Joi Harris, vice president of DTE Gas Operations, hand-draws a DTE Energy Care Force logo to a child’s lunch bag.

Unassumingly serving 7,500 kids each weekday in west Michigan

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Walking into an unassuming building off of I-196 in Kent County, near Grand Rapids, Mi., we were greeted with this message:

”Thank you for the Sack Suppers! They help me run faster, play harder and help me learn new things. Also they are nutritious for my body. – Margy

A Sack Supper is a brown paper bag filled with a protein, fresh fruit and vegetable and a healthy snack.  It is a product of Kids’ Food Basket, a nonprofit organization dedicated to attacking childhood hunger.

I arrived there with 20-plus DTE Energy Care Force volunteers to make a small addition to a considerable need by packing 1,500 Ziploc bags.  As we walked through the facility our host, the nonprofit’s Senior Development Manager Ashley Diersch, explained that one in five Michigan children are affected by hunger. And while kids can get lunch at school – it’s at night-time when the hunger pangs set in. Another message on the wall explained that when you’re a child living in poverty:

“All you can feel is the gnawing hunger in your stomach. All you think about is that when you get home there’s probably not going to be anything to eat there either” – Ana Aleman-Putnam Former Principal at Burton elementary

Kids’ Food Basket works to fill that void by serving take-home meals at schools and public parks. The program began by serving meals in schools whose students were living at or near the poverty level for a family of four with an annual income of $24,000. At that time, almost half of the children in Kent County met the threshold. It should be no surprise that nutrition is a key to healthy childhood development, which in-turn pays off for children at school. A sign on the wall attests:

“Our school has had the highest academic growth on the MEAP test [21% increase] within our school district. I am 110% sure that Kids Food Basket played a significant role in making that happen.” – Shawn Hurt, Principal at Edgewood Elementary

Today, Kids’ Food basket is now expanded to serve 39 schools in west Michigan. What began as a program serving 125 school kids each school day grew to serving 7,500 kids each weekday in west Michigan. Since July 1, 2016 they served over 52,000 meals– and the new school year is just beginning.

So we went to work, packing lunches and coloring lunch bags with messages of care and encouragement.  It was just one of 105 DTE Energy Care Force efforts across the state this month.