At Feeding America West Michigan’s branch in Ishpeming, just southwest of Marquette, the coffee comes with a disclaimer. “We don’t have lattes,” says Food Bank volunteer Dean Harvey as he pours a cup. “We have black coffee you could stand a spoon up in. This is the UP.”
But the branch serves more than coffee. Unique among our warehouses, it’s also a walk-in food pantry where clients can pick up food directly. That’s what brought siblings Cole and Brittany through the door on a snowy April morning.
Cole had been coming to the food pantry for a few months to collect food for their mother, who works in the billing office at Marquette General Hospital.
“She doesn’t get paid enough to pay all the bills we have and get food on top of that,” he said.
Cole himself was on the job hunt. “I’m really looking for just anything right now.”
Brittany had never been to the Food Bank before, and as she set down her cradle to fill out the paperwork, she said it felt strange to write “three” for the number of people in her household.
Her four-month-old son, Tanner, was draped in a fleece blanket, one side green and yellow for the Packers, the other white and blue for the Lions. Brittany, who lives in Negaunee with Tanner’s father, had just returned to her job at a local department store.
“They would only pay for eight weeks after Caesarian,” she said. “It was hard.”
“We make probably just a smidge over the line where we’d be able to get food stamps,” she said. Although she receives some help through WIC, she and her boyfriend, who works at the same store, are just scraping by.
“It’s terrible. It really is. You spend $130 on groceries, and it never seems to last enough.” Their employer isn’t given raises this year over fears that the minimum wage might increase.
Before her pregnancy, Brittany had been attending Northern Michigan University. “I’d like to go back, but I’m trying to get my bearings with him,” she said, looking at her son.
Cole and Brittany aren’t alone. In Marquette County, food insecurity affects 1 in 7 people. And even though the county’s unemployment rate of 7.7% is one of the lowest in Michigan, 18% of its residents are living in poverty.
The good news is that Feeding America West Michigan is doing more in this region than ever before. In 2013, food distribution through the Ishpeming branch was up 23%, and this year’s numbers could be even higher.
With your help, we can make sure that good food — and strong coffee — is available to people like Cole and Brittany throughout West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
Help us reach more of our neighbors in need. Give today.