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HomeFeaturesOscoda FeaturesIt takes a community to run a pantry

It takes a community to run a pantry

OSCODA COUNTY – Norma Lyden moves through the room like the calm eye of the whirlwind around her, quietly directing a couple dozen hard-working — and joyful – volunteers in filling the day’s boxes at Together We Can Food Pantry at the Oscoda County Fairgrounds on Helmer Lake Road. 

She and a handful of hands-on board members arrive ahead of the volunteers to prepare for the day, and Norma (who, not surprisingly, doesn’t like titles) is quick to deflect the spotlight away from her onto others in the room. 

Together We Can Food Pantry is all about community.

If Norma is the current force behind the decades-old community organization, Ken Troyer might be the face: he kept popping up and in and out of conversations all morning. 

“Every week is like Christmas,” he explained as the semi-truck arrived at 8:30 a.m. “We never know what we will get.” Ken has been involved since 2008 when Sarah Rigpath, a friend of his, asked the retiree to get involved. “I like helping people, meeting people. We’ll pack 250-300 boxes this morning and have a good time doing it.”

food pantry
Joann Bolda, another board member, pulls kitchen duty after all the volunteers have eaten lunch together between filling the boxes and loading them in the cars

Shawn Raymond’s mother got him involved as a teenager, and he’s been helping for 16 years. He is one of a handful of drivers who will deliver food boxes to veterans suffering from PTSD, the elderly, and households without cars or with parents who are so busy working they can’t take off for a food run. Terry Kennedy couldn’t remember exactly when she got involved, but Debbie Nurse later reminded her that she had gotten Terry involved about four years ago when the county was in danger of losing the food pantry. Mike Ames has only been volunteering for about a year and on the board just a few months, but he enjoys helping the community and loves that there’s always a wide variety of food and lots of fresh produce. And no one wanted to forget “the Troyer sisters,” Anita and Janeen, who come in after every workday to sweep and clean!

As the truck pulls in with the day’s delivery, the volunteers also suddenly appear and are soon helping the board set up today’s offering on a donated conveyor belt system set up on folding tables, with Norma expertly directing where each type of food item is placed along the belt. Joann Bolda explains that every effort is made to pack the boxes neatly and carefully so the families can truly be delighted when they open their box to discover what they’ve received. Norma says so far, it’s no problem to get volunteers. On this day, she was a couple short, but Norma wasn’t concerned. 

“It gets done,” she said… and soon placed this reporter in charge of cabbages!

Food pantry
Food recipients never leave their vehicle. Volunteers collect the empty boxes from the previous month while, here, Debbie Nurse registers the household(s) and Terry Kennedy assists

Norma invites churches, service organizations, private businesses, and individuals to contribute monetarily to the food pantry: each truck costs about $1,200 and will contain an average of 20,000 pounds – ten tons! – of food. More than a half million pounds of food will pass through the pantry this year, almost seven tons last Thursday alone! 

Volunteers are welcome to call Norma at -989-889-4512 to be added to the schedule, but please be advised: it means standing on concrete for three consecutive hours to pack a minimum of 225 boxes each time.Anyone who needs food, just show up on the third full-week Thursday of every month and other times as announced. 

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