Volunteers United to Feed the Community

Published on May 3, 2024

United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Volunteer Honor Roll uplifts individuals who have devoted significant time and energy to the betterment of others. This year, several of the impressive volunteers included in the list are fighting insecurity – using unique methods and skillsets to ensure everyone has access to a meal.

According to a 2022 report by the Michigan Food Security Council, approximately 1.3 million Michiganders faced food insecurity, including more than 305,000 children.

Nicole Castka, Beatrice Jackson and Michael Madison are three volunteers who have dedicated themselves to eliminating hunger in our region. By gardening, catering, and delivering meals, these all-star volunteers have led the charge in feeding our community.

Alongside her non-profit Create A Bright Life Detroit Chapter that she started in 2017, Nicole was able to grow a “prolific” organic vegetable garden at Detroit Abloom that she playfully compares to “Jurassic Park.” She has grown beets, carrots, collard greens, squash, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard and more, all of which she gives to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) Oasis Shelter.

“I noticed that there was something going on when we would always bring in fresh vegetable salads for the lunches or dinners we provided and served, and everyone would go crazy over the salad,” said Nicole. “It makes me happy—I’m a vegetarian so it always makes me happy when people go crazy over veggies. And so, I started the garden in 2023 to bring more fresh, organic and grown with love produce to Oasis Shelter.”

“One of the DRMM chefs used the Swiss chard as part of a soup and it was a big addition to the meal because those dark greens are healthy and filled with a lot of vitamins. The folks at the Oasis Shelter were so happy.”

Nicole hopes to add potatoes to the garden this year and is always looking for ways to make the meals stretch at both the DRMM Oasis Shelter and Neighborhood Services Organization (NSO). Nicole believes that when we lift one person up, we are all lifted up. Service is so important to Nicole and Create A Bright Life Detroit Chapter, because they believe we’re here to help one another.

Another stellar volunteer, Beatrice, shares a similar perspective. She often cooks for DRMM and takes pride in the meals she prepares.

“I make sure the food is good—we cook for the centers the same way we cook for our homes,” said Beatrice. “There’s no difference, you know, we don’t use canned green beans.”

On Beatrice’s dinner menu is crispy baked chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, fresh green beans and dinner rolls– served with a Crystal Light. For breakfast, it’s pancakes, scrambled eggs, beef sausages, bacon, grits, toast, a variety of juices, milk and coffee.

Not only does Beatrice help create fantastic meals for people experiencing homelessness, but she also provides fresh fruit to the Westwood Nursing Home. Once a month, Beatrice and a team of volunteers take apples, oranges, grapes, fruit juices and popcorn to the senior living center.

“I truly believe God blesses us to be a blessing to others,” said Beatrice. “Our projects are successful because of the dedication of my daughter, Jennifer Jackson-Walker, my Sigma Pi Zeta soror Angela Hardison, my good friend Jocelyn Paulino (RIH) and the dedicated volunteers.”

“The idea is that you are helping something and no matter how small your contribution is, it means something to somebody.”

From garden to kitchen to front door, volunteers can have a hand in every part of the process. Michael delivers meals three times a week with Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels. He helps people with mobility issues have a meal and provides friendly check-in.

The Michigan Food Security Council report found food insecure seniors are more likely to be diabetic, suffer from depression, have high blood pressure, and have more frequent emergency room visits than their food-secure peers.

“I think most about people who have mobility issues and are going without food. They could suddenly just give up—hope and eating, and just shrivel away,” said Michael. “We don’t want that to happen to anybody.”

In Michael’s experience he has watched the meals he delivers keep people happy and healthy for years beyond the average life expectancy.

“One client told me that their mother was receiving Meals on Wheels and she lived to be 97 years old,” said Michael. “She said it was because she got a meal each and every day from Meals on Wheels.”

“The food we provide is nutritious, it creates a healthy lifestyle for people so they can live longer.”

These three phenomenal volunteers have chosen to participate in life-saving work. Together, they have created a safety net, so people don’t lose hope.

“Since I’ve retired, I had to find a new way to serve the community,” said Michael. “And I believe serving the needs of the homebound within the Ann Arbor area is another way that I could pay it forward for the people who helped get me to where I am today.”

Inspired to get involved? Visit UnitedWaySEM.org/GlobalVolunteerMonth to find the opportunity that’s right for you!