base are clients who are giving back.”

“On Tuesdays and Fridays, our volunteers unload vehicles, stock shelves, break down boxes and do general cleaning. A client assistant walks with each client as he or she shops, making suggestions and explaining various foods that may be new to the client,” Wespinter said.

“Others man a station, such as the meat isle, the cakes, pies, and goodies station, the egg station and the ‘fun food station’. Volunteers are also needed to help the clients to their cars and help load the car. The volunteers are hard-working and put their heart and soul into their job. A fringe benefit for clients that volunteer: they get to shop early on Friday afternoons, prior to the evening distribution if they have accumulated enough hours over a two-week period.”

“Throughout this pandemic no one has become sick and we are practicing all the guidelines” Wespinter said.

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