'This year has been extremely hard': Holiday food sharing program comes as need is on the rise

Louise Wrege - Herald Palladium

Dec 24, 2020

Cars lined up for blocks Wednesday as people in need waited for their turn to receive food for a holiday meal during the fifth annual Holiday Food Sharing Program.

BENTON HARBOR — Cars lined up for blocks Wednesday as people in need waited for their turn to receive food for a holiday meal during the fifth annual Holiday Food Sharing Program.

About 500 turkeys and hundreds of food items were distributed to families through the program, which was hosted by the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency.

The agency’s executive director, Kim Smith Oldham, said the number of people seeking food assistance has tripled since the COVID-19 pandemic started mid-March.

“This year has been extremely hard,” she said. “In the last seven months, we’ve serviced over 23,000 families.”

The food was handed out differently from previous years, when people received food in prepackaged boxes.

But Yvonne Vidt, community services manager with the agency, said that required the volunteers to be in the Benton Harbor warehouse ahead of time.

“This year, they were not allowed in the warehouse because of the virus,” she said.

So this year cars drove in a big oval in front of the agency’s warehouse while volunteers at stations filled the trunks with the makings of a holiday meal, including dressing, baked goods, vegetables, milk, eggs and fruit.

Vidt said they worked with staff from the Berrien County Health Department to come up with a way to distribute the food while keeping everyone safe.

She said they were able to provide each family with more food than in previous years because of the federal CARES Act money that was used to buy some of the food. Feeding America also provided some of the food, along with numerous donations.

Vidt said they couldn’t have done it without the help of more than 40 volunteers.

Jennifer Green from Covert said she helps the agency distribute food every month.

“I feel like it’s my duty to give back to the community,” she said. “It feels great to see their faces and to see how thankful they are.”

Another volunteer was Brandon Haney, championship director for the 2022 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, which donated the turkeys and dressing, along with Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor.

“The community has been so good to us, this is the least we can do,” he said.

For further information about the community action agency, visit www. smcaa.com, or call 925-9077.