ISHPEMING - A food bank in Ishpeming recently experimented with its first ever "mobile food pantry" - a streamlined way to deliver more food to more people more quickly.
On Wednesday, the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank set up a single long row of tables filled with food outside its Ash Street pantry. Behind the tables sat pallets piled high with food, within easy reach of the handful of volunteers who made sure the tables stayed stocked as those in need moved in ones and twos along the row, making selections and slowly filling the plastic laundry baskets they'd brought as impromptu grocery hoppers.
"Feeding America has been doing mobile food pantries throughout the state of Michigan for some time now, but we've never had them up here until this year," said David Mason, the food bank's branch manager. "And I just thought it would be a good thing to introduce the community to. It's a much more efficient and effective way of delivering a lot of goods to a lot of families real quick. It gets a lot of food out there."
Community members visit the Ishpeming food bank’s mobile pantry Wednesday. The event is a streamlined way to get more food to more people more quickly. About 10,000 pounds of food was dispensed over the course of several hours. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
Dispensing about 10,000 pounds of food over the course of several hours, Mason said the pantry would serve at least 250 families. It's the way all the food is set up in a single line, he said, that makes the "mobile" method so effective.
"The pure schematics of it: single-file line, put it all out there for everybody, we get all the numbers counted, we have all the products that we have, so everybody knows exactly how much they're allowed to take," he said. "And boom - rock 'n' roll time, you know? Send 'em through."
Mason said that anyone who comes to them in need can get food, because there are so many different reasons for food insecurity and so many people out there who are nearer to being food-insecure than many people realize.
"There's a multitude of reasons. It could be anything, from somebody in the family has a substance abuse issue, or maybe they're in between jobs, or they're making a bunch of money (and) they lost their job - most people are not more than two weeks away from food insecurity," he said. "That's a scary thought. Most people don't have a savings account. So things like this are important; it helps fill the gaps."
Because of the ease of the mobile pantry system, Mason said he'd like to continue to do it for as long as the weather allows. And he also plans to make changes within the brick-and-mortar food bank to reflect some of the most effective aspects of the mobile system.
"We're going to change the format of our in-house pantry to more of a style like this, because it is so much more efficient than what we were doing in there," he said. "We just pull our hair out in there, so to speak, trying to keep up with everybody."
Mason said the only drawback to the mobile system is that it gets rid of all of the food bank's products in one day, potentially causing problems for individuals or families who couldn't get to the pantry that day. Fortunately though, he said, the food bank should be restocked as early as next week.
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.