Imagine waking up not knowing where your next meal would come from. What if going to sleep hungry wasn’t abnormal? This is the reality of food insecure individuals and families in the Upper Peninsula. Many areas throughout the U.P. are in crisis in relation to food insecurity. There are multiple factors that play a role in causing the uncertainty many of these families feel when questioning where their next meal will come from, but the good news is that there is a community of people working together to combat it.
Much of the U.P. lacks public transportation, and we’ve been told that many families are without vehicles. When this is coupled with a multitude of miles between grocery stores, problems arise. The extremely rural areas are plagued by a lack of resources and necessary establishments. In addition, families are often living paycheck to paycheck, which creates even more of a barrier. Mary Archambeau is one individual who is fighting to help her community through this crisis. She is the director of The Luce County Library of Information Network of Knowledge (The LINK), one of Feeding America West Michigan’s partnering agencies.
The LINK is located in Newberry, Michigan, which is in the midst of a food desert. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this term means that much of a region’s population is separated from a grocery store, which impacts their access to food. To fit the criteria, there must be more than a mile separating individuals from access to a grocery store in the city, and more than 10 miles in a rural area.
In Newberry, no public transportation is available, and many people live on the outskirts of town or further into undeveloped areas. There are many who are in need of common amenities, but are too far from the already minimal resources to access them. As a partnering agency of Feeding America West Michigan, The LINK works to fill a gap in the community by providing food to those in need of it. Originally, The LINK was created to fill yet another gap in the community, a safe place for children to be.
The LINK is first and foremost a youth enrichment center for the children of Luce County. Mary and other members of the community started to build the center when they realized that for many local kids who didn’t have after school care, there was no safe, reliable place they could go. Mary quickly became the director and has been working to better her community ever since. The LINK has expanded its reach tremendously into the community since its origination 20 years ago, and now provides daily after-school care, free breakfast, and lunch, enriching activities for children to take part in, as well as maintaining an on-site pantry for families in need.
The center has become a generational spectacle. The families who built it are now watching their children and grandchildren continue the tradition of being involved in The LINK. It has become a large part of the community’s story, and the story is still being written. There is so much more that The LINK is doing for their community aside from feeding hungry neighbors. The LINK brings people together in a way that is essential for a community so rural. They host events that invite the community to come together, and this creates a sense of commonality which breeds fellowship. Sometimes families struggle to buy Christmas presents. To help tackle this issue, The Link purchases presents for 400 families each year. This is an enormous achievement that makes a huge difference for others. Mary also coordinates and gathers volunteers to help run the monthly mobile pantry at Newberry High School. This is where we met many of the people who have been touched by Mary’s work. Almost every person we spoke with admired Mary for her humble spirit and all of the good she has done for those around her.
With the on-site pantry located at The LINK, Mary and her team are able to help anyone who has an immediate need for food. Not only do they feed hungry mouths, they also teach the children how to prepare the food they receive from the monthly food distribution in The LINK’s licensed kitchen. This preps them for possible restaurant work in their futures, one of many skills the children learn while being involved in The LINK. They also learn the importance of helping others who need it, to give when it is necessary, and how it is crucial to be involved within their community if they want to see it thrive.
Many of the children who are involved with The LINK volunteer at the monthly mobile pantry Mary helps run. It is located at Newberry High School and is a part of the FEEDEUP grant that aimed to help schoolchildren in the U.P. have access to food. This grant funds three mobile pantries located at schools in Luce, Mackinac, and Chippewa Counties. Each serves countless students in need in addition to a large portion of surrounding communities. Just like Newberry, these other two locations are located in food deserts. Due to funding challenges, the fate of these mobile pantries and ones like it are hanging in the balance, but the need remains unwavering. Mary and The LINK have worked to tackle this issue in their area, and have certainly made a measurable impact, but the need is simply too great to conquer alone.
Mary worked for 6 years without pay to ensure that The LINK’s doors stayed open. She rarely takes time off and when she does, she still remains available for those who need her. We are continuously inspired by community members like Mary and service organizations like The LINK that help those in their community with no expectation of anything in return, and we are honored to consider ourselves a partner in fulfilling their mission.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Intern