“Food is the best way to love people” — two Marquette women share help and hope

Jenny and husband Mark are regulars at their local Mobile Pantry.

Justina and Jenny share more than a membership at Marquette’s Silver Creek Church; they also share a history of having at times faced hunger. Right now the women are on opposite sides of the Mobile Pantry line, but both are quick to help others.

Justina volunteers each month at the Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Pantry hosted by Silver Creek’s thrift store, partially because she believes “food is the best way to love people.”

“What Feeding America West Michigan brings are good things that I would feed my own family,” she said. “I love the opportunity to give that to people who want it and need it.”

Justina poses with her three sons at a Mobile Pantry
Justina’s three sons volunteer with her at the Mobile Pantries.

She sees everyone who attends the food distributions like her brother or sister — or like herself, since she once needed food assistance, too. When her four kids were quite young, she got divorced. Before that, she’d been a stay-at-home mom. Being thrust back into the workplace in a part-time position meant it was often hard for her to put enough food on the table without food assistance.

“All my money went to food,” she recalled. “If I didn’t have help, there wouldn’t have been enough. I remember what it felt like to know that there wasn’t any backup for the food we were eating.”

Today, she works at the City of Marquette and no longer needs to receive food assistance, but loves giving back to those who do. Her love of volunteering has rubbed off on her three teenage sons, who join her each month at the Mobile Pantries.

“I want them to feel it’s normal and natural to be around all kinds of people with all kinds of need. It’s normal and natural to serve and get nothing in return.”

Jenny and husband Mark are regulars at their local Mobile Pantry.

Jenny also attends Silver Creek Church but unlike Justina, still needs extra help with groceries each month. She appreciates being able to receive plenty of fresh produce, dairy and other food whenever she attends a Mobile Pantry.

“It helps out quite a bit. We get food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) but sometimes they don’t make it [to the end of the month],” she said. “I love getting the fresh stuff, the potatoes, the chicken. I love to cook. I appreciate all of it, let me tell you.”

Jenny and her husband Mark moved to Marquette eight years ago, right as Jenny’s health began to decline. Her knees were injured and her arthritis got really bad. She had to quit her job as a home health aide. With three young kids to feed, visiting Mobile Pantries and being on SNAP helped the family make ends meet.

Jenny needs a few more surgeries to fix her arthritis, so she doesn’t walk much. Her husband is on disability as well, so a kind friend gave the couple scooters so they can have the experience of going on “walks” together around their neighborhood!

Even though Jenny can no longer work in a home health aide position, her passion for the elderly and disabled remains. She’s let terminally ill people stay with her if they can’t access care. She also often picks up extra food at the Mobile Pantries to bring to neighbors who can’t travel, like an elderly couple with health challenges.

At Silver Creek’s Mobile Pantries, a giving and grateful spirit — reminiscent of Justina and Jenny — is present. The community truly comes together, and people are gracious across the board. The food bank is able to bring Mobile Pantries to the community in part because of generous support from the Community Foundation of Marquette County.

“People are so grateful and thankful. The whole ambiance from the volunteers is, ‘We’re glad you’re here,’ ‘We’re glad you’re going to eat this food.’”

When she isn’t helping at the Mobile Pantries, Justina advocates for those facing hunger. She emphasizes how anyone can find themselves in need.

“You don’t know if you’re five years or 10 years away from being in need of free food.”

For herself, when she was in need, she felt like it would last forever.

“I thought it was my life now. But it was temporary. The weight of the burden became lifted. Sometimes, when you smile and someone smiles back, the weight of the burden is lifted.”