‘Eye-opening’ need

‘Eye-opening’ need

United Way food distribution event helps residents, food pantries in Montcalm and Ionia counties

By Cory Smith | on December 28, 2020

GREENVILLE — As dozens of boxes containing food items were loaded into the cargo bed of Barb Cole’s truck Thursday afternoon, the fact that the rear of her vehicle began to sag on account of the weight didn’t bother her.

Volunteers Jeff Blanchard, left, and Justin Kessler load boxes of food and hygiene products into a vehicle during the United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties food distribution event in Greenville on Thursday. — DN Photo | Cory Smith

“Hopefully my truck holds up,” she said with a laugh. “We’ll get it into our pantry somehow.”

Cole, director of the Lakeview Ministerial Association Food Pantry, was attending a food box distribution event hosted by United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties held at the Montcalm Community College Greenville campus.

At the event, 1,400 food boxes and 1,600 hygiene boxes — delivered by a semi-truck and stacked into 25 large pallets — were handed out to Montcalm County residents in need.

After the dozens of families — some lined up as early as four hours before the event began — made their way in and out of the drive-thru distribution, area food pantries were able to collect what was left in stock.

“It is a big need for us,” Cole said. “We’ve been so busy really since March, so this is amazing. People have been dropping off food and money at our pantry, and we’re small, but we help a lot of people in the Lakeview area.”

According to United Way Ionia-Montcalm Counties Executive Director Terri Legg, the need for food to be distributed to those in need is as prevalent as ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Normally this time of year the number one call is for utility assistance, but that has changed this year,” she said. “Before the pandemic, one in four Montcalm County kids were food insecure. Even with the assistance people have received through unemployment, our number one call we receive for help is for food.”

That’s why United Way decided to spend down a large portion of its COVID Crisis Fund on purchasing the food and hygiene boxes for free distribution.


According to Legg, each food box contained a total of 23 meals of shelf-stable food, while the male and female hygiene kits contained a month’s worth of supplies.

“The purpose is to keep the public safe, and as we go through the holidays and with our COVID numbers so high, we wanted to keep people out of the big box stores as much as possible,” she said. “So this is for individuals that are afraid to go to the store.”

Additionally, both the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners and Ionia County Board of Commissioners voted to distribute federal CARES Act funding to United Way, to assist in the purchase of the food and hygiene kits.

In total, Legg said $300,000 was spent between the two counties.

Assisting United Way on the day were the Montcalm County commissioners themselves, who came together in the cold and snow outside of the confines of a board meeting to volunteer and assist with the event.

Placing boxes into one vehicle after another, Commissioner Adam Petersen said the event “put everything into perspective” for the commissioners on Christmas Eve, to understand that the pandemic has hit Montcalm County just as hard as the rest of the state.

“There’s no shortage of need, especially in a pandemic,” he said. “Everybody is still trying to survive, to keep going, and this is a great way to at least put a bandaid on a bullet wound. Our county isn’t insusceptible to the times — we’re in a pandemic and everyone is struggling right now. It’s going to get worse, but hopefully, this is something that people can take, run with and get through the holidays. We’ll cross the next bridge when we get there.”

Petersen and his fellow commissioners applauded United Way and the additional volunteers who took time to unload and distribute the boxes.

“It’s sad to see so many people in need when we’re supposedly not that bad off, it’s eye-opening for sure, but I think United Way is doing great things for sure,” Petersen said. “Transferring over a lot of our CARES Act money to them, that’s what it’s all about. All taxpayer’s money should go back to the taxpayers. We’re public servants — it doesn’t stop in the boardroom. We want to do as much as we can for the people who put us here. It’s great to see everybody coming together, helping out, especially in this pandemic. The Grinch’s heart has grown three sizes today just seeing all of this.”

Legg said Ionia County’s food distribution event will occur Tuesday at noon at Ionia County High School at 250 E. Tuttle Road, where 1,200 food boxes and hygiene kits will be distributed.

All that is needed to receive a food box or hygiene kit is proof of Ionia County residency, such as a driver’s license.

Legg advised that anyone who may need assistance at this time, from shelter to food, call 211, the free and confidential service that helps people across North America find the local resources they need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“If someone is in need of food, they should really call 211,” she said. “A lot of our pantries are having trouble with volunteers due to COVID, so it’s best if people call 211 and get help from there.”

Going forward, Legg said the mobile food pantries program through Feeding America will continue in January through March.