ISHPEMING - Three years ago, a group from the Wesley United Methodist Church in Ishpeming noticed the empty shelves of local food pantries and decided to do something about it.
What was formed as Project Ishpeming Food Pantry has expanded to become Project Food for a Neighbor, a food drive covering Ishpeming, Ishpeming Township and Negaunee and filling the shelves of the Salvation Army food pantry in Ishpeming and the St. Vincent de Paul food pantries in Ishpeming and Negaunee.
"We have learned every spring, the local pantries are empty," said Dick Derby, one of the food drive organizers. "The need continues to be as great as ever."
Each year in the spring, volunteers representing the Wesley United Methodist Church, area schools, scouting organizations and other groups canvas the area distributing plastic bags to various neighborhoods.
The bags, donated by Jubilee Foods and Super One Foods, are marked with tags asking area residents to fill them with nonperishable food items, paper products and personal hygiene products.
This year the bags will be distributed Saturday. Organizers ask that residents who receive a bag fill it with whatever items they can and leave them outside the following Saturday, April 21, by 10 a.m. to be collected.
Unlike previous years, however, Negaunee will be included in the drive, spearheaded by project Chairman Kimme Peterson and the congregation of St. Paul Catholic Church.
The combined drive will include the distribution of 4,500 bags.
Expanding the drive to cover Negaunee as well as Ishpeming was always a goal of the original food drive committee, Derby said. Having had a few years to learn the process and what was required, he said this year seemed to be the time to expand.
"You can never stress enough the importance of this," Derby said. "The communities have always stepped up to meet the needs of their neighbors. Every individual can make a difference with a little bit of effort.
"We're not just doing this because it's a neat thing to do."
For more information, contact Wesley United Methodist Church at 486-4681 or Derby at 486-9349.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.