Rural hunger is an often unseen, but drastic, problem in the U.S. According to Feeding America’s website, “86% of the counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity are rural.” Unless traveling to a rural area, you might not realize how prominent and widespread this issue is. We did the traveling for you, with the hope of spreading awareness and bringing light to the challenging reality of members of these rural communities. Robert and Becky Groh, a determined and hardworking couple who just want what is best for their family, shared what their reality looks like so that we could better understand the challenges rural families face.
Last year, they were struggling to make ends meet for a plethora of reasons. Feeding America West Michigan is proud to have been able to influence their survival. Even the most resilient of families need some help when life’s unavoidable challenges surface.
On the outskirts of the quiet little town of Newberry, where this family of seven lives, deep in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, houses are few and far between. There are two grocery stores in town, a handful of local restaurants and shops, and not much else. It is very secluded. The town is encircled by dense wilderness. It is a far drive, coming from any direction, before you see anything that resembles a city. With a lack of establishments and commerce comes a lack of available jobs and resources.
Becky had been a stay at home mom for many years. She cared for their five children still living at home, while Robert worked various jobs throughout the years. He worked for the mill, and did construction work, among other things. Jobs come and go in such a rural location. Rural towns, can be a hard place to keep businesses afloat because the population density is small and the distance between people is large.
Through hard work, this large family was surviving; but their lives weren’t without challenge. Unfortunately, the unpredictable challenges of life can have devastating consequences on those living in remote areas with limited access to community resources. Becky and Robert’s lives took a turn for the worse and the couple was forced to take on more than they could ever have imagined. All at once, and without warning, Robert was facing life threatening blood clots, cancer, and a failing kidney.
Becky now found herself as a caregiver as well as a mother. With five mouths to feed on top of their own, the couple didn’t know what they were going to do. With Becky working as a full-time caretaker to her children and husband and Robert unable to work due to complications from his medical conditions, the family was forced to live off of disability and SNAP benefits. This usually wasn’t enough, and still isn’t – Robert still cannot work. “Feeding America (West Michigan) really helps us out,” Becky said. “When the Feeding America trucks come in, we like to take advantage of it because it’s hard to keep up with all these empty stomachs all the time,” Becky continued.
When his ailments started to set in, Robert was really struggling. One side of his neck was swollen so far it bulged out on the side, his leg was twice its normal size, and he could barely get off the couch. “It got to the point where I had to practically carry his weight for him just so he could go to the bathroom,” Becky said. “The hospital in Newberry kept sending him home, saying it’d get better, but it just kept getting worse.” At one point Robert told his wife “‘I can’t take this no more.’ I was ready to call it, to give up.” After four and a half months waiting for symptoms to improve, the Grohs sought a second opinion and discovered that the blood clots in Robert’s leg were more dire than they had been led to believe, and that his cancer had continued to progress. After consulting two additional doctors, they finally understood the extent of Robert’s diagnosis and what treatment options were available. If they had been able to visit more than one hospital sooner, his condition likely wouldn’t have progressed as far as it did. Unfortunately, Luce County only has one hospital to offer.
After dealing with the heavy news of his worsened condition, Robert faced the harsh reality of his treatment options, before moving forward. He went through surgery to remove the two largest blood clots. He had a stent put in his kidney to avoid kidney failure. With a lot of hesitation, he went through chemotherapy and radiation, during which he lost his hair. In an attempt to cheer him up and in an act of solidarity, Becky and some of their kids shaved their heads. After a tremendous struggle, things were finally beginning to look up. Feeding America’s mobile pantries, with the help of The Luce County LINK (the youth and community resource center), filled the gaps when there wasn’t enough food to go around.
Today, he’s in remission, but not without accumulating his fair share of battle scars along the way. He still has a stent in his kidney, and a small but persistent blood clot in his leg which renders him unable to work. Doctors told him he will be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. However, equated to his previous condition, he is feeling restored. Robert is grateful that he is healthy enough to be here with his family for the years to come.
Anyone could be faced with a dreadful situation like this family was, but when residing in a very rural town, like the Grohs do, overcoming these obstacles can be an even more daunting task. Feeding America is honored to have been able to assist this family during some of their darkest times. We are thankful that they decided to share their story. It is a perfect example of how rural living can influence people’s lives, and shows what we can to do combat these issues by helping those who are struggling. People in rural communities unite and find strength through their communities, and we are glad to be able to join forces with them.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Intern