Aimee Lewis has finally found a home for her and her three sons.
Her biggest concern now is food.
“I used to be able to fill a shopping cart for $ 150,” said Lewis, who has a master’s degree in organizational development for human resources from Eastern Michigan University but has had trouble finding a job with flexible hours.
“Now it costs $ 300,” she said.
Her twins are only 3-years-old but she also has a son, who is 9, and three growing boys eat a lot more than one would imagine. Plus, they like everything from fresh fruit and yogurt snacks to burgers and apple sauce, all of which have gone up in price.
One blessing for Lewis in her nearby food pantry.
During the pandemic lockdown many were suffering and it was food pantries in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties and the mobile units that ventured out into the communities that helped many over the worst days.
Among those keeping the shelves of the food pantries stocked is Gleaners Community Food Bank.
“The last couple of years have definitely been challenging for our community and food banks,” said Stacy Averill, vice president of community giving at Gleaners Community Food Bank.
Gleaners’ network of about 600 partners that distribute food throughout Southeastern Michigan including soup kitchens and food pantries operated by churches, nonprofits and community agencies, shelters and schools are all reporting an uptick in need.
Averill says some of their partners have reported a 10 to 12% increase.
The mobile sites are also serving more people.
“This past month our mobile trucks served 13,000 households up from 9,000 in previous months,” Averill said.
Gleaners has been able to keep up with the increasing demand, as it did during the pandemic, but the rising cost of food is also weighing heavily on the food bank.
“Inflation is definitely having an effect in terms of our costs,” Averill said. “Fruit, produce, meat, milk, we’re seeing increases on all of it.”
The likes of which she has not seen since she started working for the Detroit-based organization nearly nine years ago.
Compared to pre-pandemic prices she estimated that food costs have risen 10% to 25%.
One example often noted since it’s one of those volatile commodities everyone buys is the price of milk, although its costs were rising before the pandemic due to the decrease in dairy farms and supply chain issues.
“The average price in the US of a gallon of milk was $ 3.92 in March compared to $ 3.88 in February – up 1%,” according to data published April 12, 2022, by the US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Averaging the BLS’s monthly pricing data for milk – fresh, whole and fortified, a gallon was $ 3.55 in 2021 versus $ 3.32 in 2020, marking a 6.9% increase.
One gallon isn’t going to break the bank but imagine having to buy a truckload of milk?
Averill says Gleaners expects to spend almost $ 500,000 more this year on fresh milk, and is already paying more than it budgeted to produce this fiscal year.
To make matters worse all of the food is delivered by trucks that run on gas. That includes Gleaners’ fleet of 25 commercial trucks used for mobile distribution, which puts additional pressures on the nonprofit that relies on donations.
“We rely on our community donors whether it’s individuals and groups or corporations,” Averill said.
Fundraisers such as Powered by Food, which is a benefit supported by a generous match incentive from PNC, will also help to boost support for Gleaners.
“This is the tenth consecutive year that PNC has stepped up to support Gleaners Double Your Donation Day,” said PNC Regional President Mike Bickers. “As the lead match sponsor, PNC is committed to doing what we can to help stem the hunger crisis that continues to plague the US.”
Gleaners has been around since 1977. It was then that Gene Gonya, co-founded Gleaners Community Food Bank, renting the first floor of a warehouse on Detroit’s east side and about a stone’s throw away from the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, according to historical information on the website.
The mission of the food bank is to solicit surplus food, store it safely, and distribute it to agencies that are the direct providers to the hungry of our communities. Securing the warehouse enabled Gonya to accept donations such as truckloads of produce from local farms and then bank it for small or large organizations.
It was the first food bank in the United States and among the few in Detroit that could accept large donations. Several years after founding Gleaners, Gene and a few other food banks founded Second Harvest, a national network of food bank members (now called Feeding America). Gene also helped found the Food Bank Council of Michigan.
State and federal benefits
Also helping Lewis and other lower-income families to keep food on the table are the benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
During the pandemic eligibility requirements for the program were changed to give more people access to additional food. While the increases in benefits were expected to be reduced to pre-emergency levels April 15 county agencies have been told that the state has extended them to the end of April.
“We just heard about it today,” Ernest Cawvey, director of Macomb Community Action, said during an interview Wednesday.
Now the extensions are likely to come on a month by month basis, although everyone’s biggest hope is that the changes remain permanent even after the pandemic is over.
“When inflation goes up whether it’s food prices or gas prices it makes it harder for families to make ends meet. We feel that SNAP really helps people, ”Cawvey said.
