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2011-10-12 / News

Food pantries struggle to meet need

BY MARGARET WHITMER Reporter

If you plan to give to any of Sanilac County’s food pantries, don’t forget the peanut butter and jelly .

With more local families with children in need of simple basics, such staples are the first to fly off the shelves.

“We get a lot of single moms with one or two kids or big families with five to seven children,” notes Peggy Dorman of the Heritage United Methodist Church food bank in Snover. “I don’t worry about the adults as much as the kids getting nutritious things.”

And food pantries do hope more local donors will step up to the plate, because the funding sources they used to rely upon have shrunk this past year.

Heaven Sent Ministries in Marlette, for example, had its federal Emergency Food and Shelter Grant cut this year from $8,000 to $4,000, said coordinator Gina Titus.

“Everything has been cut in half,” she said. “What’s more, the year is nearly over and we haven’t received any of that money. We were supposed to receive it by April. It has not yet been received.”

Dorman in Snover and Terry Estrada, coordinator at the Deckerville Food Pantry both said they haven’t gotten their federal grant money yet either.

Food pantries receive their grants through the Sanilac County United Way.

United Way Director Marie Thieleman said the reason local pantries haven’t received their grants is because the United Way hasn’t received its money either.

“United Way has not received any money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is where the Emergency Food and Shelter Program money comes from,” Thieleman said.

“I’m in contact with them every week, but nothing has come through yet. They were very, very late in determining the amount because of the budget fight in Congress. And our money was cut almost in half.”

The Sanilac County Food Pantry, which hosts a free food giveaway on the first Friday of each month at Open Door Missionary Church, Sandusky, has been utterly overwhelmed lately.

The food giveaway doesn’t start until 1 p.m., but lines for families needing food start at 11 a.m. or earlier.

“Every once in awhile we run out of supplies,” vice president Ray Torrez said.

Unless that happens, though, the pantry doesn’t turn anyone away, he said.

Paul Knuth, a volunteer with the Cros-Lex Project Blessing food pantry based at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lexington, said their food supplies are the lowest they’ve been since four years ago.

“We have what we call our warehouse and it’s empty almost,” he said. “It’s usually relatively full. Normally our food supplies remain stable, even during non-holiday times.” As a result, the Cros-Lex pantry is limiting distribution to Croswell, Lexington, Applegate and Peck.

“Monetarily speaking it’s not that great either, but OK,” Knuth said. “Organizations that usually contribute seem to be busy elsewhere. The main thing is food supplies.”

Staples in demand include canned vegetables, soups, noodles, spaghetti, sauces, frozen meat and instant meals to which meat can be added, fruit, tuna, baked beans, beef stew, macaroni and cheese, instant potatoes, cereals, peanut butter and jelly and paper and personal products.

Some pantries buy food from the Eastern Michigan Food Bank in Flint, which is subsidized by the United States Department of Agriculture, but Cros-Lex relies on local support.

The pantry provides vouchers for fresh milk and eggs from Jeff’s Marketplace in Lexington. “Jeff (Durecka) is very kind with working with that aspect of it,” Knuth said.

The Cros-Lex pantry is open on Tuesdays and they prefer to limit their clientele to those referred by ministers, social agencies and schools.

Yet this rule isn’t set in stone.

“It’s mostly limited to referrals, but they say if we feel there’s a need to go ahead. We don’t force people to go looking for a pastor.”

The Deckerville Food Pantry, located at Project Blessing on Main Street, is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and clients may come once a month - but they must live within the Deckerville School District, Estrada said.

Clients also must be referred, either from the Department of Human Services or elsewhere.

She said the clientele has increased slightly. With food prices rising, families struggle to stretch their food stamp allotment across an entire month. The pantry tries to provide enough supplies to provide entire meals for perhaps three days.

Fortunately, local sources have stepped up.

“The local churches have been collecting,” Estrada said. “All our donors are local. Our supplies are very low, but we should have enough through October.”

The Snover Community Food Pantry is located in the Heritage United Methodist Church Thrift Shop, open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dorman said servicing only Snover residents would be ideal - but clients tend to come from Argyle to the north, Sandusky Road to the east, M-53 to the west and M-46 to the south.

“If they come and need food and they’re not really in our area, we give it to them one time and tell them where their area is,” she said. “We try to give them enough for a week or a little more, depending on how many in the family there are.”

She agrees that the number of families has increased the last month or two. The pantry buys food from the Michigan Food Bank and relies on local donations.

Local hunters even donate venison in season.

“That works out great,” Dorman said. “We pay for the cutting and wrapping and people will take it. But I’d rather they tell us they don’t want it rather than throw it out.”

The Brown City Community Food Pantry holds a monthly giveaway from 4-6 p.m. the fourth Thursday at the fire hall, said coordinator Kelly Hillman.

Their next giveaways are Oct. 27, Nov. 17 and Dec. 15.

“Peanut butter is one of the best staples you can have on the shelf,” she said.

The pantry is generously supported.

“The Boy Scouts do a wonderful job along with UPS, local churches, the National Honor Society,” she said. “When the weather starts turning, that’s when donations increase.”

The pantry also buys food from the Eastern Michigan Food Bank in Flint.

“Each dollar spent equals fourteen dollars worth of food. We’re pretty fortunate here, we have quite a few months sponsored by local businesses. We couldn’t do it without them.” The pantry provides a large variety of breads, fresh and canned vegetables, frozen meats, a variety of desserts, cereals, rice and pasta.

Unlike elsewhere, she’s seen a slight decline in clientele. “People are moving and some are going back to work,” she said.

Because of generous local funding Brown City is willing to serve beyond the immediate area. “We keep as outreached as we can. We haven’t had to limit yet,” she said. “It’s coming right along. It’s like watching a child grow.”

The pantry is working on its non-profit status.

Heaven Sent Ministries at First United Methodist Church, Marlette, holds food distribution from 5-6 p.m. the third Thursday at 3065 Main St. It is open not only to all Sanilac County residents, but to surrounding counties, provided they are referred by a social agency, school or church.

Heaven Sent also delivers to handicapped seniors. At their September giveaway, 346 people showed up.

“Every month about thirty new people come. Prices for everything have gone up,” Titus said.

Heaven Sent tries to provide enough to make 10-15 meals. Packages may include hamburger, spaghetti, tuna, noodles and soup along with fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs provided through the Eastern Michigan Food Bank and local farmers.

There also is bread, lunchmeat, hot dogs and those all-important lunch box staples – peanut butter and jelly. “Right now our pantry is depleted of kid stuff,” she said. “At least kids can get a free lunch at school.”

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