By TRINITY CAREY
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — One in seven people and one in six children in Michigan are struggling with hunger, according to Feeding America.
Food insecurity in Marquette was discussed among community members and various area organizations aimed at increasing access to healthy food during Tapping into Local Food: Food Insecurity, an event held by the 2019 Marquette Local Food Fest in collaboration with Ore Dock Brewing Co. Oct. 3.
“The reason I wanted to do this is because I’m in this moral dilemma: We need to pay more for food, but we also need to feed people who can’t afford food, and how do we have that conversation at the same time,” said Alex Palzewicz, U.P. food coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. “How do we value food and appreciate it for what it is while also realizing what a problem we have out there with feeding our own population?”
Problems faced specifically in the U.P., such as transportation, were discussed throughout the event. Often in rural communities access to a vehicle or public transportation can result in reduced access to not just healthy food, but any food.
“I think the biggest thing I want people to think about is it’s not that these people are in need, it’s not that they are struggling, it’s just that it’s the world we live in these days,” Palzewicz said. “There’s millions of people that are suffering from this or feel it and you don’t even really realize it. Realizing that it’s close to home and it’s not an embarrassing thing, it’s just something that we want to be able to help each other with.”
She noted that the Upper Peninsula has many robust programs that fight food insecurity, but that there is still room for growth within them. To give attendees an idea of the scale of insecurity and ways to get involved, members of the local food system spoke about their actions.
Sarah Monte, outreach director at the Marquette Food Co-op, discussed the food assistance programs offered by her employer, like Double Up Food Bucks. This program offers free produce for Bridge Card users equal to the amount they’ve purchased up to $20. Co-op customers can also round up their purchases to the nearest dollar and that money will be donated to the United Way. Since January, over $10,600 has been raised to purchase food and necessities for families in the area through the Round Up program.
Downtown Marquette Farmers Market Manager Myra Zyburt talked about the five programs offered at the market that encourage healthy eating among kids and adults as well as the recently added Wednesday market, which gives community members access to healthy local food an additional day during the week.
Representatives from Northern Michigan University’s Food Pantry Nolan Greene and Ricky Reeve talked about how the pantry offers food such as canned goods and household products to NMU faculty, staff and students suffering from food insecurity in a safe environment. The pantry is also open during holidays when university dining halls are closed. In the 2018-2019 school year, the pantry had 1,623 visits.
Mark Holliday, guest advocate for Room at the Inn, explained how the Warming Center and its rotating shelter assist those in need in the community by providing breakfast and dinner and partner with the Salvation Army to serve lunch. Room at the Inn serves over 1,800 meals every month, and the organization is currently seeking volunteers and donations.
NMU Cat Packs representative Sarah Head told attendees of the program’s impact on local youth. Cat Packs provides healthy meals and snacks for around half of North Star Academy’s student population. Last year, the program provided over 17,000 meals to the community. Head said the organization is in need of volunteers to assemble the food packs each week.
Mike Reester of Transition Marquette explained that a focus of the organization is food challenges at the local level. They encourage residents to garden more and produce their own food with events like the plant swap and the Queen City Seed Library.
The event was meant to educate the public on access to food in the Marquette area and encourage all to get involved in some way, Palzewicz said.
“I hope they learned about the fact that there’s not just one organization doing this, that there’s a lot of different programs happening,” she said. “They’re happening at our schools, they’re happening at our college here in town, maybe they’re happening in the community but there’s a lot of different things going on and there are so many ways to help. You can help physically, you can help by donating, you can help by rounding up at the co-op like we learned and I think that’s why I wanted to do this. In my work I learn more and more about this and it doesn’t make sense for just the people in the work to know. It’s better for the community to know all the different things that are out there.”
Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is email@example.com.