Amid pandemic, volunteer says Mission is where she’s supposed to be

For the past several years, Carmen VanHaitsma and her husband have volunteered once a month at the Holland Rescue Mission. This past Thanksgiving the couple organized the Mission's teams to deliver 180 meals to shut-ins.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic turned everything on its head. The potentially deadly and sometimes asymptomatic coronavirus has forced the closure of many Michigan businesses.

Laid off

Three weeks ago, VanHaitsma was laid off from her job leading an administrative team in a local dermatology office. She saw her suddenly open schedule as an opportunity to lend a hand to those she had already been helping at the Mission. 

Related: Mission takes extra steps to protect homeless from COVID-19

VanHaitsma, 59,  figured she would volunteer in the Mission kitchen a few hours a week.

“I didn’t realize God had a different plan for me,” she says. “My first week, I worked 42 hours. … I believed God had this plan for me. This is where I am supposed to be.”

Carmen VanHaitsma volunteers in the kitchen of the homeless shelter, Family Hope Center.
The Mission has also put many of its programs on pause during the pandemic. However, food and shelter are essential. A skeleton crew of staff and longtime volunteers keep the kitchen running, serving about 120 people three meals a day at its downtown shelter and the Family Hope Center.

To reduce risk, the Mission is allowing only their established volunteers who sign a waiver acknowledging the risk to work at its sites. All volunteers wear gloves and cloth masks.


VanHaitsma’s husband, Roger, is older and at risk, so she volunteers at the Family Hope Center on her own for now, helping to run the lunch and dinner meals.

“I’ve only been there two and a half weeks, and I feel like these women are my friends,” she says.

Each day they greet her with smiles. She has learned many of their names. And she prays with them and for them daily.

Vanhaitsma bakes cookies for the women and children twice a week.

“Everybody likes cookies, right?” she says.

VanHaitsma's volunteer service always seems to be feeding the hungry. She says she believes a mission trip to Haiti where she helped to feed the poor and her new work at the Mission might be God leading her life in a new direction of helping the hungry.

When asked what happens after COVID-19 runs its course and things return to normal in West Michigan, she says, “who knows?” She is putting her faith in God to show her how she can continue to be of service to others.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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