As someone who was part of a team of creatives, business leaders, education institutions, and philanthropists, we all banded together in what can only be described as a midwife-of-a-situation to bring Rapid Growth, a solutions-based journalism magazine to life in April 2006.
Since that time we have had many creative folks work alongside of us as we sought to bring unique stories to our community, and also those looking at our city as a destination for fun, relocated for work, or a place simply to call home.
So as we face an unprecedented time in our planet's history that is impacting so many lives, we decided to leverage our community-partners in dialogue to produce a series of stories that reflect our time together.
Please welcome, Bridget Clark-Whitney of Kids' Food Basket.
Today I turn 40. In 2008, the day I turned 28, Rapid Growth Media published a blog on Kids’ Food Basket’s growth and scale during the recession. At the time, we had 37 schools on our wait list for services. The recession hadn’t hit its peak, and KFB was growing quickly to respond to the — sometimes desperate — phone calls from teachers and families needing food assistance.
Twelve years later some parallels exist—phone calls and messages from families struggling to feed their children, and an uncertainty about the future. This crisis, however, has hit swiftly and quickly and left many of our families struggling with few resources. As our community wades into uncharted waters, one thing we know for sure is that this crisis will compound the suffering that impoverished families and children experience. Before COVID-19, our community already faced the reality that thousands of kids in our community didn't have access to healthy, nourishing food. As we move forward, we face even more significant uncertainty. Any crisis can bring out the best in humanity. Right now, our kids need and deserve our best.
Society’s most pressing problems always require rapid, intense and critical work that add up to a constant marathon of navigating, problem solving, decision making, learning, and committing to change. This moment — more than ever — requires ingenuity and positivity, problem solving and grit. Crisis requires us to sift and to direct all resources to that which is most critical. In a global pandemic, the health and well-being of our communities’ most vulnerable — our children and families experiencing poverty — is absolutely critical to our collective health as a community.
What both launches me out of bed in the morning and keeps me awake at night is the unimaginable number of 75,000 local kids experiencing food insecurity who didn’t have what they needed prior to the crisis. While the Shelter in Place policy is a critical step to stop COVID-19, the ramifications to vulnerable populations will be incalculable. There were 75,000 children across our four counties that were qualified for federally subsidized breakfast and lunch, now, with Shelter in Place, healthy food resources, which were already expensive for struggling families, have become that much more difficult to access.
Remember that nutrition is critical for young minds to maintain their capacity to learn. Prior to this crisis, Kids’ Food Basket provided nearly 9,000 nutritionally rich Sack Suppers to kids across four counties – so we were only hitting about 12% of the need. As a result of this crisis, those on the margins will be forced into deeper levels of poverty and need. Our government, churches, nonprofits, and corporations have and will need to collaborate in the work of recreating our social safety net.
While many schools are working to provide breakfasts and lunches during this phase of the crisis, families who are at risk of job loss or reduction in hours will no longer be able to provide evening meals to their children. These families will be hit the hardest during the COVID-19 pandemic. The speed and extent of our emergency response depends on our resources, our community's ability to support our efforts, and the ingenuity and agility of our team to continue to grow and meet this imminent need.
Our Journey: After consulting with health care professionals and local health departments, KFB crafted an unprecedented emergency response plan to best serve our community and keep our children, volunteers, and staff safe.
Since the announcement of the school closures, and now the stay at home order, we have seen the best from our community – continued not-so-surprising surprises of support and generosity from our community. Amway made us a large batch of hand sanitizer for our staff and volunteers, James Bond in East Grand Rapids is delivering to-go food to raise money for KFB. The first week of the crisis, Nelly, a brand-new volunteer, rode her bike six miles each way to pack food for families. Thousands of you have offered to volunteer and to give, and so many of you have sent us love and prayers. Please, keep it up. We need it and we need you.
Thanks to every single person who has reached out to Kids’ Food Basket with a kind heart and willingness to serve our kids. All of our volunteer shifts are full and we have sufficient backup on standby for the foreseeable future. However, please check our Emergency Response page often as our needs may change. As long as it is safe and responsible to do so, we are committed to continuing our work throughout this worldwide pandemic.
Because of all of this work and our communities’ generosity and partnerships, in two weeks we:
- Implemented safety and emergency protocols for staff, volunteers, and partner organizations
- Packed and distributed 73,302 healthy meals
- Distributed nourishing food to over 60 sites across our four counties (Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa & Allegan)
We are tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support and love. Most importantly, we need you and your loved ones to stay healthy because we are going to continue to need you in the future. We know you want to be there for our children and we need you! Stay to this effort:
- Monetary resources are critical, and “Text to Give” is very effective and efficient. Text “KFB” to 56651 and know that every one of your dollars will be going toward nourishing our community.
- March is the month that we Go Orange to bring awareness of childhood hunger. We encourage you to Go Orange with us in the comfort and safety of your homes by wearing orange to show your support and commitment to end childhood hunger. help us grow our mission by sharing with us and your friends and family on social media.
- Continue decorating brown bags for Sack Suppers. It is a great family-friendly activity to do that is so appreciated.
I’m honored and humbled to have led and to be leading Kids’ Food Basket in it’s 18th year, and during this global pandemic. We have the unique capability and opportunity to care for our communities’ most vulnerable citizens during this critical time. Over the last two weeks I’ve felt a constant duality in my personal response to this crisis – it guts me knowing how many of our community members are struggling, and we’re just at the beginning of the impact. At the same time, I’m energized and encouraged by the prospect of deep growth. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of humanity, and collectively, we are at war with a virus. This war will force us to dig deep, build grit, discover tenacity, and problem solve to create a world during and post-COVID-19. So much has changed since that first Rapid Growth Blog in March 2008, but one thing is the same…when things are at their worst, we have the opportunity to be at our best.
Bridget Clark Whitney is the President and Founding CEO of Kids’ Food Basket (KFB), a children’s food equity organization providing daily evening meals, or “Sack Suppers” to food-insecure children in Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa and Allegan counties. During Bridget’s 18-year tenure, from college intern to Founding CEO, Kids’ Food Basket has undergone significant growth, from serving 125 children in 2002 to over 8,800 children each weekday as of 2020. Under Bridget’s leadership, Kids’ Food Basket has grown from a $20,000 to a $8 million annual budget in 18 years and has become one of the largest and most successful anti-hunger programs for children in Michigan.
Bridget has a B.A. in Community Leadership and Communications from Aquinas College. She earned a Master of Social Justice from Marygrove College. Additionally, she holds a Certificate of Non-Profit Executive Management and a Certificate of Fundraising Management from Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Bridget also completed an Executive Program in Nonprofit Leadership from Stanford University. Bridget lives in Grand Rapids with her scientist husband, Matt Whitney and their two children, Madeline and Jack.