Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s On the Ground Edison series.
The dollar store in the 1200 block of Portage Street in Kalamazoo is a regular haunt of many of the seniors who live in the high-rise co-op apartments just west of there on Collins Street.
“There are over 100 people in that building on fixed incomes,” says Stephen Dupuie, executive director of the Edison Neighborhood Association
So the price is right for batteries, toothpaste, soap, and household goods. But it’s also an inexpensive place to buy something to eat.
“We see people walk across the street all day, every day,” says Dupuie, of what he and others at the neighborhood association observe from the office at 816 Washington Ave. “… They don’t drive. They don’t have regular transportation. So they do a lot of their shopping at the Family Dollar.”
With nearly 10,000 residents and a wide range of income levels, the Edison Neighborhood has families struggling to make ends meet, he says. “And sometimes if you have to make the choice between paying your heat bill or for your groceries, which one are you going to pay?”
The Edison Neighborhood Association has become home to the Community Cupboard, an outdoor, closet-sized shed with a refrigerator to provide food at any time of day to those in need.
So the association has become home to the Community Cupboard, an outdoor, closet-sized shed with a refrigerator to provide food at any time of day to those in need. It is a project that had been run by the PFC Natural Grocery & Deli in downtown Kalamazoo, primarily to benefit unhoused people. It also has been available to anyone in need since it was assumed by the Edison Neighborhood Association in mid-September.
Dupuie says his association has seen the biggest need in supplementing the foods that can be found in the area. “And so a big focus of the Community Cupboard,” he says, “is to have fresh, healthy, available options in there that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get at the Family Dollar.”
With contributions and help from other organizations such as United for the Unhoused, the cupboard is stocked each day by volunteers who try to provide in-season vegetables as well as food staples such as bread and peanut butter. On a recent day, the staples included canned meat, cereal, and hot dogs.
Pre-made and ready-to-eat meals have also been provided, with the caveats that their ingredients be listed as well as the date they were prepared. Volunteers have also visited the Loaves & Fishes food pantry to collect foods that they use to prepare meals.
“There’s a mix of both – there’s ingredients but then there’s also some people who stock it (the cupboard) with ready-made, ready-to-eat stuff for folks who maybe have limited resources in terms of cooking,” Dupuie says.
Some vegetables from the first year of the association’s garden hub, are also being made available. Squash, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and lettuce were among the vegetables produced.
The Edison Neighborhood Association's garden hub is behind the association offices. The hub includes three 4-by-10 garden boxes and another 6-by-6 garden box.
Food sovereignty and food security are important aspects of the project. The first refers to a system in which people control the policies and mechanisms by which their food is produced, distributed, and consumed. The second involves having regular and reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food.
“With the garden hub, the sovereignty piece is (neighborhood residents) being less dependent on, let’s say, a grocery store for your produce,” Dupuie says. “So if you grow it yourself, you can offset your costs and you can be less dependent on the distribution system.”
Of the garden hub, he says, “We just started that program this year. Next year we’re going to run people through a whole program -- six households through a program with a bartering system and a whole season of growing. We’ll have an instructor from Kalamazoo Valley Community College come over and teach several homesteading classes.”
He expects to have an abundance of produce from one section of the garden hub, which will be an example plot. The garden hub is behind the neighborhood association offices. It includes three 4-by-10 garden boxes and another 6-by-6 garden box, as well as four large water trough-styled planters used to grow herbs.
On a recent day, ready-made sandwiches were among the offered inside the Community Cupboard.
“We also have a huge herb garden that’s back there,” he says. “So people can have availability to fresh basil and rosemary and things like that.”
The mission of the garden hub is broad – to help bring together people in the neighborhood.
“The ultimate goal is to bring people together,” Dupuie says. “It’s all about the community. That is the goal. So one of the pieces of the garden hub, when we run people through the program, is that they have to develop a bartering system at the beginning.”
When they plant the food, they will have to share space and plant different items. “So you’ll have to barter with who grows what and share. So we hope that model will encourage people to know one another better, and also when they leave the program continue to do that in the neighborhood.”
The Edison Neighborhood is just south of downtown Kalamazoo, and is also one of the city’s oldest and most dense neighborhoods in terms of housing and commercial uses. Asked why the neighborhood association wanted to take over a food pantry-type project, Dupuie says, “We have unhoused people in Edison and then we also have people who have food insecurity in their households. We saw both here. … For us it just felt like a natural fit.”