Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network celebrates 40th anniversary

Sprinkled throughout Midland County are eight food banks—serving up 9,000 total items every month. For 40 years, the Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network (EFPN) has been feeding the community.

Three in five Midland County ALICE families are food insecure. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are individuals and families who, despite working, struggle to meet basic needs such as food, child care, housing, health care, and transportation.

“Midland is beautiful,” says Kimberly Birch, president of Midland County EFPN. “But when you look at the statistics, there are very affluent areas and there are also areas that live at or below the poverty line.”

Clients of the pantry are welcome to fill a shopping cart with items of their choosing.
Food insecurity has been present since the network was established in 1983. One of the founders, Jean Kellom, began distributing food out of her home. She then established a pantry at Memorial Presbyterian Church, expanding to five pantry sites in collaboration with other churches and organizations. The exact date of its inception is unknown, likely because the founder was focused on her mission. 

“The mural on the side of our building says, ‘People helping people,’” says Birch. “When we talk about hunger and food insecurity, everyone just wants to make sure that people have what they need.”
Hygiene items such as paper towels, laundry detergent, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, and maxi pads are available in the pantries.
Midland County EFPN is exploring how to carry on its mission for the foreseeable future. They’re working with Omni Tech, a local woman-owned business, to develop a strategic plan.

“When you look back at the last 40 years and see what we’ve done, you can’t help but say, ‘okay, what’s next?’ How do we carry forward our purpose and mission?’ … It’s an exciting time.”

While the organization has evolved over the decades, its heart remains the same: volunteers. The entire organization is powered by about 400 volunteers and three paid staff members. 

Volunteers help manage the warehouse, distribute food, run special events, and more. One volunteer even coordinates a venison program with Michigan hunters, contributing a significant amount of meat to the pantries.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization,” says Birch. “... The pantry operations, the mobile distributions, the Backpack Buddy program, the Thanksgiving Basket program, our senior deliveries—everything happens because of volunteers.”
Ellen McVey has been volunteering with Midland County EFPN for seven years. She is also a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Because the organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, much of the network is supported by the community. In 2019, nearly half of Midland County EFPN’s revenue came from individuals, organizations, and businesses. The remainder mostly comes from in-kind food donations, grants, and churches.

“We live in a generous community,” says Birch. “Without the community, we wouldn’t be able to do this, honestly.”

Birch recalls the generosity and resilience of the community amidst the 2020 flood and throughout the pandemic. “We were left with an abundance of donations so that we could make sure food could get where it needed to go for people that were affected by the flood,” she says. During the pandemic, they did more mobile pantries, curbside pickup, and drive-thrus.

Donations and volunteers are always welcome. To donate food or supplies, call the pantry ahead of time before bringing your donation. To stay up-to-date with what the pantries need most each week, follow Midland County EFPN’s Facebook page

What to expect when visiting a pantry

The process starts with a phone call to set up an appointment. Call 989-486-9393 and press 1 or call 211 Northeast Michigan (simply dial “211”). If there’s an emergent need, appointments can be made on the same day.

In 2019, about 40% of clients visiting the pantry had SSI as their primary source of income. Employment was the next largest category at 36%, then Social Security at 16%.
There are eight pantries in the Midland County EFPN:

To learn about mobile food distributions, follow Midland County EFPN’s Facebook page.  Each pantry is unique, but the process is similar throughout the network. If you’re visiting the SAMS Pantry, for example, you will need to enter through the back door. When it is time for your appointment, ring the doorbell. 

The shelves are stocked with foods such as cereal, canned goods, nuts, and more.
A volunteer will greet you and guide you through the shopping process. Much like at a grocery store, you can grab a shopping cart and add items from the neatly arranged shelves to your cart.
Frozen loaves of bread are available for clients to take what they need.
The shelves are stocked with foods such as cereal, canned goods, nuts, and more. Refrigerators are stocked with eggs and freezers are packed with meat and bread. There are also hygiene products such as paper towels, laundry detergent, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, and maxi pads.

For persons without homes, volunteers are experienced with putting together mobile-friendly grab bags, including utensils. 

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.