To call Curtis remote is an understatement. Surrounded by three lakes, the Mackinac County town is at least a half-hour drive to the nearest grocery store, which makes it difficult for year-long residents to access enough healthy food on a regular basis. Each fall, the population decreases by half when summer vacationers return home. As in many rural areas, neighbors may also struggle to find consistent work, making it difficult to afford food.
A few years ago, Ethel, a retired Curtis resident, realized the big need for food assistance in her community.
“I kept hearing stories about people who needed food, but couldn’t get it,” Ethel said. “A gentleman would ride his bike five miles to a pantry even in winter. I thought, ‘People shouldn’t have to do that.’”
Ethel talked to others in the town who agreed, and it soon became clear she was best suited to run the pantry. She knew how to get things off the ground as she’d already started a volunteer recycling center.
Before they could open the pantry, the would-be volunteers needed a location. A small, unoccupied building seemed the best spot, so they spoke to the owner, Stu, about renting it. He was excited about the idea. His sister Marcy had always wanted to start a food pantry, but then she became sick with Alzheimer’s. He told Ethel he’d rent the building out for $1 a year and cover utilities.
“It’s a way for me to remember her every day,” Stu said. “She touched a lot of people through friendships and through her store.”
Stu also helped furnish the pantry. A year and a half later, he continues to help by picking up food and purchasing meat. Like Stu, many in Curtis have been eager to help.
“One of the things that surprised me was the generosity of the community,” Ethel said. “I knew there were many giving people, but I was kind of overwhelmed with the response that I got.”
Banks ask for donations and neighbors host ceramics sales, music shows and other programs to raise funds for the pantry. Many retired community members — including Stu and his wife Peggy — volunteer every week.
Every Thursday, boxes of food are distributed drive-thru style to around 120 – 140 people. On the other days, volunteers help stock shelves and pack boxes. Even neighbors who receive food themselves get involved.
“One time, I was there and cars were backed up so much, so I asked them if they needed help,” said Sue, a neighbor who has received groceries from the pantry ever since she and her husband moved to town a few months ago. “They took my number and now I work there every couple of days,” she said.
Seniors living on social security income, Sue and her husband at times have found it hard to make ends meet. Accessing groceries from the pantry helps fill the gap.
“I don’t have to go to the store that often — it’s kind of far to go,” Sue said. “The pantry is so convenient and friendly. Everybody is so wonderful.”
Marcy’s Pantry receives much of its food from Feeding America West Michigan.
“I talked to some other food pantries in the area who use Feeding America West Michigan about how they could supply a lot more food to the people than they could with just donations,” Ethel said. “I knew we could not keep up with just donations. It has been a godsend to us because we would not be able to supply the number of families we are supplying now if we did not have the food bank.”
Organizations like the United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula and the James and Kimberly Currie Foundation are helping us serve food pantries like Marcy’s in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
Whether they serve 100 families a week or 1,000, Feeding America West Michigan is glad to support food pantries across our 40-county service area, helping them provide as much food as possible to their communities.