Marion sisters have nourished neighbors in need since the early ‘90s

woman working in pantry

In the early 1990s, Ardith learned funds were available to start a food pantry in her local town of Marion. Having lived in the area all her life, she knew many people who struggled to put food on the table and that there weren’t enough resources nearby. So, Ardith decided she’d be the one to start the pantry.

Today, Ardith continues to run the Marion Food Pantry alongside her sisters, Kathleen and Marsha. Each month, they serve 10 to 15 families at their small but effective pantry located half an hour southeast of Cadillac.

Ardith has run the Marion Food Pantry since 1992.

“It’s not a high-income area,” explained Kathleen. “Every child gets free breakfast and lunch.”

A former 911 dispatcher, Kathleen began helping her sisters at the food pantry by picking up food twice a month — both from the grocery store and from Feeding America West Michigan’s Cadillac branch. When she retired, she took on a bigger role and helped the organization become a Mobile Pantry site. Today, they host one of these food distributions each month. Behind the scenes, Marsha works as the secretary and treasurer of the organization.

Having resources like the traditional pantry and Mobile Pantries available helps make things just a little bit easier for neighbors facing diverse challenges in the community.

As a former 911 dispatcher, Kathleen is familiar with the needs in her community.

One senior couple who recently visited the food pantry is dealing with the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Not only were the sisters able to give them food, but they also helped connect them to another local organization which is now providing a housekeeper and helping them pay for their medicine.

Another neighbor who began coming to the pantry recently called saying she hated to ask for help, but she had just one can of peas left.

“I gave her as much as she wanted — as much as she could take. She lives in a camper,” Kathleen said.

Seniors make up a large portion of the people who come to the traditional pantry for help, but the sisters also serve neighbors of all ages who live in a nearby low-income apartment complex. Kathleen noted that she’s met a few people who have moved to Marion to escape domestic violence they were experiencing in larger cities.

Around 90% of the pantry’s food comes from Feeding America West Michigan.

Besides these few newcomers, Kathleen, Ardith and Marsha know most of the people who come through the line. They also know many who are in need, but feel ashamed to ask for help. Sometimes, these neighbors will have friends pick food up for them, or they may not express their need at all.

Stigma surrounding asking for help with food can be strong for people of any age, but is particularly prevalent among seniors. The sisters remembered their mother saying she’d never dream about asking for help keeping food on the table. This stigma is partially why almost half of seniors eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are not enrolled. For some, accessing a resource like a traditional pantry may seem less stigmatizing, but for others, asking for help in any capacity can be hard.

Fortunately, the sisters know who in their community is in need and make an effort to ensure they have food — even if it means encouraging their friends or neighbors to come to the pantry for them.

The Marion community understands that neighbors need help and is supportive of Ardith, Kathleen and Marsha’s work. Even the funeral directors and motorcycle and snow mobile clubs pitch in! And thanks to support from the Osceola County Community Foundation, Feeding America West Michigan is able to help the Marion Food Pantry keep their shelves stocked.

Story written by Communication and Marketing Specialist Juliana Ludema.