GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Closing her laptop, Molly Kooi sat on her couch to discuss the growing need of food insecurity and hunger in West Michigan.
"It's just average people that need help," said Kooi.
A single mother caring for her nearly two-and-a-half-year-old son, Kooi is a full-time undergraduate student, intern and employee.
"There’s no way that I could do all of that if I didn’t have food stamps," said Kooi.
"I’d be having to work two-plus jobs full-time to be able to, and I can’t do that with a two-year-old. And there are other people just like me who have other circumstances like that."
Kooi is one of every eight Americans who struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America West Michigan. Showing FOX 17 her pantry, Kooi has used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program when she was pregnant, while on unpaid maternity leave and currently, though it's not always enough help.
While driving her son to a babysitter nearly a year ago, she said she saw a Feeding America West Michigan sign and discovered mobile food pantries. It's a resource that helps supplement her pantry, where FAWM runs 30 to 40 mobile food pantries weekly across West Michigan and the upper peninsula, delivering fresh farm produce, dairy and baked goods to families for free.
"So many people that you see on a regular basis are going to these things," she said.
Now a health communications intern with FAWM, Kooi is writing others' stories bringing hers full circle.
"I love to be able to tell their stories because I think a lot of times people think that these people are just milking the system," she said, "and it’s usually just not the case.”
“I was a single mom, but that doesn’t make me lazy, that doesn’t make me all those things that you think of when you think of a food bank or you think of food stamps."
Raising awareness one story at a time, Kooi is also raising hope.
"You shouldn’t feel shame or be embarrassed to ask for help," she said.
"And that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past and have moved past. Now if I need help I know where to go, I know who to ask and there are resources all over Grand Rapids for help."
For resources on where food pantries are located and when, see Feeding America West Michigan's website here.
September is Hunger Action Month when FOX 17 is partnering with FAWM, which is working with food banks nationwide to fight hunger by raising awareness and getting neighbors to act.