Calvary Road Community Church helps to fund resources to feed residents

NILES — Just after 3 p.m. Friday, a line of people formed adjacent to a collection of shopping carts in the Calvary Road Community Church parking lot at 1446 E. Main St. Those who stood in line faced a number of challenges. Some had just recently lost their jobs, while others were trying to feed their families on a fixed income. Fortunately, some help was on the way.   

Around 3:30 p.m., a truck packed with more than 8,000 pounds of food roared into the parking lot. Niles’ Roger Pickell, the church’s outreach coordinator, was among the dozens of volunteers helping to unload the mobile food pantry and organize the food so that people could pile their carts full of fresh produce, including carrots, apples, potatoes and onions as well as baked goods and dozens of other choices in groceries at no cost to those in need.

The donations, which are available on the last Friday of the month year-round are part of the Feeding America West Michigan program. Through the program, all those who need food have to do is show up to collect their groceries.

“It works out that anyone who comes gets served,” Pickell said. “They tell us that they need it and we believe them.”

Pickell said he estimated that they would serve about 120 families Friday throughout pickup hours.   

Feeding America West Michigan is based in Comstock, Michigan. The organization stores donations from local grocery stores, manufacturers and farmers, who donate food that they cannot sell because of a surplus, overruns, order errors or misprints. While helping to reduce food waste, the program also aims to help those who experience food insecurity.

The organization serves people across Michigan and tracks poverty levels by county on its website. Berrien County was reported to have about 22,630 people who face food insecurity.

To help deter this problem, Pickell and congregants at Calvary Church raise about $700 a month to pay Feeding America West Michigan to put on the program. The cost covers food shipping and storage of the donations. Pickell said the church budgets to pay out of pocket for the program every month, but occasionally they earn a grant which helps to cover some of the cost. If they receive a grant for a month, they put the $700 toward next year’s program, Pickell said.

Pickell thanked the Niles community for helping to support the event. He said Martin’s supplies the grocery carts every month for the event, which is a big help in transporting the food from truck to the individual’s car.

“Martin’s is faithful in providing these grocery carts. That makes a huge difference, because some of these people could not carry the food,” Pickell said. “Sometimes they make a sacrifice, because during the holidays there are not many carts available, but they still give us what we need.”

He also thanked volunteers from Calvary and First Baptist churches for donating their time. Volunteers help to unload items and help those in need get to their cars.

While the donations will help to bolster empty pantries and refrigerators, Pickell said he also hopes it serves as a sense of security to those who need it.

“There are a lot of elderly people relying on social security and this helps them,” Pickell said.

No matter what the weather, on the last Friday of the month, Pickell said they always see a lot of residents standing in line waiting for the donations. This he said indicates a need across the Berrien County area.

Pickell said it is heartwarming to hear just how many people express gratitude for the program.

Any leftover food from the program goes toward one of the church’s projects to distribute food to local neighborhood that is known to have food insecurity.

Pickell said they are always looking for volunteers to assist with monthly distribution. Those interested can sign up to participate by contacting the church at (269) 208-4715. The church is located at 1446 E. Main St.

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