“Sometimes the portions weren’t enough”


Ben Sanders

“I remember going over to people’s houses and being amazed that they have full refrigerators and pantries.” Brian stood in front of his friend’s kitchen in awe. He never saw a stocked refrigerator or pantry at his house. 

   Many kids are familiar with Brian’s struggle. Food insecurity among our youth is one of the biggest problems around the nation and especially in West Michigan. One in five students experience food insecurity or don’t have access to nourishing food in Michigan. 

   Stories such as Brian’s highlight the need to address the ever-growing issue of childhood hunger.

   Local Holland resident and business owner Brian Smith (not his actual name) grew up food insecure. Smith’s story not only highlights the unknown intricacies of childhood hunger, but also shows how the Kids Food Basket in West Michigan changes children’s lives.

   Smith and his family struggled to have a healthy, steady food source in elementary school. His food insecurity had its social stigma. 

   “I remembered seeing other kids bring in ham and cheese sandwiches from home in lunchboxes. I would pretend that it wasn’t a big deal, even though it really was. If I made it a big deal, I knew I would be an outcast.”

   Brian said that the food he had in the lunchroom carried the same social stigma as the clothes he wore, except that he could hide his food insecurity. He recalls telling his friends that he just ate the school lunch today instead of bringing lunch from home. 

   The struggle didn’t end in the lunchroom. Before going to the grocery, his mom would set aside a certain amount of money to buy food in bulk. Sometimes, his mom struggled to buy nutritious food: “Healthy organic foods were never on the radar.” While at the grocery, Smith was more aware of the financial strains than ever: “Going to the store as a child, I never looked at candy or expensive cereal because I didn’t want to make my mom feel bad.” 

   Smith’s family sometimes struggled to put any food on the table: “Sometimes the portions weren’t enough.” In times like these, Smith’s mom would often pretend that she wasn’t hungry so he could eat dinner.  

   Despite all his family’s struggles, Smith still had a loving mother and grandmother that looked after him and cared for him. He remembers making sticky buns, chicken and dumplings, and homemade fudge with his grandma on special occasions: “Nobody could cook like grandma.” 

   Smith stated that he never felt unloved by his mother. Only his family’s financial strain caused the food insecurity. Smith described how growing up food insecure affected his view of the world: “I’m not embarrassed by my youth; it made me a better father to my children and made me aware of it.” 

   Smith’s story and countless others display the ever-growing need of addressing childhood hunger. In West Michigan, thousands of children lack consistent, healthy food. The Kids Food Basket hopes to end childhood food insecurity along the lakeshore. 

   Smith mentioned that if the Kids Food Basket was around when he was growing up, the organization would have completely changed his situation: “Having sack suppers would open my mind to more types of food and healthier options.” He also mentioned that “It would have eased the pocketbook a lot and lower the number of hours my mom would have had to work.” 

   The Kids Food Basket serves 8,800 students and 52 schools daily in the West Michigan area with about 92,263 students receiving free or reduced lunch. The KFB provides students with a direct need, with a direct service. 

   KFB’s mission is not only to provide kids with food, but healthy food. Volunteers make the sack suppers that contain one serving of fruit, vegetables, protein, and a healthy snack. These sack suppers are then transported to schools and given out after each day. The food the KFB provides opens children’s minds to healthier food options and lowers the financial strain on families. 

   KFB encourages long-term changes in food insecurity and the health of the community through access to healthy foods. By feeding the future, KFB can fuel the health and success of future generations. 

   Right now more than ever the Kids Food Basket needs help. Childhood hunger is still a major issue during the pandemic, and the KFB needs volunteers. Whether that be by assembling the sack suppers, making bags, or donating, you can make a big difference in childhood hunger right here in West Michigan.