Human Services

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes’ (KLF) 38-year service model. Prior to the pandemic, KLF operated a network of 30 pantries throughout Kalamazoo County. Clients were able to shop in-person and had a bank of “points” to spend on their groceries. Overnight, this model changed to curbside pickup at just a few locations and KLF was able to continue operations throughout the entirety of the pandemic.

To provide greater accessibility, KLF launched a home delivery program in March 2020, which has grown to 70 deliveries each day. While both curbside pickup and home delivery were born out of necessity, clients report preferring these service elements over the pre-pandemic model. KLF currently has 21 pantries in its network, including 11 school-based units. Six additional mobile food distributions were added, resulting in 12 distributions throughout Kalamazoo County each month

KLF also increased targeted outreach services to support those with unique food needs, including individuals facing homelessness and refugees seeking safety. New partnerships were formed involving several new agencies who secure food from KLF to provide their clients with congregate meals, emergency packs or pantry items. Since the beginning of the pandemic, KLF has served over 3,000 brand new households. On average, KLF provides food assistance to 27,000 unduplicated individuals each year from just over 10,000 households.

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Ministry with Community

With over four decades of experience serving those in crisis in Kalamazoo, Ministry with Community has adapted to change many times. That’s why when COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, we knew exactly what we had to do: open our doors every morning while keeping our members (those we serve) safe.

We acted quickly to provide masks for everyone inside our facility and placed plastic barriers in high traffic areas. We installed special filters in our HVAC system to trap viral particles. When people started testing positive for COVID but had no home to safely isolate in, we set up motel stays so they could recover safely and peacefully.

We’ve had to limit the number of people in our space to allow for physical distancing, and it’s one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. But from the start, members utilized the services they needed and left to allow others in. Since meals could no longer be safely served family style in our dining room, we shifted to take-out containers and modified the back door of the kitchen to act as a walk-up window where anyone can take a meal to go.

We are proud to say that we have remained open 365 days per year, even throughout the pandemic. We continuously offered all our usual services, including laundry, showers, restrooms, two meals each day, hygiene items and, through our Social Work and Peer Support Team, assistance with housing, obtaining a birth certificate or an ID, and more.

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Open Doors Kalamazoo

When COVID-19 caused everything to shut down, Open Doors Kalamazoo was only weeks away from our annual fundraising luncheon, Discover Open Doors. The event typically gathers 500 supporters of our work, “building relationships to overcome homelessness.” Our staff began working from home, the event was cancelled, and our focus turned to keeping our residents and shelter guests safe.

Meanwhile, we placed a pause on taking in new shelter guests. Those who were already guests at the shelter had to remain in their rooms. We provided tablets so that everyone could stay connected with loved ones and continue attending AA/NA meetings, if needed. More than half of our residence community experienced a loss of income. We received emergency funding to pay for their housing, provide essential needs and ensure that families with children were equipped for virtual schooling.

While addressing these immediate needs, we were also keeping a cautious eye on the horizon for the long-term impacts on the economy and housing. When we were asked to serve as one of three local partner organizations in the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, we seized the opportunity.

Through social media, we shared videos of residents and shelter guests telling their stories of strength and hope. In return, our supporters showed us how greatly they care about the people who live in our community. Thanks to their generous support, we have been able to help more than 200 people not just avoid homelessness but overcome it.

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OutFront Kalamazoo

Like many smaller non-profits, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted OutFront Kalamazoo in a myriad of ways. We had to look at ALL of our programming – from Youth Group to Kalamazoo Pride – and make decisions about how to move forward in offering services and structured groups to our area’s LGBTQ+ community. Also, like many others, we had to climb the technical learning curve if we were to bring meaningful services to our community virtually. We shuttered our office in mid-March of 2020, just two-and-one-half months after hiring a new executive director and began the process of moving most of our services to a virtual digital platform.

Our services like Youth Group and TransCend pivoted to virtual with relative ease. A simple email to group members explaining the new paradigm and learning to use a platform like Zoom made things relatively straightforward. But other programming, like Pride and our annual Winter Gala, took much more thought and time to plan and execute. Pride became a month-long virtual celebration with entertainment and educational programming instead of a two-day festival. Our annual Winter Gala morphed into the Always OutFront Awards, presented virtually in the spring.

