Nelda is one of many seniors who struggle with food insecurity in West Michigan, but her story is unique – Nelda has struggled with food insecurity for her entire life. She attends the Feeding America West Michigan monthly mobile food pantry at the United Church of Wayland, funded by the Allegan County Community Foundation, and it has impacted her life in more ways than she could have ever imagined.
Finding enough food to maintain adequate nutrition has never been easy for Nelda. Growing up, her parents had 10 mouths to feed which meant that Nelda and her siblings frequently ate the same inexpensive, nonperishable foods without much variation. “There were times I can remember where they (her parents) had to let a couple of bills go because they had so many to feed and back then, they didn’t have stuff like this (mobile pantries),” Nelda said. “I wish it was (available) when we were growing up because we could have used it. We didn’t have a lot of fresh vegetables or fruit. We were missing out on quite a bit,” Nelda continued. She recalls opening her lunch box at primary school and being embarrassed by what was inside. People around her would have fresh, nutritious food that she had never experienced. One instance she spoke about revolved around a ripe peach that another student pulled out of their lunch box and she recalls asking them what it was, because she simply didn’t know. “We were never around that fresh stuff,” Nelda said.
As she grew up, her access to fresh foods didn’t improve. Nelda worked for 30 years as a teacher’s assistant in a preschool, but she never earned quite enough to avoid making compromises while grocery shopping. She and her husband each had six children of their own when they got married; and together they raised all 12. Resembling her own childhood, their grocery bill was always stretched thin.
Even after their children moved out and started families of their own, Nelda’s access to nutritious food still did not improve. As she aged, Nelda found herself struggling with various health problems that required, and still require, frequent doctors’ visits and expensive prescription medication to manage. Her husband has also accumulated health issues, broadening the healthcare portion of their budget. The couple’s insurance only picks up a portion of the medical bills and they have to come up with the rest. Before finding the mobile pantry, they would have to dip into their grocery budget. Living on a fixed income is difficult enough without healthcare bills piling up. “It was getting to the point where we said ‘okay, which medications do we give up in order to eat?’ With this (mobile pantry), thank goodness, it helps us out a heck of a lot,” Nelda said.
Having access to fresh, nutritious foods through the Feeding America West Michigan mobile pantry has done more than help offset the couple’s monthly bills; it has actually improved Nelda’s health. For the first time in her life, Nelda has consistent access to fresh food, and her doctors have seen improvements in her overall health. After attending the mobile pantry for a few months, Nelda says that they told her “boy, you must be eating a lot of vegetables and fresh fruits!”
As a lifelong resident of Wayland, Nelda is a testament to the positive impact that introducing community resources, like this mobile pantry, can make. The Allegan County Community Foundation helped Feeding America West Michigan reroute Nelda’s life for the better, and this is just one of many stories like hers.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Specialist