Many residents of Ottawa County struggle with food insecurity, each with their own story to tell. Feeding America West Michigan has come together with Love in Action of the tri-cities to help meet this need in the form of a mobile pantry. Love in Action provides many different types of services throughout their community, and this is one of them. Every other week outside St. Patrick’s Church, families arrive bright and early and await the food they urgently need.
Recently we met Rodney Griswold, a 61-year-old “Grand Haven native,” as he described himself, with a gregarious personality and a smile that could brighten anyone’s day. Like many, he struggles with food insecurity and the Feeding America West Michigan mobile pantry has made a massive difference in his quality of life. Today we’re telling his story.
Struggles arose early on in Rodney’s life. He was born prematurely – at just three pounds – and soon after he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy that affected the mobility in his legs. The condition did not render him unable to work throughout his life, although he struggled with some limitations. Recently, however, other physical issues have accumulated, and he has found himself unable to maintain steady employment.
For many reasons, a standard job doesn’t work for Rodney. Many of his fingers have been numb since 2016 due to untreated carpal tunnel. Recent MRI scans have shown issues with his back and neck that require surgery. Another notable health issue that Rodney, and many individuals with CP struggle with, is a condition called spastic paralysis, which he says “causes joints to become more rigid. This results in more wear in affected joints.” He experiences this in his hips, back, and legs, and the wear continues to progress with age. In addition to all these ailments, the overall condition of his legs has also worsened over time.
Rodney said, “my body is breaking down.” He explained how he wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a job where an unexpected absence would be detrimental, knowing that at any time, he could have a medical issue that would render him unable to work. “For me it isn’t fair to an employer,” he said. He fears that no employer would keep him when there is no guarantee that he will be able to work on any given day. “I’ve been through kind of a revolving door with jobs,” he said.
Rodney is currently living off of credit cards. When he needs to, he pulls small amounts from his retirement fund, while trying not to deplete the account. Every now and then he picks up side jobs, but the amount he earns is not enough to cover his cost of living. There is no doubt that Feeding America West Michigan’s Mobile Pantry has helped him fill the gaps between stints of employment. Due to Rodney’s physical limitations, he applied for disability benefits, but was recently denied. He hopes his appeal will change the Social Security Administration’s mind.
As Rodney’s physical limitations began worsening, his emotional health began deteriorating as well. A divorce from his wife was finalized last spring, and prior to the end of his marriage he had been caring for his wife, who is very ill. Despite his efforts, her condition worsened, and he could do nothing but watch as her body weakened. She is still very ill today.
The mobile pantry at St. Patrick’s Church has made all the difference for Rodney. Not only does it help him meet his own needs, but he is able to help others through the process as well.
The notion of giving to and helping others in need was engrained in Rodney when he was young. His mother was legally blind, and because of this, he quickly learned how impactful his time could be in others’ lives. Not only did he help her when she needed it, but he learned by watching the way his parents lived. He said they “were always giving and helping people. I was raised that way.” It is truly inspiring to see Feeding America West Michigan clients impact the lives of others in their communities.
When Rodney is feeling physically able, he helps the volunteers set up stations at the Feeding America West Michigan mobile pantry he attends. Not only does he help the volunteers, but he also helps other community members when he can. He shares anything he cannot eat with people he knows who could benefit from extra food. In addition, he will pick other community members up on his way to the mobile pantry to ensure that they won’t miss out. He has even gone as far as picking up food for families who weren’t able to attend the mobile pantry and delivering to their doorstep to be sure they aren’t forced to go without.
Rodney has gotten to know one family in particular who also benefits from Feeding America West Michigan’s services. They are Nepali refugees, and he has taken them under his wing. As refugees, acclimating to life in Michigan was difficult. Rodney did all he could to help them feel at home. To him, the people he meets at the mobile pantry become like family. Members of this Nepali family call him “big brother” in their native tongue, which is a nickname he has welcomed.
During one of the most trying, emotionally and financially draining times of his 61 years of life, Rodney explained his gratitude for the services that Feeding America West Michigan provides and the people he has met along the way. Rodney is one of nearly half a million people that benefit from Feeding America West Michigan’s services every year. These neighbors who so desperately need the assistance would not get the services they require if not for the generosity of our partners and volunteers. We are inspired by stories like his and are grateful that we can lend a hand his way.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Intern