It’s been a landmark year for Northern Michigan’s largest food pantry. Following a trend that’s increasing nationwide, The Father Fred Foundation transitioned its Traverse City food pantry into a self-shop facility—a major development that completely changes the experience for families in need. Now, instead of simply being handed food, guests can move through the facility as though it was a regular grocery store—shopping cart and all. Traditionally, volunteers put food in a bag, but organizers worried that system removed an important element of control. “When folks can choose the food themselves, there’s a lot of dignity in that,” says Rosemary Hagan, executive director at Northern Michigan's Father Fred.
The updated food pantry includes a canopied area for fresh fruits and vegetables, a canned goods section, and areas for meat, milk, cheese and personal care products. Volunteers that formerly assembled the donation bags are now on hand to help guests with questions, such as how to cook with unfamiliar ingredients like, say, spaghetti squash. “It’s enabled us to really rethink and align with promoting healthy living,” Hagan says. While Northern Michigan food drive donations are always important, Hagan says monetary gifts are vital because they allow Father Fred to forge relationships with local farmers and producers. In turn? Fresh, healthy food becomes a reality for all. fatherfredfoundation.com.