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Churches lead effort to distribute free food

Our Town Norway

Chris Spence prepares bags of bakery items to be distributed by the food pantry at Grace United Methodist Church in Norway. The church organizes six Feeding America Mobile Food Pantry trucks a year to come to its Norway site. The next free food distribution will be Friday, Feb. 19, at the Crossroads Alliance church facility, 130 Odill Drive in Norway, home of Bethany Lutheran Church and Grace United Methodist Church. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo )

NORWAY — Food insecurity is a serious problem across the country. In Michigan alone, more than a million adults and children go hungry every day.

Grace United Methodist Church of Norway, along with six other local parishes, are doing their part to help reach out to those in need. For more than six years, they have sponsored a Feeding America Mobile Food Pantry to distribute free food at the Crossroads Alliance church facility, at 130 Odill Drive in Norway, home of Bethany Lutheran Church and Grace United Methodist Church.

Participating churches that support the Mobile Food Pantry are Community Bible Church, St. Mary/St. Barbara Catholic Church, Evangelical Covenant Church, Bethany Lutheran Church and Grace United Methodist, all of Norway; and Faithorn United Methodist.

The first distribution took place in October 2014.

“We witnessed Trinity Methodist Church in Iron Mountain conduct one and knew we wanted to try to do it,” said event coordinator the Rev. Irene White, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church. “The only thing that was kind of holding us back was the cost.”

THE FEEDING AMERICA MOBILE Food Pantry will be at the Crossroads Alliance church facility, at 130 Odill Drive in Norway, home of Bethany Lutheran Church and Grace United Methodist Church, to distribute free food Friday, Feb. 19. Chris Spence, church volunteer, left, and the Rev. Irene White, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, display a pallet of peanut butter that will be a supplemented protein provided by the church. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

“It’s $1,500 for the mobile pantry that travels up from downstate,” church volunteer Chris Spence explained.

White contacted other Norway area clergy and, with their support, they were able to raise the funds.

“We only scheduled one that first year to see how everything would work out,” Spence said.

In 2015, they were able to arrange for four distributions, thanks to the generosity of the churches, donations and grants they received. Since that time and with the help from additional grants, including from the Dickinson County Community Foundation, they have been able to plan for six distributions a year.

When they first began, Spence also provided a hospitality meal to participants as they waited to get their orders filled.

“I’m glad God has given us this opportunity and keeps finding us money,” White said.

This year’s distributions will take place Feb. 19, April 9, June 11, July 23, Oct. 8 and Dec. 10.

The truck provides mainly vegetables and fruit, with milk or bakery items also possible.

The church supplements the produce with protein — adding things such as eggs, cheese, peanut butter and meat.

The added protein is another expense — approximately $1,000 on top of the $1,500.

“Chris is an excellent shopper and always gets great bargains — that’s why we are able to supplement,” White said.

They also have recently faced enough need to warrant “ordering” a larger truck but that would mean a higher price as well.

“I am hesitant to go that route because there is no guarantee that they will get the grants/funds again next year and have to worry about cold food storage,” White said. “At this point, I would rather keep being generous and supplementing.”

White notes that some people have approached them to host a truck once a month, but stressed it requires a huge volunteer effort to pull it off.

“It takes about 60 volunteers to run a distribution smoothly,” she said. “I feel that we are probably at our max of what we can handle in a year.”

It’s their hope another area church will pick up the other six months.

Although it is a lot of work, White admits she gets excited when she sees the semi-trailer pull up in the parking lot. “The adrenaline starts pumping,” White said. “I don’t think that the men that have to do the real work are as excited as I am.”

The numbers have grown from 875 families and 2,348 people served in 2015 to 1,517 families and 3,449 people in 2019. It jumped to 1,904 families and 6,190 people in 2020, White said, as they definitely saw more need since the pandemic.

“Last month they received their largest registration to date with 440 orders,” Spence added. “In reality, we fed a lot more families than that.”

In all, 13,816 families and 21,271 people have benefited from the local deliveries.

They have changed to a drive-through operation due to COVID-19 health restrictions. Vehicles line up in the parking lot of Norway Covenant Church at 120 Odill Drive in Norway. They will be asked to follow volunteers’ directions. Registration also will be done by volunteers at each vehicle and everyone is asked to remain in their vehicle during this process for health and safety reasons.

Anyone who needs food assistance is welcome to receive groceries. They do ask that participants only receive items for themselves and two other people. “If they need to pick up for more than the three families, they will have to go back through the line,” Spence said.

Anyone homebound who needs groceries can contact the church to see if arrangements can be made.

They believe this ministry is important in the community. “It is up to us to give and to help — we are asked to do that biblically,” she said. “It brings me joy that we might be making a difference in someones life.”

For more information or to help with the distribution, call White at the church office at 906-563-8917 or 906-420-1797.

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