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Donations steady at area food pantries

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Bay College sophomore and TRiO peer mentor Leonard Menary stocks shelves at the college’s food pantry Tuesday.

ESCANABA — While summer and early fall is typically a slow time for donations to local food pantries, representatives of these pantries said things have been different in 2020.

“It’s been kind of an interesting year for us,” Major Alex Norton of the Salvation Army of Escanaba said.

Normally, Norton said donations to the food pantry slow down at this time of year. He had not expected 2020 to be an exception — but despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Salvation Army has been receiving a steady flow of pantry donations in recent months.

“They’ve seemed to dig deeper … they’ve done even more than what we expected,” he said of people in the area.

Some local residents have supported the Salvation Army in other ways this year, as well. In April, Matt Marenger started a program to collect cans and bottles to raise funds in support of the area’s homeless population. The program was later taken over by the Salvation Army of Escanaba, and funds raised through the drive will cover most expenses for the 2020-21 season of Hope at the Inn — a rotating homeless shelter in Delta County that the Salvation Army oversees.

“We were able to to gather enough cans to basically cover our costs for quite a while,” Norton said.

Norton said people looking to support the Salvation Army’s food pantry are encouraged to do so by making a financial donation. The Salvation Army is able to take advantage of a variety of discounts and deals with local stores when buying food for the pantry.

“We can get more bang for their buck … when they donate to us,” he said, adding that 100 percent of funds donated to the Salvation Army of Escanaba stay in the local area.

For people who would rather donate groceries, dry goods are always welcome.

“Those kind of things don’t always get dropped off,” Norton said.

Elmer’s County Market also offers pre-prepared bags of food people can buy for the Salvation Army.

“That’s one good option, if you’re looking for an easy way to make a donation,” Norton said.

Barb Van Ermen, pantry manager for Escanaba’s St. Vincent de Paul, said activity at the food pantry has decreased recently.

“It was a little slower during the summer months because people were able to get food from many places,” she said.

However, people have still been supporting St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry in recent months.

“The donations from the community have been very generous,” Van Ermen said, adding that people have donated checks, cash and food.

Van Ermen said she is expecting the pantry’s needs to increase in the near future.

“The need for food goes up in fall and then, of course, for the Christmas baskets,” she said.

Currently, St. Vincent de Paul is seeking donations of canned fruits, vegetables (including green beans and kernel corn), tuna and ravioli, as well as juice.

At Bay College’s food pantry, TRiO Program Coordinator Tina Jensen said things have been going well as of late. In March and April, Jensen said the pantry was heavily stocked in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our numbers were pretty high during the early onset of the quarantine,” she said.

According to Jensen, the college’s food pantry was less heavily utilized during the summer months.

“We had a little bit of a lull in July,” she said, noting the fact that students could grow their own produce over the summer may have played a role in this.

Since then, usage of the pantry has started to pick up again. Currently, Bay students are able to visit the pantry in person or go online to schedule a time to pick up their food order.

“All the online pickups are on Thursday afternoon,” Jensen said.

Many of the items available at Bay’s food pantry are provided by Aldi through the Feeding America West Michigan program, Jensen said.

“(Aldi) gives us an opportunity … three days a week to come in and pick up anything they need to remove from their shelves,” she said.

Local residents are welcome to make monetary donations to the pantry. To arrange donations, call Jensen at 906-217-4133.

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