That was the sobering reality Cheri Honderd discovered in 2008 when the Great Recession still had a firm grip on the economy. Honderd learned there were 19 students in Jenison coming to school Monday mornings with their stomachs growling with hunger.
Honderd's awareness led to her founding the Hudsonville-based nonprofit, Hand2Hand.
Since then, Hand2Hand has multiplied its outreach to include feeding 7,500 students with weekend meals who attend 193 schools in seven West Michigan counties, thanks to the partnership muscle of more than 100 churches and thousands of volunteers.
The hope of Jesus
"I had the hope of Jesus come into my life that's really the heartbeat of this ministry," says Honderd, Hand2Hand's founder and executive director. "From January 2008 until March, I had such a burden for how we could help the kids who were suffering in our local communities."
Undergirded with Psalm 145:16, Honderd was director in 2008 of the Zeeland-based nonprofit mentoring program, Kids Hope USA, which matches schools with churches. It was then she became aware students at a Jenison elementary school were coming to school Monday morning who had little or nothing to eat over the weekend.
"The teachers discovered they were going home (over the weekend) with lack of food for the first time possibly in this community in a long time," Honderd says. "The sense was because of the recession, kids were facing food insecurity because parents lost their jobs or maybe they were laid off. Do you pay rent or do you pay food for the kids? Do you become homeless? What are your choices?"
Hand2Hand essentially remained a ministry of Hudsonville-based Fair Haven Church until Honderd decided to seek nonprofit status to broaden its outreach. Honderd resigned from her position as pastor of missions for Fair Haven in May 2016 to become the full-time director of Hand2Hand.
"It stayed as a ministry at Fair Haven and I think in 2010 I made it a nonprofit and the reason for that is businesses wanted to get involved but they couldn't give to a church," Honderd says. "And so, that's really the reason I wanted to make it a nonprofit so more people could get involved with feeding kids."
And get involved they have.
In partnership with Christ-following churches
One hundred and twenty churches currently partner with Hand2Hand to raise the funds in their missions budget so they can purchase food and store it in their respective pantries to later distribute the food to early childhood through high school students who live in Ottawa, Allegan, Kent, Muskegon, Barry, Mason and Van Burien counties.
"We have less churches than schools because some churches take on more than one school," Honderd says. "We will partner with any Christ-following church. We require them to pray for the students so we require Christ-following churches."
"One of the effects of the Great Recession is, although employment is at its highest, some families have not pulled out of the effects of it in terms of lower wages," Honderd says. "Also there's higher housing costs so really a family of four needs to make around $60,000. But a lot of people don't make that much. The cost of living is way more than that."
Psalm 145:16 ("You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing."), spurs Hand2Hand's mission.
God is blessing children
"Every week there are thousands of people praying over their kids, over their food and letting them know God sees them," Honderd says. "As a child gets older and wonders where was God during my need, the Holy Spirit can bring back to them that the food (from Hand2Hand) was really coming from God blessing them.
"That's how the name Hand2Hand was established. Like it was coming from God's hand, to our hand to the kids."
Students receive food two ways. High school students usually access the food at their school pantries; younger students receive plastic cinch sack with school logos printed on them that are delivered to their lockers during the lunch hour. Included is a host of supplemental food and either a lunch kit or dinner kit.
"The reason we feed early childhood through high schools is if there are four kids in one school district they are potentially getting their own sack," Honderd says.
Honderd says the weekend-only meals are intended to help students scale over the hunger hump.
Weekend is most vulnerable time
"How can they come back on Monday morning to listen and learn?" Honderd asks rhetorically. "The weekend is really the most vulnerable time for a child who faces food insecurity. We don't want them to miss a (weekday) meal. But the weekend is the most vulnerable, so we have chosen to focus on the weekends."
Fair Haven Church provides Hand2Hand office space to Hand2Hand's staff of 14, three of which are full-time, as well as a pantry.
A storehouse in Hudsonville of around 2,000-square feet stores food.
Individual giving, grants, corporations' largesse, special events and in-kind gifts keep Hand2Hand's budget chugging along.
Amway, Herman Miller, Gentex, General Mills, and JSJ enable Hand2Hand to feed more children.
Amway has gifted Hand2Hand with a grant for over three years to reach students in the Kentwood, Godfrey Lee, and Godwin school districts.
Herman Miller helped the nonprofit reach every school district in Ottawa County and as well as Muskegon and Allegan counties. Herman Miller also gifted Hand2Hand with a grant for additional office furniture.
General Mills, Gentex, and JSJ Corporation have generously provided resources to grow into new schools throughout West Michigan.
A grass movement of God
Honderd smiles. She thinks of Hand2Hand as a grass movement of God.
"It's really cool," she says. "Every weekend there are all these pockets of 120 churches packing food and praying for kids going into the schools and encouraging teachers in 193 schools. They're just feeding, blessing and loving."