Bay Mills Community College provides groceries for 800 neighbors with support from Red Nose Day

Located along the shore of Lake Superior, the Bay Mills Indian Community is home for around 2,000 Chippewa County residents, and home to Bay Mills Community College – which, in 1981, became Michigan’s first accredited Tribal College located on a Native American reservation.

Volunteers serve neighbors during the pandemic at Bay Mills.

Each month, the college’s caring staff, along with many from the community, come together to serve their neighbors facing hunger through Mobile Pantries. The two most recent distributions were sponsored by the Red Nose Day Fund.

The college first began hosting Mobile Pantries and opened their traditional pantry after a survey showed 48 percent of their 500 students struggled to afford food each month. Now, many students and community members alike are able to receive the food they need from the college. On average, 800 individuals come through the line and receive fresh produce and other food at each Mobile Pantry.

In addition to these resources, Bay Mills Community College partners with tribal elders to host four lunches each week for anyone in need. Anything left over is donated to other programs that serve neighbors, such as the Boys & Girls Club, or fed to the animals on the school’s farm.

During the COVID-19 crisis, neighbors living in Bay Mills have experienced additional challenges, and the Mobile Pantry has shifted to a drive-thru model. They’ve made due with fewer volunteers, all while serving more neighbors in need.

Stephanie, the school’s recruiter, volunteered at this month’s Mobile Food Pantry, but in April, she and her husband Andy went through the line themselves. More than a decade ago, Stephanie relied on food assistance for herself and her daughter when she was a young, single mom trying to make ends meet, but hasn’t needed to seek help since.

Andy volunteers at a Mobile Pantry.

Then, the COVID-19 crisis hit and Andy could no longer work his real estate job. Stephanie and Andy weren’t sure he’d be eligible for unemployment so, to ensure their three teenage sons had enough to eat, they went through the line at Bay Mills’ April Mobile Pantry.

Stephanie and Andy didn’t end up needing to receive food in May, but chose to volunteer as a way to give back.

“No one should feel bad about going to accept food,” Stephanie said. “We all have situations come about that we have no control over. Sometimes, it’s hard to reach out for help. So that’s why I wanted to volunteer – because I know that I’ve been in that situation before.”

Times like these reveal just how close so many of us are to being on one side of the line or another. Feeding America West Michigan is proud to partner with courageous neighbors like Stephanie, organizations like Bay Mills and supporters like the Red Nose Day Fund. Together, we can make a difference in our community.