While we could not boast the same engagement numbers for Pride and the Always OutFront Awards as we did for their in-person, pre-COVID counterparts, we did successfully reach many hundreds of people and let them know – pandemic or not – OutFront Kalamazoo would be #AlwaysOutFront.

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Prevention Works

For 27 years, Prevention Works has helped build a stronger community by providing prevention strategies and health education services to youth and families. Our programs are recognized for enhancing social emotional health, substance use prevention, violence prevention, parenting and family life skills. Prevention Works partners with schools, churches, youth agencies and neighborhood community centers to remove barriers for the participants we serve.

Along with the entire world, Prevention Works underwent a paradigm shift due to the global pandemic, immediately closing all programs and services. There was a service delivery crisis given our limited ability to connect with our community. As a result, Prevention Works had to reimage how to connect to the community with vital services.

Virtual program delivery required us to marry technology with tenacity, exploring new engagement strategies to connect to the ones who need our services the most. Operational priorities required staff to rely on upgraded technology. Prevention Works joined community collaborations to improve accessibility efforts for youth and family participants, alongside the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network and the Kalamazoo Public Library.

Despite the barriers, Prevention Works responded to the “call to action,” opened its doors, and created a Community Learning Hub. The Hub provided a safe and structured learning environment with accessible Wi-Fi, technology, tutoring, mental health services, school supplies, meals and staffing to supervise in person learning for Kalamazoo Public School students. Prevention Works provided wraparound support services, prevention programs and social emotional development for 12 male students and their families. All 12 completed their academic year and advanced to the next grade.

Due to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety experiencing an increase of youth crimes, Prevention Works partnered with Public Safety, the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Court, the Boys & Girls Clubs and Youth Opportunities Unlimited to offer comprehensive wraparound support for 15 of the most vulnerable, justice impacted youth (ages 14-18). Prevention Works was the host site for this summer program and also provided programming to support the youth.

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Sherman Lake YMCA

A lot has changed at Sherman Lake YMCA over the past two years, but our commitment has remained the same – to always be here for our community when they need us most, with open arms and caring hearts. More than a gym, a pool or a camp, the Sherman Lake YMCA is about elevating community for all who live here. In “normal” times, we do that by helping people get healthy, by connecting seniors to in-person social networks and by teaching our campers about Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility (or what we call HCRR). Recently, however, elevating community has meant something much different.

In response to the needs of families with school-aged children in our community, we created the Sherman Lake Scholars program in the fall of 2020 as an adaptation of our summer day-camp program. Half of each child’s day was spent online completing schoolwork and the other half was spent outdoors participating in traditional camp activities. More than 90 children participated in this program between September 2020 and March 2021. While the true cost of Sherman Lake Scholars was cost prohibitive for many families, we were able to implement a tiered pricing model, allowing families to pay what they could afford.

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Rootead Enrichment Center

Rootead’s mission is:​ Reclaiming the village through cultural liberation by holding spaces for internal transformation, healing arts and birthing justice.​ With support from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Youth & Cultural Arts branch of Rootead was able to host programs for youth and activities for families during the pandemic.

Pivoting during these times was very important to Rootead’s mission because people were not able to gather in-person, and we were not able to hold public spaces for Rootead families. In the beginning, it was very difficult to obtain the information needed to assess what the community wanted during the pandemic. Rootead’s staff focused on making the tools that they offer easily accessible, especially for the underserved community who only had access to laptops and Wi-Fi in public spaces like schools, libraries and work.

Rootead partnered with the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYD Network) to help solve families’ needs for hotspots, free meals, homework help and other support services. This helped connect families to Rootead Collective, an online community for Rootead families. We transferred all youth and family programs and activities to virtual programming on the Rootead Collective.

Ultimately, Rootead hosted virtual workshops and programs that have impacted 60 youth. Youth streaming performances have reached over 6,000 views. When the weather was warm, Rootead was able to safely have Community Drum & Dance workshops outside, which impacted over 150 families while following COVID protocols. 

