It’s the third Tuesday in November and despite the brisk wind, a line is forming outside Stocking Elementary School in northwest Grand Rapids.
These seniors, students and parents are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Food Pantry. Some of them have been waiting over an hour by the time the truck pulls up.
Bundled up in a purple winter coat, Maureen watches as the tables are propped up and piled with an assortment of produce and loaves of bread. Maureen lives alone with two cats, two dogs and a rabbit. But in this neighborhood, you’re not really alone. Today, she’s waiting at the front of the line with her friends Eddie and Al.
“It helps out a lot,” Maureen says of the Mobile Pantry, which is just a short walk from her house. “It’s really convenient.”
Standing nearby, her hair flying in the wind, is Shannon. She calls after her young granddaughter who is playing tag with the other children. The crinkling of maple leaves can be heard as kids run under the large, colorful tree.
Shannon and her husband are raising their granddaughter, and she wants to set a good example, no matter how difficult it may be. “As we get older, we have to eat healthier, and we have to teach her how to eat healthy,” she says.
Shannon has a steady income, but it’s not enough to provide healthy food on a consistent basis. Visiting Mobile Pantries, she says, “gives me the freedom to be able to try things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to. … It’s a great help.”
As the volunteers set out a crate full of butternut squash, Shannon’s eyes light up. “And I’m really getting into the squash. The fruits, the vegetables — I can’t say enough!”
Shannon stands in line with her neighbor, Tim. A dread-locked digital media student at Kendall College of Art and Design, Tim strives for a lifestyle that includes grass-fed meats, organic foods and a lot of produce, but his part-time job and tuition expenses make that difficult to achieve. The Mobile Pantry makes it a little easier.
“[It] frees me up from worry,” he says. “Right now, my kitchen is about bare and I’m wondering, ‘What am I gonna eat?’” When Tim gets home, his fridge will be stocked with the healthy foods he loves.
Both Tim and Shannon love to cook. “I like to make great big batches of chili and use a lot more fruits and vegetables,” Tim says. Shannon admires his ability to quickly prepare ratatouille soup with just about anything he has in the kitchen.
Tim knows much of the food offered at Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Pantries has been rescued.
“There’s so much food that would just be thrown out or wasted,” he says. “It’s great when you get stuff like this going on and people who need it can get it instead of just being thrown out.”
When the tables are set up and the food is ready to be shared, visitors begin to fill their boxes with the help of friendly volunteers like Cindy.
“I started on the line, getting food,” Cindy says, shifting back and forth to stay warm with her light sweatshirt and bare hands.
Cindy heard of the Mobile Pantry through Stocking Elementary School, where her two grandkids are enrolled. For three years, Cindy has volunteered at Stocking in a variety of ways, even earning the title of ‘power parent.’
“I help with classes, set up for the celebrations, go on field trips. I help here at the food truck,” she says.
In addition to helping visitors select food at the Mobile Pantry, Cindy picks out her own healthy ingredients to cook dinners for her family. Because the Mobile Pantry comes directly to the school, where Cindy is a valued member of the community, she doesn’t feel the same stigma she might feel at a traditional food pantry.
“Right now, we’re still struggling,” she says. “But with all the help I have through the school, we’ve gotten through it. I’m just thankful I got people like that because I don’t know where I’d be now.”
As the line of people to receive food dwindles, clients walk home or to their cars with large bags and cardboard boxes full of butternut squash, green beans, loaves of bread and other ingredients. The Mobile Pantry won’t be back to Stocking till next month. Yet by providing good food and freeing up a little room in the grocery budget, it empowers families to eat healthier every day.
By Ellie Walburg, communications intern