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Getting a firm footing on the future,
One meal at a time

steve darr
Three to four months - that's how long a family typically needs to get out of crisis and back on their feet, says Steven Darr, pantry manager at Open Door Ministry.

Beginning with food, Open Door Ministries in Canton offers a number of services to help struggling neighbors along the upward climb toward a better life.

Circumstances that bring people in vary, but changes in employment are the primary cause, says Steven Darr, pantry manager at Open Door. From hours getting cut at work to a loss of medical insurance, employment changes can mean the ends just don’t meet anymore.

While the food pantry, stocked mainly through Gleaners, provides immediate relief from hunger, Open Door’s job support services help people regain their ability to provide for themselves. Services include a job bank for job seekers, résumé help, and a nationally recognized, 16-week class called “Jobs for Life” that connects people with mentors from the business community and assigns each person a “champion” who provides ongoing encouragement and follow-up.  

“We keep track every week of what our clients are doing to improve their situation and if they’ve taken any of the job support opportunities we provide,” says Darr.

Three to four months – that’s how long a family typically needs to get out of a crisis and back on their feet, he says. Soon people are back at work and making strides towards self-sufficiency, even volunteering at the pantry for others. The problem is, as soon as someone leaves the program, another person fills the vacancy. A steady stream of 450 families visits Open Door each week.

On the other side of town, Kathleen was visiting Gleaners’ Shared Harvest Pantry in Livingston for the first time.

Her household had grown from three to nine people overnight. Her son had lost his job, then his home. Kathleen welcomed him in, along with his wife and four children, while the family worked to get back on their feet.

“I’ve never been to a food bank or pantry before. I’m glad it’s here. It’s a great relief,” she says.

Upon registering for food at the pantry, Kathleen learned about support services that could help her son find a new job and, in the meantime, connect the family with assistance that would help them stabilize.

“People come to the pantry to fulfill the immediate need of food, and then learn about what other services can help them,” says Monica Martinez, a resource navigator at Shared Harvest. Martinez says many of the people who walk through the door are in a state of crisis and can’t think too far beyond their hunger.

“Sometimes when people come here, especially if it’s for the first time, they have no idea what programs are out there that could help them. They are very upset, they are very sad,” she says.

Martinez is a whiz at referral services and quickly assesses which agencies or programs can best serve her clients. “I sit with them and try to find out what’s the immediate need – aside from food – that would help them stabilize.” 

A huge, head-clearing burden is lifted once visitors realize that the pantry will support their families’ nutritional needs to get them through their situation. Pantry visitors can take up to 30 pounds of food per person in their household, including frozen meat, fresh produce, bread and nonperishable foods.

“When you know you’re going to eat today and you’re going to eat tomorrow, you can get to the next problem you have to tackle to get on your feet again,” says Martinez.

“I have a gentleman client who was homeless. He would come in to the pantry every so often to talk with me. I was able to help him apply for a bridge card. He called me about a month and a half ago and said he thought about a conversation we had about seeking permanent housing. He had moved into a shelter and got a job at Michigan State University. He’s just a month or two shy of getting into his own place.”

“The food helps you move on,” Martinez says. “For people living in poverty, every day is a struggle. If you can secure food for yourself and your family, it makes it so much easier to tackle the other things you need to.”