Family Network of Wyoming
The Family Network of Wyoming, located in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was formed in 2004 as people concerned about hunger in their community reached out to several local Christian Reformed churches to create an umbrella ministry. That ministry was formalized into a nonprofit organization in 2008. The agency finds its theological roots in Matthew 25, and its members work hard to constantly remind themselves that what they do for the least of us, they do for God.
The agency is actually housed in a former Christian Reformed church that donated the property after declining membership led them to close their doors. The sanctuary now serves as a warehouse, but they kept the cross as a symbol of their mission.
The Family Network is a small organization with just three staff, one of them part time, and an operating budget of $250,000. With that, they run three main programs. The biggest is their food bank, which averages about 10,000 pantry visits a year. They also offer a durable medical equipment lending program, providing wheelchairs, walkers, shower benches, toilet risers, and the like to some 200 people a year. Lastly, they run a Christmas store for their food pantry clients. Each Christmas some 300 children receive gifts through the program. Local churches and individuals donate the toys, which are marked at about 25% of retail value. The families pay $10 per child (all of which is re-invested in the program) and are able to spend that on up to three presents worth approximately $40.
Over the years, the Family Network has built up a loyal base of volunteers, who are essential to their day-to-day work. Many of those volunteers have established real relationships with the agency’s clients. People who come to the pantry for food greet the volunteers by name and ask after their families. It’s a strong bond – and one which helps remind everyone involved that, there but for the grace of God go I.
Like many relief agencies, The Family Network faced a serious challenge with COVID. The number of people seeking help from their pantry ballooned from less than 1,000 in March to more than 2,500 in April – and all at a time when the agency was down to a single paid staff member. They were forced to transition their pantry to a drive through model, packing standard boxes of food and providing a shopping cart’s worth to each family – with extra for the largest families. Given the severity of the crisis in Michigan, and the gaps in the state’s unemployment system, they also changed their rules to allow families to visit the pantry more than once a month. Only the neediest have taken advantage of this, but each month about 35-40 families make a second visit. And while COVID has been a struggle, it has also served as a stark reminder of why groups like The Family Network of Wyoming exist.