BRIDGMAN — It was a family affair Wednesday as Heidi Southard’s parents and children helped hand out food at the Caring Cupboard Mobile Food Pantry, organized through Woodland Shores Baptist Church in Bridgman.
Southard, Caring Cupboard coordinator, said 58 households with 195 family members signed up to receive food from the Feeding America truck the pantry brought in.
Her 15-year-old son, Carl Southard, said he loves it – most of the time.
“Sometimes, I’m volun-told and sometimes, I volunteer,” he said while taking a break from passing out bread. “But no matter what, I have fun doing it.”
He said he helped a few times after his grandmother, Marty Greendonner, started Caring Cupboard’s indoor food pantry at the church about 14 years ago, also through Feeding America. He said he didn’t start volunteering regularly until after his mother took over in 2011 because his grandparents moved to Holland.
Then in 2015, Heidi Southard said she started bringing in the mobile pantry the first Wednesday of each month. That’s when Carl Southard said he really started to help.
“I’ve only missed five or six of these for band or wrestling,” he said.
The mobile pantry delivers food out of the Bridgman Fire Department during the winter months. The rest of the time, Carl Southard said the food is delivered in the church’s parking lot no matter what the weather is.
“I’ve done it in the rain. I’ve done it in the snow,” he said.
His sister, 18-year-old Emma Southard, said she’s not able to help out as often as her brother because of school activities, but she enjoys it when she volunteers.
“I love grabbing things out of the truck,” she said. “It’s nice to see everyone so happy and so thankful.”
Heidi Southard said everyone is invited to the mobile pantry.
The indoor pantry is for people in the pantry’s service area who meet federal poverty guidelines. It is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays and from 6:15-7:30 p.m. the first and third Sunday of each month.
The service area for Caring Cupboard is Bridgman, Baroda, Stevensville, Glendora, New Troy, Sawyer and St. Joseph.
She said there is a need for a food pantry in the Bridgman area, with 50 percent of the students at Bridgman Public Schools and 60 percent of students at the River Valley School District qualify for free or reduced lunches.
“There is definitely a pocket of rural working poor in that area,” she said.
In addition to Feeding America, she said the pantries get donations from Bit of Swiss and Red Coach Donuts in Stevensville and Panera Bread in St. Joseph. She said Harding’s Friendly Market in Bridgman donates shopping carts for the people picking up the food to use, with Harbor Country Mission transporting the carts to and from the mobile pantry.
“I do it because it’s satisfying to help people,” said Southard, a speech pathologist at Lakeshore Public Schools in Stevensville. “I work in the schools, and I see kids who are hungry, and I like to think that doing this helps at least a few of them.”
The volunteers on Wednesday included Bridgman’s royalty. Southard said Miss Bridgman and her court volunteer year after year, even as the people wearing the crowns change.
“It’s a whole community thing,” she said.
Greendonner, who started the first pantry, said volunteering is something she and her husband didn’t start doing until they were adults.
“We didn’t have a servant’s heart and a living relationship with Christ until our 30s,” she said as she helped hand out vegetables at the pantry.
Then she said she and her husband, Jack Greendonner, were mentored by Dr. Herb and Frieda Atkinson, who were avid volunteers. The HERBIE Health Clinic, which serves uninsured adults once a month at the Salvation Army in Benton Harbor, is named in memory of Dr. Herb Atkinson.
“After that, we would see people differently,” she said.
She said she loved meeting the people. One person in particular she remembers is a graduate student from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, who played the violin beautifully. She said he was from a country in South America and left behind a wife and three children to study in America.
Heidi Southard said people don’t have to belong to Woodland Shores Baptist Church to be a volunteer or to donate money. For more information, contact the Caring Cupboard coordinator by calling 465-HOPE (4673) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information can also be found on Caring Cupboard at Woodland Shores’ Facebook page.
She said the indoor pantry is tripling its space at the church in a month or two, which will mean more items will be stocked.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege