Micah 6 Community is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working in Pontiac, Michigan. We started our work in 2012 as a group of friends, moving into a neighborhood to try to make a difference. We spent a lot of time talking to neighbors and began to settle on growing healthy food through a network of community gardens, as well as opening a produce store in our USDA food desert. We’ve been doing this work ever since.
In March we began to hear the murmurs. Schools might take two weeks for Spring Break. There may be some disruption to the business. But, it all sounded very minor. We were worried about our neighborhood families with children. Pontiac is one of these places where the majority of students are on free or reduced lunch. The meals that children receive at school are crucial for so many of our neighborhood families to make ends meet. Without those, our community would be in real trouble.
“How can we help?” Luckily, being a small organization, we are used to asking this question. It’s a big part of who we are. We ask it at least once a week in our team meetings. “Miss Lisa is trying to move but can’t afford a truck or any hands to load her furniture. How can we help?” Or, “The apartment building down the street had a bed bug break out and everyone is throwing away their furniture, how can we help get new beds and couches for folks once it’s cleaned up?”
Being small also makes us pretty agile. Micah 6 is just the right size to answer needs in our community. We're not so big that we can’t adjust our focus because we’re writing change proposals to our large grantors, but we’re not so small that we can’t think beyond a few families that we serve. We’re the perfect size to take care of our community, our neighborhood.
So, we decided that starting on March 15th, our produce store -- Sprout Fresh Food Store -- went 100% free for families with children. Parents could come in, bag up as much produce as they wanted at no cost. It wasn’t everything. We don’t carry meat or dairy, but what we had was available to the community.
A friend with an organization called and asked if she could partner with us to deliver meals to local families. She’d source meat and dairy somewhere else, we’d supply the produce and her team of 75+ volunteers would deliver. Of course, no brainer.
But, as the pandemic grew and stores shut down, restaurants went to partial occupancy, then closed altogether. We realized that the need was going to expand beyond the families with children we’d been reaching out to. We’d need to offer free food for everyone.
We jumped online and made an appeal: $10 would sponsor a pre-built produce box for a person in need. Within a day, we had more than enough donated to sustain us for some time.
We began advertising free food through our social media and the question immediately came to our inbox: “what are the requirements?” We get this a lot. Each year when we do a Christmas toy drive in the community this question comes up: “Do we have to bring ID? Do we have to prove we have kids? Do we have to prove we are poor?” The list goes on. Agencies often have a list of requirements that are embarrassing or hurtful for the people who are participating. They say things like, “to make sure we don’t get taken advantage of” or something similar. We opted for no requirements. Just tell us a couple of pieces of information: how many people in your home, how many are kids, how many are seniors. That was all.
We started those free produce days in late March, and have continued to this day. We have served more than 6,500 produce bags and boxes to date with the help of amazing individuals, the United Way for Southeast Michigan, Mahindra Automotive of North America, Christ Church Cranbrook, Akzonobel, Birmingham United Methodist Church and more. We have partnered with great organizations to get products to their members and clients such as Accent Pontiac, Pontiac Sun Time Bank, Grovecrest Assisted Living, Oakland University, Pontiac Community Foundation, Community Housing Network and more.
Cole Yoakum is the director of the nonprofit Micah 6 Community of Pontiac. Stay tuned for his next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.