Michigan Gateway Community Foundation donates to food pantries

NILES — As the sun peeked through the clouds during a brief break in the rain Thursday afternoon, seven individuals representing three different food pantries and one area nonprofit gathered under the bandshell at Riverfront Park in Niles.

Together, the individuals resolved to help feed Niles’ hungry.

The Michigan Gateway Community Foundation’s Niles Area Board recently launched the Nourish Niles fund, donating to three Niles food pantries: The Salvation Army, Mount Calvary Baptist Church and St. Mary’s Christian Service Center. Each pantry received $2,000 from Gateway and an additional donation of an unspecified amount from an anonymous donor.

Outside of Niles, Buchanan’s Redbud Area Ministries was also a recipient of help from Gateway.

The fund is unique to the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation as no pantry involved in the Nourish Niles Program needed to apply for a grant, and community members can donate directly to the fund to support the pantries. In addition to the initial donation, Gateway pledged to revisit the pantries’ needs in August.

Gateway President/Chief Executive Officer Rob Habicht said Nourish Niles was borne out of a meeting to address Niles residents’ needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Habicht said the Niles board decided to address the issue of food insecurity, as with unemployment on the rise, food insecurity is expected to follow.

“We decided to get out a grant right now, proactively, to food banks in Niles, with a promise to revisit,” he said. “We know this is not a short-term problem. This is going to be with us for a while.”

“We need to take care of one another, and [food] is the most basic need,” added Judy Truesdell, Gateway trustee. “These organizations need our support.”

The organizations that received donations from the Nourish Niles fund said they were grateful.

“We praise the Lord,” said Mount Cavalry Baptist’s Beverly Woodson of the donation. “We need this, and we are so excited and just blessed. We thank the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation for this generous donation.”

At the Niles Salvation Army, Lt. Kendra Hixenbaugh said the donation was a relief that would help the pantry stock up on everyday items, such as cereal, peanut butter and soup. Since the pandemic hit, Hixenbaugh said the Salvation Army had seen increased participation in its hot meal program, which the donation would help support.

“We love it. It always helps to not have to worry about if we will have the finances to help feed the community,” she said. “We have a very generous community.”

Nancy Gillespie, of the Christian Service Center, said her pantry serves an average of 170 families per month. The donation from Nourish Niles will help feed those families and provide them food security, she said.

“This just helps us provide food for all of our clients,” Gillespie said.

With a smile on his face Thursday afternoon, Habicht spoke to the food pantry leaders, thanking them for their work in the Niles community.

“We are happy to provide these organizations with some of the resources they need to provide the services they do,” Habicht said.