Overwhelming response

Organizers of inaugural veterans food pantry impressed by volunteers

Students from Marquette and Alger County who are involved in the Michigan Works’ Jobs for Michigan Graduates program, from the left : Thomas Kimmes, Timothy Muladore, Collin Fure and Andre Walsh, divide ears of corn into bags to be distributed to individual households during the Veterans Food Bank at Lakeview Arena in Marquette on Thursday. The event, which was coordinated by three local labor organizations, had about 200 volunteers and served over 550 veterans. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — The inaugural veterans mobile food pantry at Lakeview Arena Thursday got an overwhelming amount of support from the community — especially the number of volunteers who assisted with the effort, organizers said.

Upper Peninsula Construction Council Executive Director Tony Retaskie said 120 volunteers helped make the event a success.

“We put out the call out for 70 to 75 volunteers,” Retaskie said. “The response was great.”

The UPCC joined the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and the Upper Peninsula Regional Labor Federation AFL-CIO to purchase 30,000 pounds of food with the help of Adventist Community Services to be distributed to U.P. veterans.

Fifteen of those volunteers are Marquette and Alger county high school students participating in the Jobs for Michigan Graduates program, Retaskie said.

“It’s a great opportunity for some of these young people to get a chance to meet some of the veterans who are coming through the line,” Retaskie said.

In addition to sorting food items into individual packets, the students also got the chance to greet veterans at the registration table and assist them one-on-one.

“They (the veterans) were each escorted by a young person who would carry their box or cooler,” Retaskie said.

Meagan Staton, the JMG coach who is placed at the Marquette-Alger Middle College program, said student participation in the mobile food bank was beneficial for the students in a variety of ways.

“It’s a great event, we love to support anything that our U.P. Construction Council is doing — on top of our students practicing their attitude of gratitude, it’s one of our values being middle college.” Staton said. “They get to give back and work beside some of the people that they may be working with in the future. It also allows them to give back to Tony Retaskie, because it’s thanks to his support that we are able to do our program.”

Retaskie is a member of the Marquette Alger Regional Education Service Agency and Michigan Works! boards.

“I am one of many people on those boards. Everyone of us worked hard to get this program to come to this area.” Retaskie said

Staton said volunteering for the event also enabled JMG volunteers to improve customer service skills and work as a team toward a common goal. “It’s a great event and I am really happy that we were given the opportunity to come out,” Staton said. “It has been an awesome feeling just to see our students just jump right in and help out — it’s just nothing but good stuff and great opportunities for our students.”

About 190 families, 550 veterans in all were served at the event, Retaskie said. In addition, an estimated 200 members of the general public were able to pick up food after 1 p.m. once organizers were confident that all veterans had been assisted.

Any leftover food was given to The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Janzen House, Retaskie said.

“We even brought some watermelons over to the Jacobetti Home for Veterans,” Retaskie said.

In addition to the outpouring of volunteer support, organizers are thankful for the City of Marquette who provided access to city facilities as well as businesses like Main Street Pizza and Subway who provided lunch for event volunteers, Retaskie said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.