Teresa Calkins is not the kind of person to be underestimated. When she puts her mind to doing a task, you can be assured that it will be done and done well.
That was the case when it came to creating a community food pantry for Caseville. Teresa and her husband Richard were long time cottage owners in Caseville and when they retired and settled here for good, she set out to offer knowledge and services to a few food pantries in the area.
As someone that had used the food pantry system for herself and her family, this was work that was very close to her heart. Not only had she been a recipient, but when she got on her feet she became a board member of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan (FBEM). The experience and knowledge she gained from being on the board of the FBEM would prove to be very helpful in creating the pantry we have today.
Teresa saw that our community had several small, independent pantries operating from donations and not working with any real structure. She made contact with these pantries and presented the idea of joining forces and creating one central community food pantry and pooling resources. She brought them together and told them of the benefits of working directly with the FBEM. She also reached out to local businesses and community leaders to provide guidance for this new community food pantry. It was important to make it clear that this was a community effort and no one church or entity was in control. Volunteers would need to go through civil rights training and team leaders would answer to the advisory committee if problems arise.
Caseville United Methodist church not only offered the use of their 501c3 status, but also provided the site for the pantry to operate out of. And in 2010 a partnership was formed with the FBEM, the churches of Caseville and several local businesses to provide a food pantry for those in need of food assistance in Caseville, Caseville Township and Lake Township.
Who thought a Pandemic could be a blessing in disguise
From 2010 to March 2020 our pantry operated to provide emergency assistance to anyone in immediate need. We operated an onsite pantry that allowed clients to shop for food they could use or need. We also set up a delivery service for qualifying individuals in our service area. Food was provided at no cost to the clients that qualified and they were permitted to come in once a month to obtain food. At the time, we averaged 80 clients a month. Food was obtained either by donation or purchased through the FBEM. Food purchased through the FBEM cost approximately $.75 a pound. Volunteers would have to drive to Caro to pick up the order from the FBEM truck and then drive it back to Caseville and put it on the shelves.
In mid-March of 2020 COVID 19 made its impact on Michigan and our little pantry. We were told by the county health department that in person food distribution would not be allowed until further notice. We were essentially told to shut down. This was not acceptable. Our team knew that many families were about to feel the impact of a State and Nationwide shut down and we felt it was more important than ever to provide food assistance. So we modified our distribution to a drive up service. Our team leaders packed boxes of food for our clients as well as the families of Caseville Public School. Families that had relied on the school providing one or two meals to their children were now responsible to providing those meals. We hoped to help them out to lessen the financial burden this could create.
After a few weeks of doing pre boxed food service, we were contacted by our regional director at the FBEM. She offered to send us a COVID relief truck at no cost to help provide food for the community. We eagerly said yes and made plans for our first “Pop Up Pantry”. The trucks provided by the FBEM guarantee a minimum of 10,000 lbs of food from various categories like proteins, shelf stable foods, bakery, produce and dairy.
Despite the weather, our first Pop Up Pantry was a huge success. We served almost 300 families and gave away 17,000 lbs of food!
Having seen the impact this one event had made us rethink our model not only during the pandemic but beyond. The cost of the food truck compared to buying food from the FBEM also played into our decision. With our in person model, we were spending $.75 lb. for food and with a full semi-truck we would only spend $.05 lb. for food. The in person model allowed us to serve 80 people a month and the truck model allowed us to serve 300 or more families a month. We never dreamed a global pandemic would be the catalyst to making our food pantry bigger and better in so many ways.
It takes a Community to make this happen
The Caseville Community is 100% donation and volunteer based. We hold one annual fundraiser from November 1st to December 31st called our Ornament Campaign. Paper ornaments are distributed to local business and patrons can make a monetary donation that comes back to our pantry and funds our account at the FBEM. The FBEM estimates that every one dollar spent with them provides 6 meals. Since joining with the other churches and pantries, they send us food and monetary donations as well. Since we’ve started having the Pop Up Pantry events, we have had a huge outpouring of donations and sponsorships for our Pop Up Pantry events. Many businesses, civic organizations, and citizens and donated partial or whole trucks. We can’t thank them enough and are so grateful to have such a caring community.