Northmen Dens Youth Pantries helps break the cycle of poverty.

In Michigan, 1 in 5 kids struggles in poverty. Here in Petoskey, 1 in 3 children are dealing with hunger daily. In rural areas like Emmet County, parents tend to have less education and are more often underemployed, meaning children in rural areas are at higher risk for living in a low-income family. It only takes three generations of this struggle to create a legacy of poverty. The longer a family is in poverty, the more resources they lose, and it becomes harder to escape.

Ellie was one of those students who was hungry. As a 7th grader, she came to Northmen Dens looking for help. One Friday, she fell into founder Kathy’s arms, asking for help. Her grandmother had to choose between rent and the electric bill, so her family was living without electricity. As a result, what little food they had in the refrigerator perished. 

Ellie’s hunger turned her into a weekly visitor to our pantry. Childhood poverty is one of the greatest obstacles in our communities, and childhood hunger is a painful consequence.

“It doesn’t take long for a child in middle school, struggling with poverty and especially hunger, to realize they are different: they might smell, don’t dress as nicely as the other kids; don’t participate in extra-curricular activities; or classroom discussions, and so they become invisible. By the time they reach high school, they are forgotten. That’s the true cruelty.”

Kathy Peterson, Northmen Den Executive Director


Ellie utilized our pantry until she graduated from high school and is now successfully pursuing a college degree. Back in 7th grade, we were able to help Ellie’s family by providing non-perishable food items and paying a portion of the bill so her family could store food safely.  

Over the year’s of her weekly visit, our staff got to know Ellie pretty well. In fact, one day during Ellie’s senior year, she came running into the Petoskey Northmen Den. She was full of emotion,not distress but pure joy, “I got accepted!” she cried. “I got accepted to North Central Michigan College!” She was so excited to tell the volunteers. 

This moment is life-changing for Ellie. Because of the encouragement, support and food she received from our volunteers, she was able to break free from the cycle of hunger and poverty. Today, she is a dedicated sophomore college student. We still hear from Ellie on occasion as she sends some of our dedicated volunteers text and ‘hugs’. She has also recently expressed a desire to become a member of the Northern Den Youth Pantries board, to help us reach more students like herself. 

Poverty often traps youth in cycles of hunger, leading to generations of poor nutrition, chronic health problems, lack of education and academic growth and subsequent career struggles. This is why Northmen Dens Youth Pantries exists –  to help break the cycle of poverty. We aim to be an integral part of our children’s lives, children like Ellie, to help nourish our students by providing food, mentoring, and tutoring in a manner that respects dignity and individuality while sustaining dreams.