If you’re fortunate, you’ll never have to rely on a food pantry for dinner. If you’re really fortunate, you’ll get to spend some time in one. On this day, at the Salvation Army emergency food pantry in Cheboygan – admission by appointment and application only, limited to one visit every 60 days – volunteers Sylvia Sanford and Dawn Pavwoski are escorting clients through the small space every 10 minutes or so. The choices are...eclectic: canned sardines and a seasoning mix for Asian fish tacos, store-brand cereal (Crispy Hexagons), jarred pimentos, even some Mackinac fudge. There is a whole case of Chinese hot-and-sour soup broth. And that’s before you even get to the freezer.
“Can you use some elk today?” Sanford asks. One row on the door is lined with two-pound packages of ground elk, harvested from the local herd just south of here. Most clients say yes. “I tell them to brown it and add some tomato sauce and seasonings,” Sanford said later. “I don’t want it to go to waste.”
Food pantries rely on a mixed bag of day-old bakery leftovers, food-drive donations and excess stock culled by wholesalers who sell truckloads in bulk. On any given day there may be tea cookies, premium brand names (the sardines were Bumblebee; the beans, Progresso) or more ethnic seasonings like Jamaican jerk sauce or a bottle of turmeric in addition to the usual fare of canned soups, peanut butter and jelly and such. “You can add those canned vegetables to the beef stew, make it go a little further,” Sanford advises one woman, a young mother with two young sons waiting back home. The woman mentions that peanut butter is the boys’ favorite food.
Sanford tucks another jar into her box.
– Nancy Derringer