As early as 1969, the concerned citizens of southwest Kent County knew they needed to do something to help their neighbors. The women of Smith Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ started a food collection and hot lunch program for students at neighboring Hall Elementary School (now Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School). As the church members worked with the schools, they realized the needs were much broader and deeper than a lunch program. They formed a small food pantry in the basement of the church to support general nutritional needs of families in the community. They also started distributing used clothing to people in need.
Many church food pantries were organized into one program in 1990. ACCESS (All County Churches Emergency Services System) divided the greater Grand Rapids area into nine geographic areas, connected by a computer network. Each district chose one large pantry to be the Key Pantry; the rest were designated supportive pantries. UCOM became the Key Pantry for southwest Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Grandville.
In 1985, the Grand Rapids Public Schools mandated homework for at-risk students. Once more, the warm-hearted people of Smith Memorial leapt into action, joining with a number of other United Church of Christ congregations to form Homework House™, UCOM’s flagship program that provides one-on-one tutoring to students.
UCOM was incorporated in this same year, enabling various outreach ministries to come together under one umbrella. The organization grew slowly but steadily for almost 20 years, still housed in the basement of Smith Memorial.
Eventually UCOM outgrew the basement of the church and started looking for a larger space. In 2006, the Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf funeral home generously chose to sell their Wyoming location to the agency for an affordable sum. The building was retrofitted for its new use, and the organization moved to its new home in June, 2006.
Ever since it was founded, UCOM has been supported through private donations. More than 85% of UCOM’s funding comes from 50 local churches and the generous support of hundreds of donors; the remainder comes from foundations and corporations. All monies come from local people who care.
UCOM stands on a foundation of loving service in response to the changing needs of the community, and our history in the area reflects our pledge to be present to help the people of this area to help themselves.