Living Sustainably: Healthy food sustains healthy living

By Melissa Roessing, Community Action House
Think of the words “food pantry” for a moment. What comes to mind? I’d be really surprised if anyone’s first response was “quality.” People usually think of macaroni and cheese and a place that’s a little dull and drab.

Fresh, locally grown produce is donated on a weekly basis to Community Action House for its food pantry, to promote healthy eating.

We’re in the process of changing that assumption at Community Action House. We are not content to be a pantry that hands out canned food with the hope that people know what to do with it.
One in eight people in West Michigan struggles with food insecurity – meaning that they have unreliable access to healthy food. If you identify with that and you experience the strain of constantly stretching the food budget, you know how tough that is. And if the only way to stretch the food budget is to buy inexpensive, nutrient-void food so at least your family can eat, then that’s what you do. Maybe
you’d rather buy those peaches, but you can buy a lot more ramen noodles for the same price.
When a community acknowledges the dramatic increase of food-related illnesses such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, and proceeds to tell people, “You should eat healthier,” but gives them no options of doing so, what meaningful help is actually being offered?

Melissa Roessing (left) and Deb Ralya showcase some of the bounty of the vegetable section at Community Action House, to promote healthy eating.

Community Action House is seeking to address the issue of healthy eating by offering a full range of choices in our food pantry in the following categories: Protein, dairy, vegetables, fruit, grains and miscellaneous. We’ve formed partnerships with local farms, community gardens, individual gardeners and grocery stores who donate an array of healthy food that we can distribute.
Along with some familiar products, there may be new items on the shelf that customers have never seen before. Therefore, we add recipes and make displays of simple meal ideas to provide new menu options. We host monthly food distributions to help ensure families have a reliable source of food each month. During the summer months, we run a food program called Fresh Fridays. We put out tables of fresh produce every Friday morning, and we always have a crowd of people outside waiting for our doors to open.
We also started an edible landscape this year. Sungold cherry tomatoes and collards decorate the front of the building, just waiting to be harvested by anyone who would enjoy them.
And we’ve worked on “stretching the harvest” this year. When we receive an abundance of fresh produce, we freeze items like bananas and blueberries to share in the winter when we have less produce.
Stop in sometime to see the food pantry and ask how to get involved with helping us feed healthy food to Holland area residents. We have lots of ideas!

 Melissa Roessing is the stabilization services supervisor at Community Action House. She’s loves to inspire others to try kale and relishes her time in the kitchen, cooking healthy food for her family.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme:
Quality of Life: The community, through governmental, religious, business and social organizations, makes decisions that contribute to its own well-being.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.