Allegan County News & Union Enterprise News

Hungry for Christ accepted the Challenge

Shelves and refrigeration units allow volunteers to organize food in the HFC Pantry. Families and individuals can shop once a month.
In the clean room, bulk items are repackaged. The volunteers are bagging soup packets that can go in school backpacks or on the Pantry shelves.

By Gari Voss

A dinner… A challenge… A mission to feed the hungry… That sums up the work of Hungry for Christ in Hamilton, MI. Curt and Tracy Brower attended a focus banquet at their church where those in attendance were challenged to utilize their talents to help the Kingdom of God.
“We left that banquet wondering what we could do. We are ordinary folks. We work for a trucking company. Our children were young at the time.” Tracy Brower explained, “We received product that was damaged on the outside, but just fine inside. The food manufacturers and customers who we partnered with just said, ‘Dump it’. We asked if we could do one step better and offer it to people who were hungry.”
An idea was struck…
“So it began in our garage then moved to Curt’s ‘man cave’ in the pole barn. From there, we went to a 5000 sq. ft. warehouse that we shared with our employer. After a number of years, we outgrew that. We found a place of 7200 sq. ft. in Oakland and were there for 9 years. Then we landed in a 44,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Hamilton. As of March 2023, we will have been at this location for 7 years.”
Tracy continued, “So for 23 years, we kept climbing up the ladder then expanding out. Each time we moved to a new location, we gained more food donors, new partners, and have been able to move additional food to those who have needs in their communities.”
The expansion has been in part because of an increasing network of trucking companies. Just a few of these are RLS Hutt, Grassmid Transport, Inontime, Brink Truck Lines, and Alliance Trucking. Local trucking companies help by picking up loads from places Hungry for Christ (HFC) is unable to get to with our own trucks. They do this service at no cost as a way to give back to their communities.
Another form of partner would be food manufacturers. Companies like Request Foods, Nestle Waters now Blue Triton, Gordon Food Service through Mel Trotter Ministries, Utz Quality Foods out of Grand Rapids, Serve-U-Success, Michigan Turkey Producers, Kent Quality Foods, and the list of over 50 food manufacturing partners freely donate to HFC.
Finally, there are over 220 nonprofit partners that receive food from Hungry for Christ. These are the food pantries, churches, and other organizations that pick up food, distribute to those in need, or prepare hot meals within their communities.
Distribution is a process. Frozen foods are stored in the 54,000 cubic ft. freezer, refrigerated foods in the 180,000 cubic ft. cooler, dry and canned goods in the warehouse. Inventory is taken of everything on hand, and the team updates the Pick Ticket daily.
The Pick Ticket lists everything available with quantities and commodity descriptions. This is then emailed to the nonprofit partners. They complete an order from the list received and send it back to HFC. The orders are then assembled by our volunteer workers for an assigned pick-up time.
Each order is placed on pallets, shrink wrapped and prepared for partner pickup. Some orders are handloaded and others are loaded by a Hi-lo.
Most orders are shipped out on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Thursdays historically have been dedicated to receiving goods. Currently, a few orders also go out on Thursdays, and loads are received any day of the week.
“Our rule of thumb is to never say no. When a donation comes across my desk, we make arrangements to pick up the food,” continued Tracy.
The generosity of trucking companies is supplemented by food manufacturers that produce quantities of food precisely for distribution to nonprofits. An example is Request Foods in Holland that prepares entrees, then donates them so they go into the communities to those in need.
At times, there are products that are short-coded. The customer may not have received exactly what was ordered, a change of ingredients, minor damage done to the outer packaging during delivery, or even misspellings on the package labels are all examples of why food is offered to Hungry for Christ.
When asked if HFC would expand again or keep the status quo, Tracy explained, “We strive to be good stewards of everything we receive. The integrity of food donations is important to us. Our mission is to help the community with food resources, but we also want to be the ministry that can come along side to teach and educate. Our goal is to have a teaching kitchen where we can have families and individuals come and participate in a class that teaches them how to cook.”
Looking forward, Tracy continued, “Yes, we will maintain what we are doing, but we are not out of the realm of possibilities to embark on new opportunities.”
These opportunities have already begun on a small scale with meal kits. These kits have healthy ingredients that families can take home and prepare themselves using the recipe card. Kits use a combination of frozen, refrigerated, and dry ingredients. This month’s kit is a hearty broccoli and cheese soup. A pack of ingredients off a shelf and a bag from a freezer along with the directions can make a meal for a family.
The kits have brought positive feedback, so HFC would like to broaden that. These offerings enhance the food panty that is onsite. Brower feels it is important to love people, but not continually give them a handout. To encourage the use of the meal kits, a dietician is available to demonstrate how to make the food and offer taste tests.
“It excites me when we have projects to teach people a skill. We have an opportunity here to grow. Another opportunity to explore is with a local company that has two truckloads of product that is recyclable. These have parts that need to be taken off, separated and segregated into different containers to recycle. That would take time, but is another possible way to give people a job skill.”
Thinking of educating the public can bring about this question, as to whether people are taking advantage of the food pantry, the distribution process, or the community meals. There are many people involved with multiple steps to make this happen.
Positive vibes arise when recipients of the goods volunteer at the warehouse. They are welcomed with open arms and able to demonstrate their appreciation while assisting others. From these volunteers come success stories when they go to work for other nonprofits or find jobs.
In addition, HFC also embraces students from the special needs programs. These students come to do projects. In the coming weeks, a high school class will volunteer on a regular basis and learn life skills. These will supplement the over 200 volunteers who know the system for stocking shelves and refrigeration units.
Taking the tour…
On a recent tour, the first area visited was the Food Pantry. The shelves and refrigeration units are stocked with products. Families and individuals are invited to come once a month to freely “shop”. Color-coded signs indicate the quantity of each product that can be taken according to family size. Most families select food items, but there are household and cleaning products, plus some items from Perrigo.
HFC serves 60 backpack partners. Pick Tickets are made available to Allegan and Ottawa counties once a month. One backpack program is housed at the First Congregational Warehouse in Allegan. The program is large enough that HFC shares pallets of items with them because small quantities will not meet their need.
Meijer on 16th Street has a program called Simply Give. Three times a year they choose a nonprofit food pantry in the area. Since 2011, HFC has been chosen as a recipient. Gift cards are available at the store. During the campaign there is a day that Meijer will double-match. Therefore, $50 could garner $150 in gift cards. The gift cards are then used for specific items for the Family Pantry and Backpack program needs.
After walking through what seems like miles of building space filled with pallets of dry, refrigerated, and frozen foods packed to the gills, plus receiving and shipping areas, one might find it difficult to believe that Hungry for Christ began with a couple damaged pallets of goods in a garage.
The Browers and their Board of Directors continue to explore their mission to feed the hungry.
“We have a pancake breakfast on Saturday, April 29, 2023 at the HFC headquarters in Hamilton. We are here as a resource for the communities not only in Allegan County but 12 different counties. We also have food bank partners in three different states that we share resources with. In short, HFC is a resource for communities, and a Family Pantry in Hamilton, available for those with needs. On a broader spectrum, we are here to be the bridge that receives the donations, and a storehouse, with the network available to freely send the food out to other organizations.” Tracy reiterates.
Experience in the trucking industry and years of building and growing in the business world, in short knowing how the system works, has facilitated the establishment of the Hungry for Christ network. But the heart of the operation is the couple who when challenged to find a way to demonstrate Christ in the world examined their talents and took action.

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