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Providing neighbors fresh food

Fresh food

US-2 Marie Rittenberry arrived in Grand Rapids, MI in August 2021. She is on staff at Fresh Market, a ministry of United Methodist Community House meeting food needs of neighbors.

GLENN M. WAGNER
Michigan Conference Communications

Life’s journey passes through teen years and formal schooling. When crossing to adulthood many face the need to make a personal response to the question, “What comes next?” Like a traveler at the fork in the road, this directional decision influences purpose and destination.

Marie Rittenberry of Bossier City, LA, remembers the important choice that led to her becoming a United Methodist Global Mission Fellow and her current assignment serving the Fresh Market at United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids, MI.

Rittenberry has been raised in a loving extended family and blessed by faithful participation in First United Methodist Church in Bossier City. Bossier City, with a population of 63,000, is home to Barksdale Air Force Base and located just across the Red River from Shreveport. 

In the spring of 2021, Rittenberry was finishing her degree in applied science at the Shreveport campus of Louisiana State University and exploring options for the next chapter of her life. Her family and her church experiences have nurtured her interest in continuing to grow in her Christian faith and in pursuing a life helping others. 

She had briefly considered serving in the United States Peace Corps following her graduation from college when her interest was captivated by a notice in the newsletter of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church which introduced her to the United Methodist Global Mission Fellows program, sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

The application deadline for the program was only two days away. Rittenberry acted immediately on God’s spiritual nudge and hurried to get her application for service in the Board of Global Ministries international track completed acknowledging that she was prepared to accept rejection because she was so late in the process.

She was excited when she passed her first interview and a second which gave her hopes for an international placement in China. The global pandemic and diplomatic hang-ups interfered with those plans and prompted Rittenberry to say yes to a new mission placement in Grand Rapids and the United Methodist Community House (UMCH). Rittenberry had never before visited this part of the United States.

Rittenberry took part in a training program with other Global Mission Fellows where she was introduced to new ways of prayer. Bible study helped to strengthen her faith. The training also helped her to understand racial bias and improve her skills in critical thinking, communication, and conflict resolution.

After her August 2021 arrival in Michigan, Rittenberry was introduced to Lisa Batten, the Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for the Michigan United Methodist Conference. Batten led an additional training at the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo for Rittenberry and other Global Mission Fellows assigned to serve in Michigan. During her training in Kalamazoo, Rittenberry was introduced to WILC, the Wesley Intentional Living Community on the Western Michigan University campus. She also learned about a useful ministry tool called the Enneagram which helped her to better appreciate personality types and how those diverse personality traits can assist group ministry.

Fresh Market staff
L-r: Staff members Carla Moore, Monique Davis, and Marie Rittenberry at UMCH Fresh Market in Grand Rapids, MI. ~ photo courtesy Marie Rittenberry

After her Kalamazoo training was completed, Marie Rittenberry came to Grand Rapids where she met United Methodist Community House staff members Carla Moore, Co-Chief Executive; and Monique Davis, Director of Food Programs. There she received additional instruction for her service in assisting promotion and operation of UMCH’s new Fresh Market. The UMCH Fresh Market website describes the purpose of this food program:  The Fresh Market at UMCH supports local families by selling fresh, locally grown produce and other healthy foods from our market storefront at 900 South Division Avenue. Prices follow a sliding scale for members to ensure that healthy food is affordable for everyone. 

Rittenberry knows the Fresh Market at the United Methodist Community House is vital because the neighborhood that it serves has been classified as a food desert. A website devoted to helping improve food justice explains, In America, approximately 10% of the population lives in a food desert. For an area to be considered a food desert, at least 20% of inhabitants must be below the poverty line and 33% of the population must live more than a mile from a supermarket in urban areas or 10 miles in rural locations. In food deserts, individuals must expend greater resources to reach normal food sources and these are the areas that often have the fewest resources to use. The most significant limitations include financial restraints, physical ailments, and a lack of transportation.

The Fresh Market serves the general public but also offers a program so that fresh food is made even more affordable for those whose life circumstances can benefit from a helping hand. Unlike many emergency food pantries that pre-package donated food, the Fresh Market at UMCH allows participants the freedom to choose their own groceries and the dignity that comes from paying an affordable price.

Rittenberry is happy to be a part of this vital ministry as she helps other UMCH staff and volunteers manage and promote the market which is located at 900 S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, MI. 

Fresh Market on Division GR
UMCH Fresh Market is located at 900 S. Division Ave.  Grand Rapids, MI. The doors are open to the public: Tuesday—11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Wednesday— 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Thursday—11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., and Friday — 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. ~ photo courtesy Marie Rittenberry

Working at the Fresh Market has helped Rittenberry learn about fresh produce, make connections with local growers, understand the daily food needs of her neighbors, and experience in a new way how caring for others as a follower of Jesus makes a difference.

The United Methodist Community House Fresh Market has been open for just over a year now. Rittenberry is pleased to witness the increase in its use by the community. 

Helping others meet real needs as a Global Missions Fellow is further helping to clarify Rittenberry’s awareness of God’s call upon her life.

An unexpected surgery at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids after her arrival in Grand Rapids was an experience of personal anxiety and loneliness. Her hospitalization also gave Rittenberry a deep appreciation for the vital role of caring hospital nurses and staff. That experience of compassion has further assisted Rittenberry in clarifying vocational goals when her US-2 Mission Fellows term is completed in 2023.

Marie Rittenberry is looking forward to attending the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in Orlando. United Methodist Community House of Grand Rapids has been a long-time national ministry supported by the United Methodist Women. On March 7, 2022 the United Methodist Women changed names and is now United Women in Faith

She is eager to learn more about helping the hungry in Grand Rapids, both through her work and by making further connections in the community. Rittenberry is happy to share the Fresh Market story and can be reached by phone at United Methodist Community House) 616 452-3226, or by email mrittenberry@umchousegr.org.

~ Learn more about The Michigan Conference’s efforts to feed hungry families across the state. 

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