“Without this program, we wouldn’t have meals on our table” — meet U.P. neighbors still in need

Cars line up on a neighborhood street as volunteers sign them in.
Jill, a volunteer, sets up for a Mobile Pantry held in Iron Mountain in August.

It was mid-morning in Iron Mountain as volunteers wearing smiles almost as bright as their vests welcomed neighbors in the Mobile Pantry line. Afton had arrived almost two hours early in order to be first served, and was happy to see her car quickly filled with fresh dairy, produce and other food.

“I have me, my boyfriend and our three kids. We’re in a financial hurt right now,” she said. “I lost a couple of my jobs so I’m just trying to stay afloat and feed my children. I figured I’d come here and see what I can get.”

Afton shared that her young family — including kids ages 9, 7 and 3 — loves cooking together. “I usually cook all the side dishes and pasta and things like that and my boyfriend cooks the meat,” she said. “We kind of make it a fun time in the kitchen with the whole family helping.”

She’d encourage others in a situation like hers to: “Keep your head held high. Come and get the food — it’s free and will help your family.”

Cars line up on a neighborhood street as volunteers sign them in.
The Mobile Pantry line stretched through Iron Mountain.

Young families like Afton’s were among the 275 households who went through the Mobile Pantry line in August, but they were joined by neighbors from all walks of life who shared one thing in common — need.

In many rural regions like Dickinson County, work is often seasonal, and even those with year-round employment don’t always have enough income to meet all their expenses. In Iron Mountain, 13.2 percent of neighbors are food insecure, which means they can’t always access or afford enough healthy food. In neighboring Kingsford, where many Mobile Pantry attendees visit from, that percent jumps to 17.4.

a volunteer loads a neighbor's car

Some neighbors in line began attending after their lives were upended by illness. Alina is one of these neighbors. She lives with her kids and grandkids, who at times need help from her. At the beginning of the pandemic, she found out her husband had cancer, and made the difficult choice to quit her job to take care of him.

“I focus on him full-time and care for my grown children and grandchildren so they can get a start in life and hopefully build a better life,” she said.

Sandy started attending the Mobile Food Pantries last year when she, too, found out her husband had cancer.

“Without this program we wouldn’t have been able to have decent meals on our table,” she said. “My husband is doing better finally and is back to work, but we’re still catching up from all the debt that we incurred last year — hospital expenses and whatnot. “

Mobile Food Pantries are stocked with 50% fresh produce in addition to other foods, such as dairy products.

Feeding America West Michigan provides Mobile Food Pantries at dozens of locations across the Upper Peninsula with the support of our local partners and hundreds of volunteers. The Dickinson Area Community Foundation contributed help to one local Mobile Pantry this year — thank you!