The Rapidian

Local food pantries rub elbows with supercenter execs

People struggling with hunger receive groceries at local food pantries with help from community members.
Food pantries serve families in many ways, like teaching them how to grow vegetables.

Food pantries serve families in many ways, like teaching them how to grow vegetables. /Courtesy of John Knox Food Pantry

Meijer Simply Give and LPGA Tournament

Meijer Simply Give donates food-only gift cards to seven of Grand Rapids' 36 local food banks.
The LPGA golf tournament will be held at Blythefield Country Club July 21-26 with a purse of $2 million.


What do people struggling with food insecurity in Grand Rapids have in common with professional athletes? On the face of it, finding any connection between these differing groups might seem impossible. But a local retailer with hundreds of supercenters across the Midwest wants to make the connection in a community-centered way.

Representatives of local food pantries rubbed elbows last week with Meijer executives and professional athletes at the media day event for Meijer's LPGA Golf Classic, coming up later this summer. Although it sounds like a strange mix, the connection between a pro golf tournament and food pantries soon became clear.

Food pantry directors shared their perspectives of Meijer’s Simply Give, a program which replenishes the shelves of some of Grand Rapids 36 food pantries and soup kitchens. Ladies Professional Golf Association officials, Tour Professional Brittany Lang and Meijer officials delivered information about the Meijer-sponsored pro golf tournament to be held at Blythefield on July 21-26, 2015. They also shared facts about Meijer’s corporate philanthropic focus on hunger relief. 

People struggling with food insecurity often turn to local food pantries for help when their wages or food stamps run out. The pantries serve families and singles from many walks of life- whether they're working or unemployed, with or without disabilities, elderly or young, citizen or refugee. Anyone who can prove eligibility, including having an income of 200% or less of the poverty level, qualifies to shop at most pantries once a month. Emergency food is also provided in case of a fire or job loss, or when food stamps are delayed. Seven of the 36 food pantries in Grand Rapids receive benefits from the Meijer Simply Give program.

Claire Guisfredi, the Executive Director of North Kent Community Services (NKCS) near Rockford, Sparta and Cedar Springs, said their food bank benefits from Simply Give which runs three times a year. The program relies on Meijer customers to purchase $10 donation cards. These donation cards are matched by Meijer and converted into Meijer food-only gift cards which are then given to the food pantry selected by the individual store. Pantries can choose the grocery items best suited for the clients they serve and those they aren't able to stock through other donations, which can also include baby food and supplies.

“Simply Give makes it possible for NKCS and other food pantries to provide the working poor in our area with fresh food that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Guisfredi explains. Over the past year alone, NKCS clients have received over $24,000 in food purchased with the cards made available through the program.

Many food pantry clients hold two jobs, at a fast food restaurant, retail store or cleaning service, working up to 29 hours at each. Because employers are required to count 30-hour employees as fulltime, most of these underemployed workers don’t receive benefits from their employers, keeping them at or below that qualifying 200% of the federal poverty level. Employed people who can't afford necessities are often referred to as the working poor. A report by the United Way uses the acronym ALICE – "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” to refer to the 24% of those in our West Michigan communities who are working yet still struggling to make ends meet. They earn more than the federal definition of poverty, and so don't quality for many forms of public assistance. Many of these under-employed people rely on monthly visits to food banks like those represented at the Meijer media event. 

On the city's southeast side, Church of the Servant's food pantry serves "a world of nations" living in subsidized housing in the neighborhood, says Lori Wiersma, their Minister of Administration. Their pantry supplies refugee families, singles and others on limited income with nonperishable food items like canned goods, rice and dry cereal.

Nutritious fresh food, like eggs, cheese, fruit, yogurt and veggies isn’t usually available at food pantries because most of the donated food comes from individuals who are part of a local church or service group. These groups almost always ask for non-perishable donations. So some of the participating pantries, like North Kent Community Services and John Knox Food Pantry use the Simply Give cards to stock up on higher priced more nutritious foods, foods they wouldn't normally be able to offer their clients if it weren't for the help from Simply Give. 

Michael Merren of John Knox Food Pantry in Gaines Township says his clientele includes women of retirement age who tend to get their perishable food elsewhere but who also get frozen lean meats that his pantry purchases with the Meijer Simply Give cards. Laura Castle of North End Community Food Pantry says their clients often “fall through the cracks of the system,” without access to reliable transportation, health care and other basic needs. Both of these food pantries have received about $24,000 worth of Meijer gift cards over the past year.

To learn more about how you can support your local food bank through this program, go to To find a food bank that serves your neighborhood go to

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