According to MDHHS February 2022 Green Book, 1.32 million Michiganders received food assistance across 705,000 households totaling $ 320.4 million in food assistance payments. Compared to February 2020, those are increases of 146,668 (12.4%), 76,175 (12.1%), and $ 182.9 million (132.9%).
In Macomb County there were 47,162 households or 89, 347 recipients getting SNAP benefits in February of 2019. Of those getting help 55,584 were adults and 33,763 were children. The average household benefit was $ 225.69 or $ 119.13 per recipient.
In February of 2020 those numbers rose to 47,204 households or 89,394 recipients. Of those receiving benefits, 55,229 were adults and 34,165 were children.
As of this year there are 54,088 households in Macomb County receiving benefits. Of the 103,196 individual recipients, 65,539 are adults and 39,657 are children. The average cost per household is currently $ 460.26 or $ 241.24 per recipient.
Oakland County reported: 51,612 households, 88,525 residents, $ 21,819,987 in food assistance payments while Wayne County had 215,813 households, 409,557 residents, $ 100,327,520 in food assistance payments
According to the US Census8.4% of Michigan adults, age 18 and older, and 54.4% of Michigan children reported living in households where there was sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last 7 days.
Cawvey said the state has been wise and deliberative in its use of benefits.
The United States Department of Agriculture also increased the ability of SNAP recipients to purchase food online and created the EBT pandemicwhich provided supplemental food assistance benefits to students who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was really an effective way to get help to people quickly,” said Cawvey, who urges anyone who is struggling to seek the assistance available to them.
Truck to the table
According to BMC Public Health, 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties have a food pantry. A total of 563 (435-urban, 128-rural) of the state’s census tracts have a food pantry (20.3% of all census tracts in Michigan).
There are 734 food pantries in Michigan (587 urban, 147 rural), 7.43 food pantries per 100,000 residents. 12.98 food pantries per 1,000 square miles.
“We have over 72 food pantries and we are keeping an updated list of them“Cawvey said. “If anyone is having trouble making ends meet they can save $ 100 a month by accessing food from the pantries. There is fresh produce, meat, dairy products, this is all high quality food provided at a grocery stores environment. ”
People in need of food are encouraged to find a location nearest to them at gis.macombgov.org/go/food.
“We’ll probably see 100 people at our pantry today,” said Gary Orczykowski, a volunteer at St. Mary Queen of Creation Catholic Church in New Baltimore.
He said it’s sad that people have to go hungry, which is why he and Paul Hartner volunteered to help make the deliveries for St. Mary’s. “I knew I had to do something to help,” said Hartner, a retired school teacher who was surprised by how many others felt the same way. “It’s very cool to see.”
Also retired and working to load Hartner’s truck with milk was Jim Essig of Sterling Heights.
“Every week the trucks line up for food,” Essig said. “Last week the line was long and wrapped around the building.”
Keeping track of all of the deliveries and what each pantry needed for the day was Shannon Mallory, who said Gleaners provides most of the produce and milk they get, which on this day included cabbage and cherry tomatoes.
“We’ll take whatever we can get,” said Dave Sisson, who was picking up a delivery for the pantry at Faith Lutheran Church in Shelby Township.
“I was hoping for more fruit and vegetables but I guess they’re running short,” said Bill Broughton, who retired from his job at General Motors after 30 years and has dedicated much of his free time the past 12 years to the food pantry. at Community Christian Church in Sterling Heights.
Broughton said they operate the largest pantry in the county, serving thousands of people a month including several smaller pantries that piggyback off of them.
“It’s crazy what’s going on with the cost of food and gas,” Broughton said. “I have a good pension so I’m doing fine. I just feel sorry for these young people. ”
Volunteering at a food pantry is one way people are helping.
The public can also help by supporting fundraisers and campaigns like “Stamp Out Hunger.”
The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) has conducted an annual nationwide food drive for 30 years, collecting non-perishable food donations along postal routes.
After a hiatus caused by the pandemic the Stamp Out Hunger food drive returns this spring on Saturday, May 14.
“We’ve been getting a steady supply of food from Gleaners but a reduction in the amount we receive. At the same time the number of households visiting our pantries are going up, ”said Shannon Mallory, a program manager at Macomb Community Action.
During the pandemic they peaked at 25,000.
In February they were at 18,000 and as of April are up to 22,000.
“The Letter Carriers food drive is coming up the second Saturday in May. It’s been virtual for the last two years but it’s in person this year and I’m hoping the public will respond, ”Mallory said, while walking next to a wall of empty shelves.
Oakland Press Staff Writer Mark Cavitt contributed to this article.