Exchange Matters / June 24, 2020

Kalamazoo Citizen Diplomats Feeding the Fight Against COVID-19

By Jodi Hope Michaels, Executive Director, Colleagues International

Editor’s note: This article was written on May 19. At the time of publication (June 22), COVID-19 cases have flattened in Michigan. Feed The Fight Kalamazoo continues to make pinpoint deliveries to those in need, and has now delivered more than 5,300 meals from 74 distinct restaurants.

Healthcare workers at Family Health Center – Alcott receive meals from volunteers. Credit: Feed the Fight Kalamazoo


Rosita Flores, a medical assistant at Family Health Center, is one of the 4,000 grateful frontline workers who has received meals through Feed The Fight Kalamazoo (FTFK), a community initiative launched in early April by Sally Hadden, Jodi Hope Michaels, and Adam Strong Morse. “It honestly means a lot to us knowing that we aren’t forgotten…knowing that the community is showing their support for us and for [our patients]…it’s everything.”

FTFK is modeled after Feed the Fight DC, a neighborhood effort that emerged in early March at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis to support local restaurants and healthcare workers. Hoping to do something similar locally, Hadden, a history professor at Western Michigan University, pitched the idea to Michaels, Executive Director of Colleagues International (CIKzoo), a Global Ties U.S. Community-Based Member.

CIKzoo, with its mission to enrich local community through global diversity, took on the project as a fiscal sponsor, honoring its mission and providing opportunities for its network of citizen diplomats to volunteer in meaningful ways. Fully powered by volunteers, FTFK purchases and delivers takeout meals from local restaurants for healthcare workers and other first responders.

Jill Manske, CIKzoo board member and former president, has been volunteering with FTFK since its opening week. “This is a great way to recognize and support so many independent restaurants and small businesses in town, which play a big role in giving Kalamazoo its unique, personal character. This is something that I really value about my hometown, and something that Colleagues International typically features and celebrates when hosting visitors from around the world,” she said.

FTFK has raised more than $50,000 and delivered more than 4,000 meals in 100 distinct deliveries to local healthcare heroes all across town, from hospitals to first responders, to 911 services, long-term care homes, and beyond.

For Geana G. Goorhouse, an RN/CM at Family Health Center, these meals have made a difference as schedules have “gone out the window.”

“We sometimes don’t know where we will be placed until it happens, as now we offer curbside and onsite COVID-19 testing, [and often] don’t have time for lunch.” At least two days a week we know that we will get a treat from one of these wonderful restaurants in the area. This helps our staff step up and take care of Kalamazoo residents…[and] keep our morale up during these difficult times,” she said.

Through mid-May, thanks to the generosity of the local community, both through volunteer time and donations, more than 200 people have supported FTFK, and some 70 volunteers work behind the scenes in all manner of roles: building the website, managing logistics, delivering meals, serving as translators, providing protective gear to volunteers, and more.

FTFK volunteers prepare meals for delivery. Credit: Feed the Fight Kalamazoo


“This is a way that we can honor our local health care workers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight in Michigan, a state that is facing one of the most severe outbreaks of this novel coronavirus in the world. Staying at home has made me feel disconnected from the world and from friends on the other side of the state, where there have been devastating outbreaks of the virus,” said Jill.

“FTFK has been a nice way to maintain some sense of connection in the midst of a global pandemic. By providing meals—as well as overall outreach, recognition, and smiling eyes behind face masks—we can reach out through our individual isolation to support each other as neighbors in our little corner of the world.”