Donna Ellick’s life took a turn after being widowed 10 years ago when she lost her husband unexpectedly. The couple married at a young age and remained together for 57 years. Her husband was still working and had been in what seemed to be perfect health when he died on his birthday at the age of 75 from a massive heart attack. As Donna learned to navigate the challenges of her new life, Feeding America West Michigan and its partner agencies were there to support her by making one challenge more manageable.
Donna is an 84-year-old Michigan native who lives a simple, humble life in Ensley Township. This loving mother and grandmother has spent most of her life raising children and caring for her family who has always been close by. When her children were young, she not only cared for her own, but also helped take care of her sisters’ children while they worked. The family has remained close-knit to this day. Donna has 14 grandchildren and sees them frequently. She spoke about how she enjoys taking them for fish supper.
After her husband passed, Donna had to rely solely on social security to make ends meet. She was 74 at the time and was unable to work. Soon after, she came across one of Feeding America West Michigan’s partner agencies, Luther Bible Chapel, which began providing for her unmet food needs each month. Having this pantry as a resource was beneficial for her because she said, “you don’t have any extra,” when living on social security to pay for things like food.
When asked how she feeds herself without a robust food budget, she said “This helps me, and I go to a food truck (at Northland Church of Christ).” Additionally, Donna spoke about how she raises a garden and cans everything she is able to in order to save for the colder months. Now at the age of 84, Donna struggles with painful arthritis in her fingers, feet and legs, but she says that gardening helps keep her up and about, while providing her with healthy food. “If I quit working and just sat down, then I wouldn’t be able to (stay active); my bones would hurt too bad.”
The pantry at Luther Bible Chapel, with help from the Fremont Area Community Foundation, opens its doors to the community on the last Wednesday of each month. “I enjoy coming here. I don’t miss very many months. If I miss some it’s in the wintertime when it’s awful cold,” Donna said. She estimated that she has been attending this fixed pantry for nearly eight years. Each neighbor who attends the pantry receives a box filled with food. They are then able to choose an item from each of the tables that they walk past on their way out. “When you get home and you go through your box, it’s kind of like Christmas because you never know what’s in there,” Donna said. She still has to shop for some food, but she can mostly get by with the resources Feeding America West Michigan provides in addition to her garden’s yield, which takes some weight off of her shoulders.
Donna spoke about how the number of attendees at the Luther Bible Chapel pantry has increased over the years. She is one of many individuals and families whose lives have been changed by having access to this resource. Over the course of a year, with the help of partner agencies and donors, Feeding America West Michigan serves approximately 46,773 seniors who, like Donna, would otherwise go without.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Intern