Detroit Area SVdP Aids Residents in Nutritional Education
For people living in poverty, nutritional needs often fall by the wayside. More and more nutrition is being overshadowed by affordability.
Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul District Council of Oakland County in Detroit, Mich. took notice of this and set out to develop a program that would provide nutritious meals to those living in poverty within the community.
While Oakland County is one of the most affluent counties in the United States, it contains the city of Pontiac which was the second most depressed area in the country. The Oakland County District Council of SVdP decided to open a soup kitchen in 1984 at the St. Vincent de Paul Church in Pontiac.
In the early planning stages, organizers turned to Sr. Watson, director of St. Pat’s Kitchen in Detroit for advice. “She said that rule number one was, don’t call it a soup kitchen,” said Frank Schmid, co-founder and board of directors member for the Matchan Nutrition Center. “Call it a nutrition center to retain the dignity of the people you serve.”
From there, the St. Vincent de Paul Nutrition Center was born.
During its first year of operation, the St. Vincent de Paul Nutrition Center served 21,483 meals and operated as a soup kitchen two days a week.
Since it opened, the center has seen changes and has evolved to further assist those in need living in the Pontiac community. It even goes by a different name now. It is known as the Matchan Nutrition Center (MCN). The center is named after one of its early volunteers, Robert D. Matchan, who died in 1986 and left his entire estate to the SVdP Oakland County District Council.
The Matchan Center still serves hot, nutritious meals two days a week (there is another facility in the area that serves the other five days to assure that no one in Pontiac should go hungry). However, the center now offers additional services like, a food pantry, legal advice, social needs and access to government agencies.
In the last year, MCN has served, on average, 240 meals per day.
No one is turned away from the Matchan Nutrition Center. “We feed anyone who comes through the door as long as they follow our code of conduct,” said Schmid.
Even those who must leave their low-paying jobs in order to receive their free lunch from MCN are given a carry-out lunch to take back to work with them so that they do not risk taking too much time away from work.
Those in need can come and eat between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. After they eat, they can “go shopping” in the food pantry.
“There is a produce line that they can go through and select fresh fruits and vegetables that we have picked up. There are bread tables full of bakery items,” said Schmid. “We also offer a clothing table where people can get gloves, hats, coats and various other clothing.”
Although, food is a core focus of the Matchan Nutrition Center, it does much more than its name suggests.
In 2001, MCN formed a close relationship with Michigan Works! Job Link Program. Together the two provide employment leads to those looking to find vocations and training programs that could potentially lead to jobs.
MCN hires kitchen workers to help with the strenuous tasks like dishwashing and carrying heavy items from the basement stockroom.
Leona Patterson, a member of the Oakland/ City Pontiac Economic and Development Committee and a Matchan Nutrition Center board member helped one worker attend food handling classes at the Oakland County Health Department in order for him to be able to attend employment readiness class and receive his certificate.
Thanks to his experience at the Matchan Nutrition Center and the dedication of those involved, he is now employed full time at a local restaurant.
Some other programs that MCN offers include free legal aid through the Christian Legal Aid of Southeast Michigan Program, free flu shots and much more.
“Almost every day, government and/or social agencies set up a table to give help and advice to our guests,” said Schmid.
While the goal of the Matchan Nutrition Center is to make sure that guests are given a meal and some basic necessities to survive, the volunteers are also dedicated to helping them move towards being self-sufficient. That is why the center has evolved to include so many different programs over the years.
It is a one-stop-shop of sorts where people can get a good meal and then begin doing some of the work necessary to lift themselves out of the situation that is holding them in poverty.
By working in tandem with other community organizations, the Matchan Nutrition Center has been able to make a difference in the lives of many in the area, and they hope to continue to do so for many years to come.