Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network partners with community to help families

After navigating through a year of unprecedented challenges, the Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network is busily preparing for the holiday season.

While the county weathered the double impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and May’s flood, the nonprofit pooled resources, reorganized operations and redoubled its commitment to serving the local community.

“We never closed during the COVID pandemic,” says Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network (EFPN) manager, Pesi Kennett. “We have been open and serving those in need. But we made changes. We had to change the way we operate to make sure our volunteers and clients are safe.”

Because most of its volunteers are seniors, the Pantry Network had to adjust schedules and operating hours to minimize their exposure to potentially risky environments and interactions. The group worked hard to ensure uninterrupted staffing at its eight food pantries throughout the county. Finding essential groceries and toiletries to fulfill the community’s needs was sometimes challenging due to pandemic restrictions and product shortages.

“At the beginning of the COVID outbreak, like everybody else, we were not prepared,” Kennett says. “And trying to find items like hand sanitizer and any cleaning supplies was hard. But we all survived; we were learning a lot from it and we still are. We are so fortunate to live in a community that reaches out to those who are in need.”

When the dams broke and flooding devastated the region, the EFPN worked closely with the United Way to identify needs and provide food and other necessities to flood victims. Detroit-based group Find the Helpers would bring a truckload of provisions to Midland twice a week for distribution. According to Kennett, donations from the public increased dramatically in 2020 relative to other years in response to the emergency.

“During the flood, I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, not only from the Midland community but from outside of Midland – throughout the state and throughout the United States,” Kennett relates. “People were reaching out to us. We received donations from all over – not only food but money, volunteers and cleaning supplies as well.”

While the level of need has mostly stabilized since summer, the Pantry Network is always looking for support – in the form of cash, checks, food, supplies or volunteer time. Kennett reports the group’s need for volunteers is especially pressing now that so many senior volunteers had to step back due to coronavirus precautions. The EFPN would greatly appreciate help from younger volunteers without risk factors for virus complications.

According to Kennett, donations from the public increased dramatically in 2020 relative to other years in response to the emergency.

Thanksgiving is still on for this year, but it will look different

Like everything in 2020, the holiday season at the Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network will look slightly different than in years past. Although the nonprofit will still hold its yearly Community Thanksgiving Food Basket event at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, this year the program will take place over one day instead of three and will be hosted outside in the parking lot, as a drive-thru service. The EFPN is seeking volunteers to help fill baskets and distribute food on Nov. 23.

The Thanksgiving Food Basket program provides grocery gift certificates and Thanksgiving dinner fixings to approximately 350 families in need each year. The Department of Human Services and community agencies help refer families to the program based on income level.

Although each participating family gets a different basket depending on the number of people in their household, each basket will include a LaLonde’s gift certificate redeemable for a turkey any time between Nov. 23 and the end of the year. The baskets will also contain bags of potatoes, various nonperishable food items, and a Family Fare certificate for perishable foods like milk and eggs.

The EFPN is still looking for monetary support for the Thanksgiving Food Basket program to cover increased costs from making the event safe and accessible. Donations can be made by check or by PayPal through the nonprofit’s website.

Midland’s generosity and ability to embrace change have bolstered the Pantry Network’s mission throughout the region. The group hopes the partnership between their organization and the local community continues to thrive as program offerings change and initiatives expand.

“I just want to mention how fortunate we are to live in Midland,” adds Kennett. “This community has stepped up and has helped us help others. I want to thank the community for the outpouring of support for what we do. Knowing there are lots of other nonprofit organizations who do great work for Midland County, we are one of the organizations that benefit and we hope to continue to serve our community as well as those who are in need.”

Read more articles by Marta Manning.

Marta Manning was born in Poland and relocated to Midland after living in various cities on the East Coast. A lifelong passion for writing and photography prompted Marta to shift her career trajectory from lab science to freelance journalism. She contributes regular articles on medical topics to WebMD.com and helps business clients write proposals for federal research funding. Her articles have appeared in the Chemical City Paper, Our Catholic Faith Midland, the NAMI.org national blog, and the Midland Daily News.
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