Feeding Hungry Children One Weekend at a Time
Thanks to one woman's response to God's calling, thousands of school kids in West Michigan no longer go hungry on the weekend.
"I was the Kids Hope director at Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan, when the recession of 2008 hit," says Cheri Honderd. "I began to learn about kids who were coming to school hungry and were unable to learn due to their hunger.
"God placed a huge burden on my heart for the children, and I began praying for a solution to this problem. I have always desired God to be glorified in our community through our church, so Ephesians 3:20-21 are verses I pray regularly. I heard about a backpack food program that began in Texas, and I knew that it was God's answer to my prayer."
Honderd researched the program, altered it to fit the needs of the local community, and talked to the principal of the school that partnered with Fair Haven for Kids Hope. (Kids Hope is a mentoring program that pairs church volunteers with students who need help.) Out of that process, Hand2Hand was conceived.
Through Hand2Hand, children in need receive a backpack full of food each weekend. (Though food assistance programs help during the school day, children are especially vulnerable to hunger on weekends.) A church connects with a school and provides backpacks, food, and volunteers. Each week, the volunteers load backpacks with healthy food, and on Fridays they get them to students who need them. The volunteers do this in a way that doesn't draw attention to the needs of the students.
"The vision of feeding kids brought our church together as we realized that our community--a middle to upper middle class community--was struggling due to the recession," says Honderd. She adds that Fair Haven's financial backing allowed Hand2Hand to grow. "The church raised a large sum of money so we could offer seed money to churches who wanted to partner with us."
Honderd held an informational meeting for local churches and used the seed money to help eight of them begin a Hand2Hand ministry. "Word of mouth spread the news from there, and eventually our story was picked up by the media," she says. A video on the Hand2Hand website, www.hand2handbackpack.org, also caused people to begin the program.
The program grew by leaps and bounds. Currently more than 2,100 students in 62 schools benefit from Hand2Hand. Approximately 600 volunteers and 44 churches from 12 denominations are involved.
Fair Haven now has Hand2Hand partnerships with two elementary schools, serving a total of 115 students. Three coordinators at Fair Haven plan, purchase, and organize all of the food and schedule the 20 volunteers.
"Praying over the food and for the children is a requirement for all of our church partners, so children are also being prayed for in communities. I wish there were not hungry children so this ministry didn't have to grow, but the reality is that there are 16.7 million food-insufficient children in America and we as the church must rise up to help combat hunger.
"Our prayer is that as we feed children they will be able to learn and excel at school, which will enable them to break the cycle of poverty when they are adults," says Honderd, who was ordained as a commissioned pastor in November and began serving Fair Haven Ministries as pastor of global and local missions.
"Hand2Hand has been an awesome opportunity for churches to be involved in their community.
"I love how Christ is seen in the community as churches rise up to fight childhood hunger, and I am so thankful that many children are being loved and fed through Hand2Hand."