Making a Way: United Way of Southwest Michigan's "In the Know" Newsletter

United Way of SWMI

Aug 20, 2021

“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to somehow help people hurt by this crisis, but I wasn’t sure how,” said a St. Joseph resident.

“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to somehow help people hurt by this crisis, but I wasn’t sure how,” said a St. Joseph resident. “United Way connected me to opportunities, and I learned that Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency needed help distributing food.”

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA), an impact partner of United Way of Southwest Michigan, primarily provides food and housing services to low-income individuals and families in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties.

​“When I arrived for the first time at SMCAA’s warehouse in Benton Harbor shortly after the lockdown began, I was stunned by the number of cars lined up waiting for food. I was assigned to the water bottle station and I loaded them into the open backs of vehicles as they slowly progressed from one station to the next,” the volunteer said.

​“At one point, a little boy popped his head over the back of the seat and exclaimed, ‘I love you!’ I said, ‘I love you too!’ It was the closest exchange I’d had with another person in a couple weeks. I needed that healing experience as much as anyone needed food.”

Many volunteers obviously felt the same way—because they kept coming back to SMCAA, and still do to help with the monthly drive-through food distribution that is still in place.

​“We reached out to United Way at the beginning of the pandemic because we needed volunteers. About 30 people showed up that first day, and now United Way has helped us build a core base,” said Yvonne Vidt, Emergency Services Manager at SMCAA.

​According to Yvonne, about 500 households came through the line that first day. Now, about 200-250 are coming through. Recipients leave with a trunk full of a month’s worth of food that can include produce, meat, dairy, and other staples. “A lot of people are struggling with food costs, and the food we provide helps with their budget,” Yvonne said.

​“Knowing that families in our community—like that little boy’s—can go home and feel secure that their food needs are met,” the United Way volunteer said, “that means the world to me.”