Teen’s food pantry expands to include deliveries to senior citizens

When faced with a choice between easy passivity and difficult action, most people choose to passively watch from afar. Autumn Fitchett is not most people. Fitchett, a graduating senior from Zeeland East, saw her community members struggling and chose the path of difficult action.

Fitchett had volunteered for Feeding America in the past, and after seeing the number of students from a neighboring district who stopped at a food bank, she realized the difference she could make. 

Autumn Fitchett used the money she saved for her prom to start a pantry.

Using money she had set aside for her senior prom, which had been canceled due to COVID-19, Fitchett bought a cart full of nonperishable groceries. With the help of her mother, she carefully cleaned the groceries before setting them outside. At the end of the day, she again carefully cleaned the food and put it back into boxes to be stored in the family van, so the process could start all over again the next day.

“That eliminates the risk,” says Fitchett. “People are picky now about where their food has been, and not bringing it into our house is safer.”

Turning heads

When her first batch of groceries ran out, Fitchett returned to the grocery store to get more food to donate. By this point, her start-up food pantry was turning some heads. 

Friends, family, and teachers all reached out to her, commending her selflessness. Teachers were especially proud to see a Zeeland student going above and beyond to help her community. 

Fitchett used to take part in the free and reduced-price lunch program at school, so she feels, now that she’s in a better position, helping is the right thing to do, said her mom, Debra Fitchett. She added that her daughter, who plans to study art at Kendall College of Art and Design, has always had a passion for helping others, and has volunteered for several organizations. 

Aside from the dozens of people who have stopped at her pantry for food, nine families reached out to Fitchett, asking about her pantry.

“Asking for help like that can be hard,” Fitchett says, “but they were looking to me.”

Expanding the operation

From there, she began to expand her operation. 

Now with specific people in mind, Fitchett once again went shopping, clad in gloves and a mask, making sure to follow “Stay Home, Stay Safe” procedures. Now that she knew the food would immediately be stored, Fitchett bought bread, eggs, milk, and other perishable necessities for the families.

Autumn Fitchett and Brenda Molendyk deliver food.It was during this time that Community Action of Allegan County reached out to Fitchett, asking her to help with a project. 

Help for senior citizens

Senior citizens of Allegan county, who are at high risk to contract COVID, needed to have food and other items delivered to them. And so, Fitchett began the task of making more than 80 goodie bags, each filled with nutritious snacks. 

“We both cried thinking about those seniors and the situation they were in,” Debra Fitchett says.

Fitchett is in the process of producing 100 more goodie bags for the Allegan County organization.

“Autumn even went the extra mile and decorated the bags so that each one was unique, in order to bring a smile to every senior,” says Brenda Molendyk, Community Action's chief operating officer.

Together Community Action and Fitchett plan to make more than 400 bags for local seniors in need. Fitchett hopes her actions will inspire others to perform similar acts of giving during this pandemic. 

“We have more than we need and as long as we can help, we will."

Holland resident Baruch de Carvalho is a 2017 graduate of Black River High School and a junior at the University of Iowa, studying journalism. He is currently a reporting intern with The Lakeshore.

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.