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Report tags Northeast Michigan for food gaps

News File Photo Workers prepare food for distribution at a recent pop-up food pantry at the Alpena APlex.

ALPENA — Food is available for those who need it, experts say — but there’s not always a way to get to it.

Northeast Michigan is one of several regions identified by a new study as having a gap between the number of people who need food assistance and the availability of organizations to meet those needs.

A study conducted by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund revealed the Alpena area may not be adequately supplied to feed the food-insecure.

The study looked at factors such as driving distance to grocery stores, population size, and economic status of residents, compared to the number of organizations providing food.

Montmorency County was named in the report as one of Michigan’s two counties with the fewest number of organizations offering food assistance. The whole region was tagged as having low enrollment in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low-income families, commonly known as food stamps.

Food is free for the taking from several Alpena-area sources, including pantries, a soup kitchen, and pop-up pantries.

The food supply is adequate, and there’s no concern it will run out any time soon, according to Melissa Burns, regional outreach coordinator for the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

Whether people can get to that food is another question.

Alpena pop-up pantries — which provide 25,000 pounds of food to 400 families every other week — have had more and more visits from people picking up food for a relative or friend who can’t make the trip, Burns said.

The pantries are organized by a grassroots group of volunteers called Feed the Need Alpena

The pantries are intended to feed anyone from the region, including those in very rural areas. Some people drive as far as an hour to pick up fresh produce, dairy, and canned goods.

Not everyone has the luxury of making that drive, Burns said.

To bridge the gap between food and the people who need it, some communities have implemented creative programs that take the food where the people are, according to Laurie Solotorow, nutrition and healthy lifestyles program director for the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Food pantries are sometimes incorporated into schools or health clinics, for example.

Some Michigan hospitals have established “food pharmacies,” where patients with particular dietary needs can be written a prescription for the food that’s best for them and receive it on the spot.

In the Alpena area, some organizations already deliver boxes of food to homebound residents.

Solotorow, recently appointed to the Governor’s Council on Food Security, encourages partnerships between existing organizations and a little bit of creativity to make sure every stomach gets filled.

Meanwhile, trucks stuffed full of food make daily trips to counties around northern Michigan, including 11 scheduled to make stops around the region next week.

A pop-up pantry — where another 25,000 pounds of food will be available to anyone who can get there — will be held today, beginning at noon, at the Alpena APlex, in conjunction with the annual Project Connect giveaway providing bags of personal hygiene items to drivers as they wait in line for the food distribution.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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