Myrtle Stadler, who goes by “Myrt,” opens the large chest freezer in her home at Hickory Village senior community and proudly displays an assortment of vegetables, meats, and other food she has prepared. The food is a source of comfort to her, a guarantee that she will make it through the months to come. Much of it came from Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Food Pantries.
Myrt’s favorite Mobile Pantry is run by Northside Churches Outreach and comes to Fifth Reformed Church in Muskegon every third Friday of the month. Walter Hayes, who runs the Mobile Pantry program for Northside, explained that the need for the service has only grown since they began.
“When we started we had 50-75 families, now we average around 200, our highest has been 325. We’ve never missed a month.”
“For our dollar amount,” Walter added, “we will never get any better purchase of goods, and fresh fruits and vegetables for our money than Feeding America, there’s no question about it.”
Walter has gotten to know Myrt quite well over the time she’s attended. If he had to choose one word to describe her, it would be “infectious,” in a good way. Myrt will gladly share a smile and a laugh with anyone who has the time to spare.
Each person has a story to tell and Myrt was eager to share hers.
She comes from a large family. She has four sons, six grandkids, and 10 great grandkids. Between herself and her late husband, they brought home around $50,000 a year. When he passed, her income was cut in half. She was able to manage until a string of misfortunes caused her to be living solely on social security.
“My whole world turned around,” she said.
Myrt had been in a car accident. She hit a cow that was standing broadside in the middle of the road. There wasn’t enough room on either side for her to avoid it. The accident left her in rough shape. She needed a rotator cuff surgery on her shoulder and a knee replacement. She had the surgery on her shoulder first and went through the physical therapy needed until she “could do the snow angels.” After she was cleared from one surgery, they proceeded to the next. The knee replacement was successful and she was well on her way to a full recovery — until one final procedure on her left shoulder. It didn’t go according to plan.
“My arm has never worked right since, and I’m left handed,” she said. She doesn’t consider herself disabled, even though her doctor has used that term, but she’s unable to work and now lives on $9,600 per year in Social Security benefits.
“When I had to cut down so drastically, I’m thinking of, how in the world am I gonna make it?” She asked herself. “Where do you cut? Nine out of ten times, your food, because everything else you have to pay.”
With just $25-50 a month to spare for food and a minimal food stamp allotment, she wasn’t making ends meet.
Through connections in her retirement community, she learned about Feeding America West Michigan and the Mobile Pantries coordinated by Northside Churches Outreach. She and two of her girlfriends carpool and bring back anything they can. If there is something they don’t like, they still pick it up and pass it on to others within their community that can use it.
The clients can sign in at 7 a.m. and they start doling out food at 10. They have coffee and a place to sit available until then. Mryt often volunteers to serve coffee. Walter said that each family goes home with around $75-100 worth of food. When you add that amount between the 200-plus families they see every month, they are making a huge difference in their community.
For Walter, involvement with Mobile Pantries is a way to live out his mother’s motto: “I shall only go through this world but one time so let me do the good that I can do while I’m here.”
When asked what the mobile food pantries means to her, Myrt explained that she relies on them heavily. “It takes up about half of my food costs per month,” she said.
“I’ve seen a lot of people in my life that without them, they wouldn’t be able to make it. I think it’s good, I really do. I’m proud to tell everybody about how they’re helping, because I think Feeding America is a really good organization that’s helping a lot of people!” she exclaimed.
Story by Molly Kooi, communications intern