According to 2015 estimates by the US Census Bureau, 13.5% of Americans live below the poverty line.
“We probably feed about 320 people a month,” said Jill Cutshaw, the co-director of the Harold Larson Williamston Food Bank. “It’s usually around 85 families and we try and give people seven to 10 days worth of food, but they still struggle in other ways.”
With so many people struggling to make ends meet, the Harold Larson Williamston Food Bank is there to help.
“It just takes time and dedication,” Cutshaw said.
The story of the Williamston Food Bank starts in the late 1940s, when Harold Larson, a Williamston resident, became ill with polio.
“He got polio in the 1940s and he couldn’t work and he had no way to feed his family,” Cutshaw said. “The community came together and made sure they got through the very bad times.”
Larson was inspired by the work of his community and once he got healthy, he and his wife Margaret started the food bank.
“He had polio for about a year, and then was able to go back to work, and he started the food bank,” said Cutshaw. “And he and his wife started it actually right out of their house. Their whole house would be filled with coats, their hallways would be lined with shoes and boots, and one bedroom would be filled with toys for kids.”
Today, the food bank is located at 201 School Street-Rear, in the back of the Williamston Community Center, a space that used to be a school.
“This is the old shop class, and the school just gave this space to Harold so that he could have the food bank,” Cutshaw said.
The food bank has two requirements to receive food. You must present a utility bill that proves you live in Williamston and you must sign a form declaring your income is in the poverty line, Cutshaw said.
All of the support comes at no cost to the recipients.
“They are wizards at doing absolutely everything on a shoestring budget, and making the most of what they get there,” said Benjamin Eichler, a financial advisor in Williamston.
The food bank relies on relationships, community support, hard-working volunteers, and committed donors.
“I have a gentleman who brought in $100 of food from ALDI, and he said his goal is to do that every month,” said Cutshaw.
While individual donations are greatly appreciated, it is not enough to support those in need.
“We order from two places,” Cutshaw said. “We get most of our food from the Greater Lansing Food Bank. The other place that we order from is ALDI.”
The Greater Lansing Food Bank said that organizations like the Williamston Food Bank are a vital part of getting food to as many people as possible.
“Without partners like the Williamston Food Bank, we would not be able to meet the need in our community,” said Justin Rumenapp, the marketing and communications coordinator at Greater Lansing Food Bank. “Partner food pantries are the frontline of our work, passing out food to community members across our seven county service areas.”
On the last Monday and Tuesday of every month, the Williamston Food Bank takes orders from families in need of help. On Wednesday and Thursday, the volunteers prepare the orders. On Friday and Saturday, families come and pick up their orders from the food bank between 8:30-10:30 a.m.
“You want to see people be able to get back on their feet, but if they can’t, it’s just nice for them to come here,” Cutshaw said.
The food bank is by no means limited to giving out food. Cutshaw said some of her favorite experiences have been the additional events that she has coordinated, such as the coat drive or the Halloween costume giveaway.
“These people don’t have money for Halloween costumes,” Cutshaw said. So every year, we have a Halloween costume give out and people can come in and choose as many costumes as they want, and the kids just have a ball.”
Cutshaw is always going the extra mile to help families in whatever way she can.
“We just had a family who is pretty bad off, and they just took in their nephew who has had a lot of problems, the dad and mom kind of abandoned him, so they’ve taken him in but he has no clothes,” Cutshaw said. “He has one pair of pants, one pair of shoes and one hoodie. Right now, my car is full of clothes for him.”
For more information, visit the Williamston Food Bank’s website at www.williamstonfoodbank.org