As underemployed parents with four children and one grandparent at home, Kara and her family made slightly too much to qualify for public assistance yet struggled to feed their family with a monthly food budget of $85. Once a month, they could get food from their neighborhood food pantry, and occasionally a Feeding America West Michigan Food Truck. Still, they were missing about a week’s worth of food each month. They choose canned vegetables over fresh to make meals last until the end of the month. Sometimes Kara would tell her kids that she had already eaten so they could have her share. They skipped meals often or got by eating a handful of dry cereal.

Their friends at the emergency food pantry told them about Community Food Club – a collaborative systemic response to hunger, promoting food security, consumer choice, and dignity for low-income member households.

Now, for a small membership fee, they can shop as often as they want, almost any day of the week as long as they don’t exceed the limit for their family. The club feels like any big-box membership store. They show their IDs to a greeter, grab a cart and make selections from displays of good food, including fresh produce, dairy, and meat. Kara can take her time, read labels and choose things she knows her kids will eat. At checkout, her food is weighed, her ID is scanned to deduct the amount she has taken from her family’s account, and she gets a receipt showing how much is left. Kara feels good about paying her membership fee, and she’s comfortable taking her kids to a place that feels like a regular grocery store. This option makes feeding the family less of a struggle, so they can focus on finding better-paying jobs and creating a safe and stable home.

No one should suffer the stress, indignity, and insecurity of hunger. Through community contributions, Heart of West Michigan United Way supports emergency food programs and collaborative efforts that build toward long-term food security. Last year, we helped more than 40,000 hungry people push past the times when food and funding too often run out—for a better month, a better life, and a better community.


The names of some individuals have been changed to respect their privacy.