Oscoda County Food Pantry Closes Due to Heat Cost, Concern Grows

A food pantry normally preparing to serve hundreds of families, now shut down in the cold.

Each month, the "Together We Can" Food Pantry gives out much-needed food in Oscoda County.

But an issue forced them to shut their doors for three months.

The food pantry usually helps families from their building at the Oscoda County Fairgrounds.

9&10’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Derrick Larr found out what’s shutting them down.

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"I’ve had a lot of them tell me, ‘If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have the food,’” says Sarah Ridpath, founder of the “Together We Can” Food Pantry.

It’s a need more than 30 senior volunteers have filled for more than 15 years from Sarah Ridpath’s red barn that reads "Together We Can."

“When the truck comes in, we box it all up,” Ridpath says. “The next day, the people come in, take their food out. We got in donations. To put this more effectively to help the people in the county, we went to Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and then we’ve worked in half a barn out there."

Sarah says the lack of heat is the problem.

“We closed down because it’s so cold,” Ridpath says. “We can’t afford to heat that barn and still keep buying food."

The pantry served 211 families in November.

Sarah says they bring in 16,000 pounds each month.

“I can get all kinds of food but I got to have the money to pay for it,” Ridpath says. “We just don’t get in enough donations."

“It’s the most devastating time of year for that to happen,” says Ann Galbraith, owner of the AuSable River Restaurant in Mio.

In year’s past, the AuSable River Restaurant has helped with a Christmas benefit dinner.

“Now that they are closed, we’re going to take the money to Emma Lowery (Congregational) Church in Luzerne. It does a food drop like the food pantry so a majority of the money is going to that."

St. Mary’s Catholic Church will help people in the mean time, along with the Fairview Mennonite Church.

But with so many families to help, Galbraith says being down a major food pantry could make it harder.

"A lot of people depended on that food drop, so I think the other churches and things are going to get hit really hard for people in need,” Galbraith says. "When you are paying electric bills, heat bills, it’s just hard to make ends meet."

Until donations address their heating problem, Sarah says the doors will stay shut.

But like the sign says…together, we can.

“If I had enough money for food and heat, but I need the combination of both in order be able to open,” Ridpath says. "Whatever somebody can afford. I don’t want to burden anybody. Whatever we can get, we’ll make do with."