By Barb Pert Templeton
Mobile food pantries became the norm during the pandemic in order to keep people apart but now, more than two years later, state and local agencies are still making sure those in need are fed.
Amy Smith, assistant division director for St. Clair County Community Mental Health, said she worked with Emergency Management and Homeland Security back in 2020 to help define the needs for people in the community.
Since people couldn’t go inside the regular brick and mortar food pantry locations in their communities’ federal dollars were put in place to create the pop-up or drive-thru pantries, Smith said.
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Many smaller communities with local food banks were soon scheduled for service via the pop-up trucks of food provided by the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan – Food Distribution Center. The big semi-trucks full of food would arrive at dozens of places across the area each week and helped fill the gap the pandemic had created for those with food challenges.
The way the system worked, the food bank would provide the actual food while local agencies, like schools, churches and other non-profits, would provide the location and the support to operate the pop-up pantries.
“We had different sponsor organizations in the community and they would provide the people to do it,” Smith said.
Those stopping at the pantries to get food would simply be asked to fill out a card noting how many people they had in their family. The number of groceries provided was based on that number for example a family of two might get one bag of apples while a family of four would get two bags. Smith said address, income and employment data was not collected.
“We took them at their word because it takes a lot to get some people to even get in that line (for help,)” she said.
The food selection consisted of proteins like meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, perhaps some onions and potatoes, boxed pasta and spaghetti sauce. Smith said the food selection improved over the years too with more variety offered.
Once the COVID numbers dropped the federal funding dried up quickly so while there are still some pop-up pantries around the number has certainly decreased this year.
“We used to have a full-page listing all the locations,” Smith said.
Right now, there’s one pop-up food pantry coming to St. Clair County this Saturday, Oct. 22 at Crossroads Community Church from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The church is located at 3631 King Road in China Township.
To find out about more mobile pantries coming to the area visit the schedule, which is constantly being updated, online at fbem.org.
For those groups wishing to host a pop-up mobile food pantry the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan website notes that they will deliver 8-12 pallets of assorted product to the hosting agency. All product will be in totes on pallets and delivered in a trailer to the agency’s site of choice and unloaded. The pallets and empty totes will be picked up by the Food Bank
How to Organize a Mobile Food Pantry:
- Find a location for distribution. This may be the parking lot of your agency, a school, or other easily accessible location within the community.
- Schedule a day and time for delivery with the Food Bank.
- Announce the time of distribution to your clients and others in the neighborhood who are in need.
- On the day of distribution, have volunteers on-site to help distribute food and record who received it. After all food from the trailer is distributed, dispose of all trash and stack pallets, unused boxes and totes.
- The Food Bank will pick it all up within a few da
- Contact the Agency Relations Department with questions about hosting a pantry, (810) 239-4441
Source: The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan