U.P. Food Pantry Fosters Dignity through Client Choice

food pantry and volunteers

When neighbors visit the Mid-County Ministerium Food Pantry in Menominee, they roam the aisles placing meats, canned goods, baking items and more into their carts—just as they would at a typical grocery store.

But the pantry didn’t always follow this client-choice model. Two years ago, new directors John and Shelly made this change. John pastors one of the 10 churches that run the pantry, located in Stephenson, population 862.

“We had a passion for food pantries because we’d been to so many of them—we knew what would make a good pantry,” John said. “When we first got together, we were dirt poor. We used food pantries to survive. When our lives changed, we wanted to be able to give back.”

Food pantries helped John and Shelly end up where they are today, but their experience wasn’t always the best. John remembers often feeling looked down on or out of place, and the couple received very little variety.

As pantry directors, their philosophy is different.

“We want to encourage, to lift people up and help them,” John said. “We want them to get fed. That’s our whole mission.”

They keep a variety of foods on their shelves—40% of which they source through Feeding America West Michigan.

For Patti, a retired nurse, client choice means being able to focus on salt-free foods and avoid carbs. She makes a lot of stir-fries and soups using vegetables and canned meats; at the pantry, she can skip the pasta and pick up more of what she’ll actually use.

“At some places, you get what they give you,” Patti said. “I love the fact that we have a choice. All my needs are met.”

After 40 years in nursing, Patti got sick and needed supplemental oxygen 24/7. She attempted to continue working but was eventually forced into early retirement.

She couldn’t make ends meet, so the bank took her car and house, causing her to move into a small apartment.

“I hated it at first,” she said. “Then, I turned it into a home. I don’t have many luxuries, but my needs are met.”

Patti has always loved to create. She decorates her home using what she finds at garage sales and cooks delicious and healthy meals using food she receives from the pantry.

She loves helping others and gives back by regularly volunteering at the pantry. She’s developing recipe ideas that will help other clients stretch the food they receive.

“With the economy the way it is, being that we live in a rural area, this is a gift from God,” she said. “I would not eat, and I’m not kidding you, without the pantry. I can no longer afford the price at stores and we have only one grocery store in our area.”

Once a month, Patti drives to a larger town where she purchases supplemental groceries and picks up medications. Like many seniors living on fixed incomes, a large chunk of Patti’s limited income is spent on medication.

“There are times when I go, ‘What do I do? Do I get my meds? Do I get food? Do I not put gas in my car?’” she said. “I had to cancel a doctor’s appointment coming up because I can’t afford the gas.”

Despite these challenges, Patti keeps a positive outlook. She loves cooking and baking, especially for her four children and 16 grandchildren—who she’s very proud of. Last Christmas, she saved up for two months so she could make them all cookies as a gift.

“I’m blessed beyond my means,” she said.

Neighbors like Patti should not have to choose between medications and food, but this is the reality for thousands of our community members in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Feeding America West Michigan is glad to assist the Ministerium and other Menominee County organizations as they work to ensure neighbors like Patti receive the food they need with dignity.

Our support is made possible thanks in part to the generosity of organizations like the Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and the Provident Health Foundation. They support the food bank’s efforts in Menominee County, namely our Mobile Food Pantry program. Thank you!

Story written by Juliana Ludema, Communication and Marketing Specialist.