By Genine Hopkins
During the July Community Nutrition Network Food Distribution held on Saturday, July 6, 2013, at St. Athanasius Church in Harrison, one of the 200 plus citizens awaiting food distribution went into a low blood sugar crisis, causing paramedics to be dispatched to the scene. The man was believed to have taken his insulin, but did not eat, causing the reaction. Both Clare County Sheriff’s Department Reserve and Mounted deputies responded immediately, along with many other patrons at the distribution. The man was transported to MidMichigan Hospital in Clare for treatment, and his food commodities were collected by the new pastor at The Gathering Church, Kel Penny, and were set to be delivered after the man was released.
This dilemma highlights the growing need for many working poor, elderly and children when it comes to having enough food in the home. According to the Food Bank Council of Michigan, “About 9,300 different people (in Mid Michigan) receive emergency food assistance in any given week.” Emergency assistance refers to soup kitchens, food pantries and emergency shelters that provide food. The findings of their 2013 study reveals that approximately 30 percent of those who seek help in Mid Michigan have minor children and almost 90 percent of those seeking help live under the federal poverty guidelines, which many feel are too low for basic living needs. Although the study finds approximately eight percent of those seeking food are seniors, traditionally both at the Stone Soup Project in Harrison and the CNN monthly food distributions, about half or more are seniors.
The faces of families seeking help with putting food on the table has changed as the economic health of both the U.S. and specifically Michigan plummeted. In line to receive food at the July distribution was a recent CMU graduate who holds a Registered Nursing degree and other working poor families who must often choose between paying bills and buying food. Most of the recipients do not qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – the old “food stamps” program) and with the rising cost of food, they often fall short of food on average for about four to seven days per month. This lack of food security has almost eliminated all the gains made by the War on Hunger during the 1960s, and Clare County has been deeply affected by this shift.
A passion to help reduce food insecurity in the county was what brought DHS’s Gretchen Wilbur and The Gathering’s former Pastor Mike Simon together. The two initiated CNN on Isabella County’s bi-weekly food distribution, promoting fresh and healthy foods over the traditional food pantry fare of boxed and processed foods. Their goal was to educate consumers on healthy food choices and distribute a large number of fresh foods in addition to the staples of pasta and rice. Pastor Simon has been reassigned, and Wilbur is retiring in December, but it has become clear that their passion will keep CNN running into the future.