“They created a job we love to do,” an inmate shares as he shows us a sheet of cartoon characters he uses as inspiration for decorating Sack Supper bags. “It’s therapeutic. We get to have this connection to the real world.”
Over 900 children in Muskegon receive a Sack Supper from Kids' Food Basket every weekday, ensuring that they have the brain food and healthy habits they need to learn and live well. We strive to have every bag decorated, providing an extra touch of love so that each child feels cared for. This means that in Muskegon alone, over 4,500 bags must be decorated each week.
There are certainly weeks when collecting this many decorated bags seems impossible. Every Monday, our staff and Sack Supper packing volunteers in Muskegon are relieved because they know each bag will be decorated. And decorated expertly, thanks to a group of artists currently incarcerated at Muskegon Correctional Facility.
These artists have been sending decorated Sack Supper bags to Kids’ Food Basket since last October, when they chose Kids’ Food Basket as one of their Facility's Community Projects. It began as a small endeavor. Staff at Muskegon Correctional Facility donated the paper bags, and a group of six inmates decorated them. They also launched a wish list drive to collect 1,000 pudding and/or applesauce cups for Sack Suppers.
Within two weeks of the request, the inmates and staff were able to supply Kids’ Food Basket with the food and 850 decorated bags. And not just any bags…these Sack Suppers were works of art!
The relationship between Kids' Food Basket and Muskegon Correctional Facility has continued since then, and with phenomenal results. In November, the facility engaged its staff and inmates to raise enough money to help provide nonperishable food items needed for Break Bags – an addition to Sack Suppers that Kids’ Food Basket provides to students over holiday breaks.
Because inmates make low wages, and many are sending those wages to their families, the prison staff did not expect to raise much money. But then the total count came in…staff and inmates had contributed $1,306.04!
The six artists now involved in Muskegon Correctional Facility’s Sack Supper decorating group donate over 1,000 expertly decorated bags every week – enough to ensure that every child served in Muskegon gets a decorated bag.
“It’s a beautiful way for the kids we serve to start their week,” Muskegon Program Coordinator Lynn Keech says. “We send all the bags out on the same day, ensuring that every child gets an extra touch of love to start the week.”
Lynn accompanied Communications Coordinator Danielle Alexander and weekly Sack Supper-packing volunteer Joel Dulyea to the facility to meet the artists earlier this month.
Joel volunteers at Kids’ Food Basket with his wife every Monday, when the decorated bags are packed and delivered to three elementary schools in Muskegon. Joel couldn’t wait to meet the artists behind the Sack Supper bags he’d been packing since last fall.
“Their artwork is truly incredible, so much talent,” Joel shares.
A retiree and an East Coast transplant, Joel tell us that “Kids’ Food Basket has given [him] a place to be useful. Many people don’t make a place for retirees…Kids’ Food Basket does.”
While at the facility, Kids’ Food Basket staff asked each of the artists to share where they developed their talent, and why they are involved in this project. One artist shares about his art degree, growing up in Chicago, and drawing during class as a child. Two other artists confess that they both share a love of comic books, and work together on the bags. Another shares that he received a scholarship to Wayne State for art.
Kids’ Food Basket’s Communication Coordinator, Danielle Alexander, shared the following:
By setting up this program, Muskegon Correctional Facility is doing something really innovative and important. Imagine if you’re in prison for ten years, and the whole time you’re there, you never get to do anything that feels worthwhile. The staff at Muskegon Correctional Facility are giving inmates an opportunity to give back, to really accomplish something and make a difference in someone else’s life, despite the fact that they’re incarcerated. It gives them so much confidence, and keeps them connected to their community, which is so important for when they transition back into society.
While stories are shared, the inmates are hard at work. Some draw the outlines, some shade and color in the drawings, and others write inspirational messages or captions.
“We work as a team,” one of the artists shares. "Each of us does a different part, depending on what we're good at."
“It’s a privilege,” another shares. “It’s a privilege to give back when I've taken so much."
On the ride back from the correctional facility, Joel shared that while listening to the men speak, he felt a kinship with them.
“A retiree, a prisoner…it’s easy for society to forget that we’re people, too. It’s easy to forget that we can do something, too.”
For more information about decorating Sack Suppers, volunteering at Kids' Food Basket, or this story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 616-235-4532.
Special thanks (and kudos!) to MCF Special Activities Director Sharon Haner & PC Leeanne Vanslooten for facilitating this project, and to the six artists above, who provide over 1000 children with an extra touch of love each and every Monday in Muskegon.