Flint, MI—For close to ten years, the Martus Luna Food Pantry has been feeding nearly 1000 families in Flint on a weekly basis.
As more families have come, more food is procured, and more people volunteer, the pantry has outgrown its current space.
Though at some point Art Luna, the director of the food pantry, was thinking about moving the pantry into a vacant building across the street from its current location at the Latinx Tech Center on the city’s east side, he saw an opportunity to serve even more people in the community.
“We found out through the (Eastern Michigan) Food Bank in the south side of Flint there are no pantries. We did have a giveaway last year at the South Flint Soup Kitchen and we had over 500 families so we thought that we need to go out there and maybe help more people,” Luna said.
Though a move-in date has not been set, the Martus Luna Food Pantry will soon be relocating to 3901 Fenton Rd in south Flint.
The pantry, which has served thousands throughout its lifetime, was born out of a tragedy. In 2002, two Flint police officers, Roger Luna and Ryan Martus were found dead inside a deer blind while on a hunting trip in Lapeer county. It seemed a leaking propane heater filled their blind with carbon monoxide.
Years later, as a way to honor the two men, Art Luna decided to host a food giveaway near Christmas out of the back of the Latinx Technology and Community Center. Hundreds of people arrived despite the cold and snow. That’s when Luna said he knew the drives needed to continue.
“We had people come down that day with a four-wheeler and a toboggan. They put their boxes on the toboggan and went back up the street. We had over 800 cars just that first winter over the course of the day,” Luna said.
Luna and his group of volunteers, mostly made out of UAW union members, would soon come to find the high number of attendance would be the rule rather than the exception.
The pantry soon began to grow. What had for many years been an empty storage area in the back of the tech center was slowly remodeled into a food-safe storage facility complete with air conditioning, industrial refrigerators, and a bathroom.
With help from organizations like the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and the C.S Mott Foundation, the Martus Luna Food Pantry started getting access to much more food.
“So far this year 27,000 people have come through our pantry,” Luna said. “Before COVID we were talking about opening on the weekends so that people who work during the week can come, too.”
Not long after it opened regularly on Wednesday mornings, volunteers were distributing food for over 1000 individuals every week.
“Usually we serve between 600 to 800 families every week. Right before COVID, we had a day where over 1000 people came. It depends on the day,” said Sylvia McCown, the pantry’s numbers keeper.
McCown makes it a point to ask those stopping by how many children are in their household. “If they have kids, I write them down for an extra box for each one of them,” she said.
While on paper the pantry only serves community members within Flint’s area codes, McCown said from time to time, people from as far away as Grand Rapids will stop by after having heard about the pantry. In situations like these, McCown said she can’t say no.
“We have people coming from Detroit, we have people coming from Grand Rapids, from all over. I don’t know how they hear about us but we give them a Genesee County zip code so we can serve them,” McCown said.
Small details like these are what set the Martus Luna Food Pantry apart from others. Along with the willingness to give away extra food, organizers for the pantry like assistant director Scott Tucker, are always looking out for the highest quality food products possible.
“You know, they (Food Bank of Eastern Michigan) give us a limit for how much food we can ask for. I’ll just keep ordering it until they tell me ‘that’s it, you’re done.’ We’ve gotten shrimp, chicken breast, New York strip steaks, and I just kept ordering,” Tucker said.
The pantry has also been able to create partnerships with a handful of Genesee County farmers for fresh produce and even local-made honey.
This level of care for the community has earned the pantry distinctions like the Michigan Harvest Gathering Beacon of Light Award, which it received in 2018. The award is given to one pantry out of around 3000 in the state for its attention to service and ability to serve such a large number of people.
Billy Holder, a Flint local who frequents the pantry said he is always thankful when he’s passing through the pantry.
“It really helps a lot. I get so much and what I don’t use I give to the church and it’s distributed into the community. Knowing you will be able to have a meal and that those you love will have a meal too takes a lot of weight off. I really appreciate it,” Holder said.