By Carol Stiffler

More than 380 families rely on monthly food distributions from Feeding America, picking up boxes of food worth about $100 to help them get by.

Those distributions are in question now, according to Pastor Kyle Kuehl. He’s the director of the Newberry Area Ministerial Association (NAMA), which raises funds and pays for the food distributions.

Feeding America West Michigan doesn’t set a price on mobile distributions, but asks organizations to pledge a certain amount each year. NAMA has pledged $16,000 and tries to send in payments of $4,000 each quarter.

NAMA hosts fundraiser walks and cupcake wars and generally has enough to cover one quarter of food distributions per year, or about $4,000. Beyond that, the association relies on donations and community sponsors.

“We were blessed with grants to help assist with the cost in the past, especially during the pandemic, but those grants have run out or only cover a certain amount now,” said Pastor Kyle Kuehl.

“The rest is up to NAMA to try to raise, and we are coming up short. If we cannot make our pledge every year, we may have to discontinue Feeding America for our county or cut back to quarterly distributions.”

That would be awful, Kuehl said, because the need is still present and rising across the U.P.

“Monthly, we are serving around 380 families from over a dozen communities,” Kuehl said. “Unfortunately, those numbers are going up all over the UP. And every time, we run short of food.”

Prior to the pandemic, about 200 households collected food at Feeding America distributions. That number shot up to 400 and 500 households during the pandemic shutdown, and has remained far above 2019 averages since.

Feeding America hauls the food in a semi-truck and fills it for at least two community distribution sites.

Once the truck reaches a distribution site, the food is passed out without stipulations.

“They just have to say ‘We need food,’” said Ken Estelle, CEO of Feeding America West Michigan in a 2020 interview. “We don’t investigate.” That includes not asking where someone lives, and families have been known to come from towns in other counties to pick up food when the truck is in Newberry.

There may be a few people abusing the system, he acknowledged, but it’s a very small percentage and he doesn’t want to divert resources to identify them.

“I’d rather feed the 98 percent that are needing the help,” he said.

Feeding America West Michigan estimates that one in nine people in its territory struggle with food insecurity. The organization also makes the dollar stretch: For every dollar donated, Feeding America can supply 15 meals to families in need.

“We would hate to discontinue the food trucks, as it’s our family members, neighbors, and fellow Yoopers who are in need of this food,” Kuehl said. “When they have to decide to pay the electric bill or buy food for the week, we want to help alleviate some of that pressure. But we can’t unless people, organizations, and businesses step up to help us continue bringing the truck here monthly.”

To help, donations can be sent by check or money order to NAMA with “Feeding America Mobile” in the memo line. Mail checks to NAMA at P.O. Box 443, Newberry, Mich. 49868.