If you’ve been involved with 5Loaves2Fish Northern Michigan in any way, you’ve no doubt encountered the dynamic husband and wife team of Bill and Michelle White. As the group’s co-founders, Bill and Michelle have been serving the homeless and food-insecure population of Leelanau County and Traverse City since the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago. But their calling to be servants came long before spring of 2020.
An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Michelle grew up in Leland and spent most of her early years in the restaurant world — starting at the Bluebird at just 13. Her parents owned and operated a restaurant, and prior to its closing, Michelle began offering home-cooked meals to older adults once a week. She later worked in catering, eventually starting a small catering service.
Her entrepreneurial spirit led Michelle to found Michelle’s Miracle, marketing cherry concentrate as a dietary supplement and becoming the first person to market the health benefits of cherries. After marrying and starting a family, Michelle returned to college, completing her BS in Family Life Education.
Michelle’s true social justice journey began when she started Bags of Compassion — assembling bags of packaged food, water and hygiene items and leaving them to be found by those who were experiencing homelessness.
A Career of Community Service
Bill White was born and raised in Leland and has spent decades in service to others. From his career in law enforcement in Leland Township and with the Leelanau County Juvenile Court to his private social work practice and work with the State of Michigan’s Child Welfare Agency, Bill has devoted his life to his community.
Bill’s 44 years in child welfare work comprises speaking and writing on issues related to children and families, involvement in numerous child welfare groups, and serving on local school boards and a state legislative committee on school boards. He’s received numerous honors, including being named Social Worker of the Year.
“We Feed People.”
It’s perhaps not surprising that Bill and Michelle were destined to join their unique gifts and backgrounds to co-found 5Loaves2Fish in 2020 at the behest of their friend Melissa. Melissa, who is well acquainted with life on the street, shared with the Whites the critical need for food in the homeless community at the start of the pandemic.
“It is because of Melissa that 5Loaves2Fish is here,” Michelle shares. Along with longtime friend Peggy Miller, “We started cooking, loaded up the car, and went to meet Melissa. We met in parking lots and passed the food to her to deliver. She knew where to go.” Since then, Bill, Michelle, and Peggy — along with a team of volunteers based at the Leland Community United Methodist Church — have been laser-focused on feeding those who experience homelessness and food insecurity.
In 2021, the Traverse City Human Rights Commission presented the Sara Hardy Humanitarian Award to Bill and Michelle (along with Goodwill Street Outreach Coordinator Ryan Hannon) in recognition of 5Loaves2Fish’s work in feeding the community.
A Spiritual Journey
As someone who was “not brought up with religion and had very little faith,” Michelle felt a spiritual calling following a series of personal and professional struggles in 2016. After being invited to join a Bible study, she found herself drawn to the Leland Community Methodist Church she had “lived three blocks away from for most of my life. It was as if Jesus took me by the hand and walked me up!”
As she began studying more about her faith, Michelle’s pastor gave her a book on all the roles within the United Methodist Church. It was there she read about the rich history of the roles of Deaconess and Home Missioner, which focus on social justice issues — a passion for both Michelle and Bill. After attending a conference on discernment, both decided that this was their spiritual calling.
In 2020, Bill and Michelle were consecrated as Home Missioner and Deaconess, respectively, via Zoom due to the pandemic. So it was a joyful occasion last month when they were able to travel to Florida to be consecrated in person by the Bishop.
“Working for God is the best job we have ever had,” Michelle says.