Marsha Stamas & Pesi Kennett

Prologue: The Midland Area Community Foundation provides funds and support through our grantmaking. Food insecurity is one important area of focus for local nonprofits. In this 2-part story, Marsha Stamas from the Bridge Food Center and Pesi Kennett from Midland County Food Assistance Network talk about the impact of their organizations in Midland County and how the Foundation has played a role.
Marsha Stamas, In Her Own Words – Documented by Kevin LaDuke
Food Insecurity – Part 1

“For The Bridge Food Center, our work is all about people. Our focus is the ALICE [Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed] population. They don’t qualify to receive a lot of free food. They don’t qualify for state assistance. A lot of times, in fact, they don’t want any assistance because they’re working. They’re trying really hard, and they want to do it on their own. They are often the last ones that will even think about coming to The Bridge because they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t need to go to a place that’s going to help me.’ But once we get them in the door, they say, ‘This is a grocery store.’ We are a grocery store – an affordable grocery store where you can provide for yourself. You can choose what you want, and our biggest value is dignity. Nobody has to prove their income. We’re here to help bridge the gap for a group of people who don’t always get assistance or think they need assistance. I believe food is a basic need for all of us. Sometimes, I open my refrigerator or my cupboards and say, ‘There’s nothing to eat.’ But that’s only because I’m being picky, and I do have food. There are people who don’t and can’t afford what they want – that’s where my passion comes from. Food is a basic need, and this work is just so close to my heart.

We started in December 2016 with food giveaways, and we were constantly questioning what we could do better. During those questions, we learned the difference between someone in poverty and a member of the ALICE population. They didn’t like going to a food pantry because that didn’t make them feel good, right? They didn’t always get a choice of what they wanted to buy or receive, and they just wanted to do it for themselves. That was where The Bridge said, ‘We’re going to fundraise.’ We didn’t know how to run a grocery store. We fundraised upfront and bought some pallets of food. That’s where it started.

When people hear the name of our organization, they immediately think of a Bridge Card for food assistance that the State offers. We don’t accept that; people think they must have one to shop with us. What we do is bridge the gap. That’s where our name came from. People are providing and buying their own groceries at a nickel over wholesale cost when they shop with us. Whatever we pay for it, we mark it up a nickel, which allows us to accept debit and credit cards in addition to cash.

One of our partners is Hidden Harvest, as well. They come twice a week for us and bring us bread and produce. Customers pay cash, credit, or debit for every purchase, and then they get to pick their bonus items based on how much they spent, and they get free bread and produce. That’s how we bridge the gap for that group that doesn’t necessarily get any other assistance.

Honestly, the Bridge had not interacted with the Midland Area Community Foundation before purchasing our new building, which happened in April of 2022. We bought the old Save-A-Lot building at 1826 South Saginaw Road. We’re super excited. The target opening is January of 2024. Save-A-Lot gutted the building, so I got a hold of Alysia [Alysia Christy, Director of Community Impact for the Midland Area Community Foundation] early on. I was like, ‘Tell me about grant writing. I’ve never written a grant in my life.’ The Foundation gave us $40,000. It was one of the very first grants that we received, but even more, Alysia has been like, ‘Here’s the community. How much do you know about Hemlock Semiconductor’s grants? Do you know about the other foundations in town? Here’s some tips for the trade.’ She has been a great sounding board for us. The networking piece – what they do to unite the community has enabled me to meet more people and understand that process.

I think Midland is such a unique community and that we rally together in times of trouble – the flood, COVID, and all those kinds of things, but we do it on a daily basis. I think we just think that’s normal. I would love for us to recognize the uniqueness of our community in the way that we rally together. We partner with each other. The Bridge wouldn’t be what The Bridge is without the partners of Hidden Harvest, 211, MyMichigan, and all of the companies and individuals that are volunteering. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel. When there’s an issue, if there’s a group that’s already dealing with an issue, Midland supports that group and pools resources so that we’re not doing all these individual things. It’s my hope that we are really looking and pooling our resources to make the most significant impact in our community.”

Pesi Kennett – In Her Own Words, Documented by Kevin LaDuke
Food Insecurity – Part 2

“The Midland County Food Assistance Network [formerly known as the Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network] was formed in 1983. I joined in November of 2019.

There was a particular event that took place in early 2020 that had an impact on me and brought me closer to our vision of working to ensure there’s always food in every home. I was in the warehouse by myself and heard a knock on the door. I saw a lady and a little girl standing out in the cold winter. I opened the door, and they came in. I asked, ‘What can I do for you? What can I help you with?’ I found out they were a mother and daughter, and they didn’t have any food in the house. The mother’s husband had left them the month before. They didn’t know where they were going, so they just stopped to see if they could get help. I told them they came to the right place. I said, ‘Let’s go shopping. You can pick out whatever you want from our warehouse.” I told the little girl to pick what she wanted, too. The mother told her to leave things for the next folks, but I insisted on letting the little girl pick whatever she wanted. What impacted me was when the woman told me that she’d pay us back when things were good. In the summer of 2020, I heard a knock on the door. It was them, and they were dressed nicely. I didn’t hardly recognize them. She said, ‘We were the ones who came here earlier this year. I made the promise to come back with my first paycheck. We’re gonna repay you guys.’ It touched me. I told them we were making sure they had more food, and they were not paying because they needed to pay their utilities and other bills. This is only one portion of life we could help her and her daughter. They did not want to do it, but I insisted on it. Knowing when someone shows up at our door and needs food, I can say, ‘Yes, we can.’ – that’s what drives me.

When working with people, they want to know the difference between us, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, and Hidden Harvest. We work with those two great organizations, but have a different purpose. We purchase the food from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. They provide the food for our pantries as well as our mobile pantries. And then, Hidden Harvest brings excess food to us in their truck. It stops by our warehouse once a week, and we pick whatever we think we need for our warehouse. We deal directly with the clients, whereas these other organizations do not.

When we purchased our current location at 503 South Saginaw, who did we look to for help? Midland Area Community Foundation. We look at the Midland Area Community Foundation as the building block that ignites all of the agencies here in Midland County. We look to them every time we struggle with something. The Foundation has a huge impact on the community. When the floods happened, I called them because the demand for food was huge. We received funds from them to help pay for more food because we kept on delivering food to all the shelters. That helped a lot. Midland Area Community Foundation, thank you for being there for us.

Midland as a town is so compassionate and caring. I’m hoping that tradition will carry on to the younger people. We have our ‘Backpack Buddies’ program, and we have begun supplying snacks to high schools throughout our County and some middle schools, as well. When the students have snacks, it helps them be active and participate in the classroom. I’m hoping what we are doing will help the next generation know they can have an impact on other people’s lives.”

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