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Mary K. Hoodhood honored with Presidential Citizens Medal, nation's 2nd highest civilian award



Sharon Hanks

The passionate Grand Rapids founder of Kids' Food Basket, a community program serving sack meals to local low-income children, has become a huge national celebrity after she was among 13 remarkable Americans awarded the prestigious Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House Aug. 4, the second highest civilian honor granted by the U.S. Government.

More than 6,000 nominations poured in nationwide for the honor, but Mary K. Hoodhood's work stood out among the best. Despite suffering a car accident in 1980 that left her a quadriplegic, the determined Hoodhood started the program in 2001 after a Grand Rapids elementary school principal told her that she saw youngsters rummaging through nearby trash in search of food because they hadn't eaten since lunch the day before. Today, Kids' Food Basket prepares more than 2,600 sack meals every school day for more than 25 schools and nearly 2,000 more during most days of the summer at sites throughout Grand Rapids.

"I had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake; it wasn't a dream," recalls the Hoodhood, the medal winner upon return from her thrilling "surreal" trip to the White House accompanied by her husband, Jeff.

Under the spotlight of national press, President Barack Obama personally honored Hoodhood with the award granted every year since 1969 to individuals who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens." Past recipients have included some of America's most respected public figures but also everyday heroes united by an unwavering commitment to service.

In his remarks, Obama said, "physical limitations have never hindered . . . Hoodhood's determination to strengthen her community."

Hoodhood says she's still "dumbfounded" with her selection, saying, "there are so many people doing such amazing things in this country. I was blindsided."

About 100 volunteers six days a week prepare nutritious sack lunches from the Kids' Food Basket headquarters at 1203 Butterworth Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. In late August, Kids' Food Basket will move to 2055 Oak Industrial Dr. NE to accommodate the growing need of the program. Each meal includes a piece of fresh fruit and vegetable, a meat/cheese sandwich, a 100 percent fruit juice box, granola bar and a healthy snack such as trail mix.

Grand Rapids metro area has a troubling food hardship rate of 19.4 percent, ranking it 34th among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to the organization's website. That's higher than Detroit (18.8 percent) and Chicago (17.4 percent), it reports.

The community will be invited to celebrate Hoodhood's award at an event to be held on Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Amway Grand Plaza. Details will be released soon and posted on the Kids' Food Basket website.

You can watch the 19.36 minute  award ceremony at this White House website here.  Listen to Hoodhood explain how she got involved in Kids' Food Basket at this White House website here.

Sources: Mary Hoodhood, founder of Kids' Food Basket of Grand Rapids; the White House website.

Sharon Hanks is innovations and jobs news editor at Rapid Growth Media. Please send story ideas and comments for the column to Sharon at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia.com. She also is owner of The Write Words in Grand Rapids.

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