SECOM was founded in 1971 by four United Methodist churches to support Neighbors on the South End of Grand Rapids to end poverty. This used to be done only through food donations. Now, their focus is meeting peoples’ needs so they can overcome poverty barriers and thrive both personally and economically.
Kim Dimmett, SECOM's Executive Director, shared the changes that have taken place over the past 51 years. “We still have an emergency pantry, but we added The Market, where individuals can purchase fresh, locally-derived produce and products at a fraction of the cost of retail,” she said. “We have on-site preschool for three- and four-year-olds who live in poverty, as well as economic empowerment programs for parents.”
The Market started five years ago when SECOM collaborated with Access of West Michigan and four other organizations to provide fresh food markets in the Grand Rapids area. At SECOM, The Market began as a shared space in the food pantry contained to a room roughly the size of a closet with only a table and shelf. It just a couple of years, however, for The Market to grow into its own space- a well-kept secret of SECOM shoppers but open to everyone.
When we asked Ja’Keem Badger, Market Resource Coordinator, where The Market sources food, he shared, “fruits, vegetables, and dry goods come from a variety of local producers. We buy from New City Neighbors, Visser Farms, and Farmlink, which is a collection of small farms. Cherry Capital is another source for local producers, such as El Milagro for tortillas, which are a staple in our market. We purchase honey from Hudsonville Honey.” Each year, SECOM spends roughly $30,000 on local produce and sells it at below retail price to ensure low-income families have a ready source of local, affordable produce and other foods year-round.
Economic empowerment is at the forefront of what SECOM does. Their preschool program is offered at no cost, thanks to support provided by the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC). They further support SECOM by providing a case manager to work with preschool parents who need parenting resources or guidance.
As a community organization, SECOM is always listening to their Neighbors. They strive to be a hub of resources and direct support. When we asked what the future holds for the SECOM, Kim told us, “We see community and neighborhood agencies growing to meet the expanded needs of our Neighbors. I think we will see a more formalized connectivity between agencies to ensure we are fully meeting the needs of others.”
SECOM continues to move forward and capitalize on their recent successes. The team is preparing to survey partner agencies, community organizations and Neighbors to reaffirm their mission. If needs change, SECOM will pursue programmatic support and tailor resources to Neighbors that are both necessary and effective. After fifty-one years of supporting the community, SECOM understands that change and growth to match the needs of their Neighbors is essential.