By Sue Sprang
GLADWIN – It began with an afterschool program, committed teens, and a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church (CTK), Gladwin, to build on the community’s efforts to feed the hungry.
CTK member Dawn Wiseman, former site coordinator for an afterschool program (SPARKS) at Gladwin Intermediate School wanted to involve students in something tangible to raise awareness about hunger in Gladwin County. She is well aware of the negative impact an empty stomach can have on learning. Roughly 70% of the kids attending public schools in the county are eligible for the state’s free or reduced breakfast/lunch program.
Thanks to a $1,500 grant, the Gladwin Community Schools SPARKS program was able to participate in the Empty Bowls Project, an internationally recognized community service effort to fight local hunger. Wiseman served as lead coordinator for the project.
“With financial times as they are, the need to feed families is even greater today,” she said. “The Empty Bowl Project was a great way to empower the Gladwin students to do something to help their neighbors.”
In the fall of 2011, the Empty Bowls Student Leadership Council was formed. These Gladwin Junior High and High School students learned about the community’s hunger issues and explored ways to provide food for those in need.
The outcome was a community fundraiser, with proceeds used to sponsor a mobile food pantry (aka: “the food truck”) from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. SPARKS students of all ages invited local “celebrities” to help them make ceramic bowls for a soup dinner. One of those who helped was Joel Johnson, who represents Gladwin County in the Michigan Legislature.
“I wanted to participate in this project because I think it is an important cause and a really good opportunity to interact with the children,” Johnson said. “It’s great that the kids worked together for those in their community who need food.”
The soup dinner and bake sale fundraiser was held in March 2012 and was well-received. Diners made a monetary donation, selected from a variety of soups served in the handmade bowls, and were invited to keep the bowls as a reminder of local hunger. Enough money was raised for a visit from the mobile pantry, which currently costs $1,010 per visit.
200 families were served by the mobile pantry the following month. Distribution took place at Christ the King (CTK), where volunteers unloaded the semi-truck, then sorted and distributed the boxes of food to the recipients via a “drive-through” set-up.
It was clear the mobile pantry was a need. Led by Wiseman and then pastor of CTK, David Sprang, others came on board and, as a result, the pantry has been a monthly occurrence since October 2012. Volunteers and funding come from local churches, organizations, and individuals.
Currently the pantry serves about 210 families (more than 500 people).
“I want to thank Christ the King for their support and commitment to this ministry,” said Jill Phillips, who helps co-ordinate the program. “They open their doors each month for registration and provide refreshments for those who are waiting. They have also made their site available for the Saturday distribution days and have provided much of the needed manpower for both registration and distribution days. Aside from their support of the program, Christ the King has sponsored several extra distributions.”
Co-coordinator Scott Phillips is encouraged by the response.
“The program has sent people of faith out for a common mission of service to the community,” he said. “Now community organizations, including youth groups, as well as individuals are supporting the distribution through funding and labor. The ministry has also brought the recipients into the community for coffee, cookies, and fellowship when they register.”
The Phillips are members of St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Midland, and sometimes attend worship and events at Christ the King.
The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan (www.fbem.org) is a member of the U.S.-based non-profit organization Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org). SPARKS is “Students Participating in Academics and Recreation for Knowledge & Success”.