National homeless and hunger awareness week

Local organizations prepare to help those in need

Each year, the week before Thanksgiving is known as National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week. This year, the week falls on Saturday, Nov. 12, and lasts until Sunday, Nov. 20.

“It is an opportunity to bring awareness to those that still are unaware or choose to look the other way,” said Wanda Eldred, shelter manager of Our Brother’s Keeper homeless shelter in Big Rapids. “That homelessness and hunger does exist in our own neighborhoods, it is real. There are still many people surprised that there is a homeless shelter in Big Rapids.”

Our Brother’s Keeper provides a place for the homeless to stay during winter.

“Our hope is to put an end to the myth that all homeless are lazy, drug addicts, alcoholics, etc.,” Eldred said. “We could all be one paycheck away from being on the streets.”

Also operating out of Big Rapids is Project Starburst, a non-profit organization sponsored by the United Way that provides food, household and sanitary supplies and other related items to residents of Mecosta and Osceola counties who are in temporary need of assistance.

“It brings into focus, especially in a small community, that people are out there,” said Diane Long, executive director of Project Starburst. “People don’t realize it. They’re astounded by the number of families that come through here in a month. They’re more hidden in our community. It helps us to know that they’re there, that we all aren’t doing that well.”

Project Starburst feeds approximately 300 families per month, according to Long. In the past year, they have served 11,875 individuals; 4,520 of those individuals were under the age of 18.

Unlike many other agencies, Project Starburst allows its clients to also be volunteers with the organization.

“It’s one of the ways that my clients feel they can help give back, by helping prepare food orders for others,” Long said.

Most fundraisers for Project Starburst are organized by volunteers who want to give back and raise awareness. As a part of the United Way, at least one-third of Project Starburst’s income comes from the United Way.

According to Long, they are currently talking to Ferris restaurant management students to arrange a larger fundraiser for next year. Last month, Ferris students helped unload the 8,000 pounds of food delivered to the organization.

Our Brother’s Keeper will hold its Surviving the Night fundraiser at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the pocket park in downtown Big Rapids.

Walk-ins for Project Starburst are accepted from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and donations are accepted from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Offices are located in the basement of the United Church. Call (231) 796-5342 and ask for Renesha Enge to volunteer.

To volunteer with Our Brother’s Keeper or hold fundraisers, students can contact the shelter at (231) 629-8033.