Since 2006, the members of UAW Local 137 in Greenville have been hosting a monthly Mobile Food Pantry to help low-income families in the community, including their own members who lost their livelihoods when a local manufacturing facility closed down nearly a decade ago.
Today, the distribution is largely funded by a grant from the Tripura Foundation as part of their Million Meals of HoPE campaign to relieve hunger in the U.S. and around the world.
In 2013, the Tripura Foundation began funding five of Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Food Pantries, including this one. Since then, the volunteers of Local 137 have distributed approximately 84,000 meals to local families.
Jean, an elderly woman from nearby Belding, attended the distribution with her sister Doris. Jean worked at the Greenville plant for 10 years before it closed — not long enough, unfortunately, for her to earn a pension.
“And when my husband died, I couldn’t get his pension either,” Jean said. Her husband was a boiler operator for a company in Belding, she explained. “At that time, if you died before 55, the pension reverted to the company. He was 45.”
“When you’re on social [security], it doesn’t go very far. I worked my whole life, but every time I’d start at a place, they’d close the doors on us,” she said. In all, three separate employers went out of business while Jean was working for them.
Receiving food from the Mobile Pantry gives Jean and Doris the extra help they need to make it through the month. They plan to cook the food they received at the Mobile Pantry with a roast they bought at the grocery store.
“We got the carrots, potatoes, and onions,” Jean said. “What else do you need except a bowl and a spoon?”
Jason, a young machinist who moved to Greenville from California seven months ago, was attending the Mobile Pantry for the first time. He says the food he received should last him and his fiancée four or five days. Their budget has been tight: Although Jason has steady work, his fiancée recently lost her job at a bakery in Rockford, and on top of that her van was repossessed.
“The food helps. It definitely helps,” he said.
“I’ve always lived kind of a rocky life and didn’t have a lot,” Jason said. When he was growing up, his mom relied on the support of food banks and churches to put food on the table. “Without it, I probably wouldn’t have made it as a kid.”
Jason was grateful to the volunteers of Local 137 and to the Tripura Foundation for supporting the Mobile Pantry: “What they’re doing is necessary. It’s a necessary thing for the community.”
“Everybody deserves food.”
At the end of the distribution, Jean and Doris went through the line a second time to collect food for their nephew whose son and three kids had recently moved in with him. In spite of their family’s challenges, the two sisters have managed to keep their spirits up.
“If you try to look back and live in the past you’ll get run over,” Jean said. “You can’t look back. You have to move forward.”