Arlene, 77, is one of many struggling with food insecurity in Cass County. Seniors are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. In Feeding America West Michigan’s 40-county service area, approximately 46,800 seniors are food insecure. Like many other seniors, Social Security is Arlene’s sole source of income. Although Arlene receives support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, she is grateful for the resources within her community that help further improve her access to food.
Arlene was born in Chicago and grew up with 11 younger siblings; her parents had six daughters and six sons. After high school, Arlene studied nursing at the University of Chicago before working at a V.A. hospital in the area. Eventually, after moving to Michigan, Arlene and her husband Wallace married in Cass County. They had three children; two sons and a daughter. They lived a simple, happy life together and were very involved in their community. While their children grew up, Wallace worked in factories to support their family. Later on, the couple moved to Texas. Arlene stayed there for 15 years but when she and Wallace separated, she moved back to Cass County to be closer to her children. Arlene and Wallace are still good friends and talk frequently.
Today, Arlene is retired and lives alone in a senior community, but she is rarely by herself. “I got people around me all the time,” Arlene said. Her large family is very close knit, and close by. She and her friends spend most of their time at Chain Lake Baptist Church, a 180-year-old historic church that was a part of the Underground Railroad. As the president of the choir, Arlene is known by most community members. They perform gospel music at churches throughout the community. While Arlene lives a happy, active life surrounded by loved ones, her limited income keeps her budget tight. To make ends meet, she utilizes the services offered by the community.
For the last 30 years, an organization called Helping Hands has been providing support for community members in need. Arlene, like many other seniors in the area, utilizes its senior commodities program, which provides household essentials, toiletries and food staples. Helping Hands also has a fixed pantry that community members can use once a month as a supplement to bridge the gap when money is limited.
Helping Hands also partners with Feeding America West Michigan to provide a monthly mobile food pantry for the community. 2018 marks the third year that Helping Hands has provided this service at Pleasant View Church. “We got a lot of seniors that come to this (mobile food pantry),” said Mary Tompi, Helping Hands director. “I’m not going to let anyone go hungry. We served about 1,100 people last year,” Tompi continued. “It takes care of me,” Arlene said.
This monthly mobile food pantry distribution is made possible by Feeding America West Michigan’s partner, the United Way of Southwest Michigan. Like many seniors in the area, Arlene is grateful for the support she receives from her community.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Specialist