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Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program — W/P Diner @ Washington Square

The Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, or KPEP, helps people transition back to their community through residential and non-residential rehabilitation programs for adult offenders. Our programs offer evidenced-based treatment and structure, encouraging participants to take personal responsibility in their lives.

Employment is a large part of keeping people from returning to prison. We offer both a hospitality and a building trades program. In 2017, we opened the Walnut & Park Café as a way for our students to get hands-on experience in the food service industry. The response from the community has been so good, we decided to look at opening a second location, this time a diner with cook-to-order offerings and room for meeting space.

Construction has been moving along on the new W/P Diner @ Washington Square. The diner is located at 1324 Portage Street and will be home to your favorite eggs, baked goods and traditional diner fare. We hope to have the construction completed just as soon as possible.

The diner will have an oversized kitchen to allow our vocational training program participants to observe each station while also getting hands-on experience. Students will have training opportunities in hosting, serving tables, acting as line and prep cooks, and cashiering. With the addition of the diner, we will double the capacity of our Hospitality Vocational Training Program.

The community support from local foundations, the Edison Neighborhood Association and neighborhood residents has been phenomenal!

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Ross Township Park — Park Renovations

Nestled next to the Kellogg Manor House on the east shore of Gull Lake, Ross Township Park includes five acres of land featuring sandy beaches, rolling lawn and a section of woods. The land was given to the Township by Mary Dwight in 1906 to provide every family in the area a summer lake experience, especially children. In 2019, the Ross Township Park Committee received a new mandate and dedicated budget to bring this under-utilized and neglected park back to life once again.

The Park Committee began its new effort by organizing, and in 2019, 600 volunteer hours were donated by residents, Gull Lake Area Rotary Club, and Boy Scout troops. The woods were cleaned out, walking paths were created, and picnic tables, grills and beachfront were all refurbished. A new well was also installed, and tree stumps were removed.

Our 2020 plan for the park includes many upgrades. A new playground will feature a swing set with toddler swings and an interactive spinami. Five more park benches will make the park more accessible and comfortable. The bathrooms will receive full upgrades, including new plumbing. Old railroad ties currently being used for parking stops will be hauled away, and 46 new cement stops will be installed. A picnic table that meets Americans with Disabilities Act standards will grace the pavilion, creating easier access for all ages.

Revitalization of the park also includes long-term goals in the updated Michigan DNR Park MasterPlan for 2020 to 2025. Our goal is to encourage all visitors, including kids, seniors and people with disabilities, to be in a natural environment for exercise and relaxation. Residents over 65 increasingly say that having a fun, active outdoor space to enjoy with grandchildren is a high priority.

Open from the first of May until the end of September, Ross Township Park has the best scuba beach in Kalamazoo County. There is an extensive underwater scuba park, including climbing wall. The Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Scuba Clubs, as well as the Marine Corps cadets, all do their rescue certification dives at our beach.

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Southwest Michigan Miracle League — Field Construction

The Miracle League provides opportunities for kids, regardless of their abilities, to compete and experience the joy and benefits that come from playing baseball. Today, more than 300 Miracle League organizations globally serve over 250,000 kids with disabilities.

Miracle League games are played on a custom-designed field with a cushioned, rubberized surface to help prevent injuries. They have wheelchair accessible dugouts and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair users or visually impaired players.

The Miracle League is open to kids ages 5 to 19 whose physical or intellectual abilities are better served by the specialized playing field and rules of play that the Miracle League provides. A buddy assists each player onto the field and during the game, cheers the player on, and makes sure the player’s time is enjoyable and safe, while giving the parents a break to enjoy the game.

The Southwest Michigan Miracle League is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are building the Southwest Michigan Miracle League Field in Schoolcraft to serve the southwest Michigan area, including 4,600 kids in Kalamazoo County who have disabilities and could benefit from a Miracle League. The field will be located on US-131, with good visibility and easy access to people throughout the area. We broke ground and are planning to begin hosting games in 2020.

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