Fighting Hunger

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Transplanted Detroiter is passionate about getting people food.

Ian Sherman checks on the tomato plants in the Yad Ezra garden. (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky)

It’s rare for someone from out-of-state to come to Detroit and be imbued with the pride native Detroiters seem to be born with, but Minnesota-born Ian Sherman, 23, has that attitude and drive. He initially came to Michigan for college, but he chose to move here permanently after graduating and now works at Yad Ezra, the Berkley-based kosher food pantry, as its marketing coordinator.

After graduating in May 2011 with a degree in media arts and technology from Michigan State University, where he was involved with Hillel, he moved back home for a production assistant job.

“It was nice to be home, but I missed being in Michigan,” said Sherman, “and I didn’t want to spend my life getting coffee for people.”

Through a connection with a friend, he heard that Yad Ezra was looking for someone to do marketing for them.

Now living in Royal Oak with close friends from school, Sherman is in charge of Yad Ezra’s promotional deals and social media, and one of his main goals is to bring younger volunteers to the food pantry.

“A lot of people come in for their bar mitzvah projects,” he said, “but then they don’t come back until their kids do their bar mitzvah projects.”

Sherman wants to partner with CommunityNEXT, a division of the Jewish Federation that focuses on young people in Metro Detroit, to find ways to bring people to Yad Ezra or get them involved in any aspect of hunger. He would also like to partner with Moishe House in Midtown Detroit to do a food stamp challenge or something similar.

“I want to do anything I can to help people get food,” said Sherman, “and I think tapping into the younger demographic is a good way to do that.”

He goes to CommunityNEXT events and plays intramural sports with ComePlayDetroit, which he says is how he met nearly everyone he knows in the area, but they are also venues for meeting people to bring to Yad Ezra.

Ian in Yad Ezra's warehouse

“Those groups are not like anything I’ve seen in any other city,” Sherman said. “The people in charge of them have a ton of big ideas, which is what Detroit needs. They’re building a community here.”

Coming from a suburb of Minneapolis, Sherman was surprised by Michigan residents’ attitudes concerning Detroit.

“One of the coolest things about the city is how many people are working to make it better,” he said. “In Minneapolis, people just avoid the bad areas of the city, but the community here wants to make Detroit better. I think that’s a rare thing.

“Also, to really understand Detroit, you have to go there and experience it,” he said. “When you see it and experience it, you realize there’s a lot of good stuff here. A lot.”

Doing his part to better the community, Sherman works to educate the public and improve awareness of the 2012 Farm Bill via social media and Yad Ezra’s newsletter and website.

The Senate passed the bill, which is revised every five years, on June 21, and the House will vote on it in mid-July. It is one of the largest government-funded bills; the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, holds the bulk of the bill’s spending. “Because of that, the government sees it as an easy target to cut,” said Sherman.

“Food stamps keep people from living in poverty. Most people on food stamps do have jobs,” he explained, “but they have to support their families and whomever they’re responsible for, and sometimes their job just doesn’t cut it.”

There are a fair number of Metro Detroiters relying on food stamps, and Sherman sees how food stamps and Yad Ezra’s work benefit them.

The Senate-passed bill includes a $4.5 billion reduction in SNAP spending over 10 years, primarily by making changes to eligibility that would decrease benefits for some program recipients.

“To cut SNAP by even a dollar would be a shame,” Sherman said.

Though a lot of the work Sherman does at Yad Ezra with advocacy and fighting hunger is new to him, he is having “a lot of fun learning everything.” He said, “Everybody’s been so nice to me, and I’m enjoying myself. To be happy with where you’re at is any 20-something’s goal, I think, and I’m lucky enough to have that and be in a city I love.”

By Marielle Temkin, JN Intern

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