MARLETTE— Gina Titus has a question for analysts and university professors insisting Michigan continues in an economic recovery in the past few years: Are we in the same state?
“I’m not seeing any of that,” said Titus, 52, executive director of the Heaven Sent Community Ministries food pantry at 3065 Main St. in Marlette. The pantry marks its 10th anniversary this year.
Media reports have stated Michigan’s unemployment rate — once the nation’s worst — has been falling in 2015, this year and is expected to fall again in 2017.
“I don’t know what the deal is,” Titus said. “We were just told recently that the unemployment is down in our area. But it’s just that (unemployment recipients) have run out of unemployment, and they don’t qualify for it anymore. They don’t get anything anymore. They don’t have a job.
“It’s worse — it’s getting worse. And it’s neighbors helping neighbors. That’s what we have to go back to.”
The pantry distributes free food on the third Thursday of each month from 5 to 6 p.m. to residents of the Marlette school district, which includes parts of Tuscola and Sanilac counties. Titus said the pantry serves residents of the Kingston, Clifford and Silverwood areas, and part of the Mayville area.
A second food distribution occurs on the last Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. until the food is gone, for residents of Sanilac County, population 41,823.
First-time visitors to the pantry, regardless of address, receive free food, and Titus tries to refer them to free-food sources closer to their homes.
A January 2016 Detroit Free Press article states Michigan has seen rises in real estate prices, average personal income and the level of education afforded a key group of young workers, concluding “Michigan has just completed its sixth year of economic recovery.”
But Titus, an Ohio native who has lived in Florida and moved to the Marlette area about 15 years ago, said life at the pantry contradicts such a report.
About 30 families received free food the first month the pantry opened in 2006. Lately, though, about 600 families receive free food on the two monthly distribution days, though some of those families are the same families visiting the pantry on both days, she said.
The volunteers feed about 950 families each month in November and December during the holiday season.
Titus recalled the pantry’s early days, when the editor of a Sanilac County newspaper helped her in the campaign to feed the hungry.
“We didn’t think it could get worse,” she said. “Are you kidding? We have become so much worse. Besides, your cost of food went up since then, your gas went up, your natural gas bills and your propane went up.”
Those wishing to donate money to help buy food for the pantry may write a check payable to “Heaven Sent Community Ministries” and mail the check to: Heaven Sent Community Ministries, 3065 Main St., Marlette, MI 48453.
Titus said that for every $1 donation, she can buy about $14 worth of food from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
“If somebody writes a check, I can guarantee them it’s going to buy food,” Titus said.
Titus also welcomes holiday donations of paper products including napkins, Kleenex and paper towels, along with blankets.
“Paper products are so expensive, and they have not come down,” she said. “Believe it or not, in the winter, we have people who line the walls of their house trailers or old farmhouse, for insulation.”
Older Thumb area residents, and younger ones, are most susceptible to economic trouble, Titus said.
“The ones that break my heart are the senior citizens and the kids,” she said. “The senior citizens are on a fixed income and they can’t change that income. The kids don’t have a choice. We’ve had kids come to their teacher or their counselor about it.
“Some parents are too proud to come here to get food. There are times when we’ll take a box of food at night and just put it on the front seat of their car, so they’ll have some food.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org