Northern Michigan Food Banks Working Overtime to Meet Need

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The Michigan economy continues to pound Northern Michigan families who are struggling to put food on their tables, as CMU Public Radio's Toby Jones reports from Harbor Spring, local food banks continue to see the fallout.

The Manna Food Project, a food bank that acts as a supplier for food pantries and hungry families in a three county area, reports serving nearly 11,000 families already in just the first six months of 2011.

Manna's long-time Executive Director Kathy Hart notes that the complexion of the clients utilizing Northern Michigan food pantries has changed.

"More and more of our clients are working but still having trouble paying their bills.

Elmer Denniston is a regular at Manna, even though he works full-time for Stafford's Perry Hotel in Petoskey as a maintenance man.

"I've been coming to Manna for four years. I do work full-time for minimum wage. I have one son. Manna provides the needs that I am unable to provide all the way for my son."

Hart believes that part of what makes putting food on the table so difficult for working people in this part of Michigan is the high cost of heat and winter fuel.

"This year in particular, many of our folks used the Winter Protection Plan to keep their utilities on through the cold weather months, but are now getting huge utility bills with no way to pay for them."

As demand on Manna and its associated pantries increases, some of their funding sources have dried up. A local revenue sharing grant from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians was recently re-routed to the local school district and community college. But other sources of funds continue to fill the void. Hart reports that, "More and more organizations and individual have come to us with plans for a small fundraiser or food drive to benefit The Manna Food Project and many of the families we help end up volunteering and serving our program as well."

"The biggest challenge we face right now is trying to decide what the next 5-10 years is going to bring.  We are purchasing a second vehicle to use for our ever-expanding food rescue program, our growing Food 4 Kids Weekend food program (backpacks), and our e-commerce ordering system for the pantries.  Expanding our building and freezer capacity is an increasing necessity.

I would say that a major focus moving forward is making sure that kids are getting fed, both after school and on the weekends."

As for what the future holds for Elmer Denniston...

"My goal is to someday be able to become self-sufficient and be able to return the favors that Manna has done for me."

But in the meantime, Elmer Denniston and 11,000 other northern Michigan families will rely on food banks like Mann to keep them fed.

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