At the New Buffalo American Legion in Berrien County, veterans gather for delicious lunches, camaraderie and, every couple of months, to volunteer at a Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantry sponsored by the Pokagon Fund.
Clarence, a legion regular whose son served in the Army, has volunteered at the Mobile Food Pantries since they began five years ago. Chuck, the legion’s commander didn’t need to ask Clarence twice to help out.
“I said, ‘well, it ain’t no problem.’”
Clarence’s reason for serving is simple: “Some people can’t afford food,” he said.
In New Buffalo, a small tourist town just north of the Indiana border, housing prices have skyrocketed over the last decade, causing many young people to move elsewhere. Michael, a local who went through the distribution line for his mother who lives with a disability, has watched this play out.
“Older people are left behind and they need help,” Michael said. “So this [Mobile Pantry] is a great thing.”
Michael’s mother injured herself just before her retirement five years ago, and when her husband died soon after, Michael convinced her to start visiting the town’s Mobile Food Pantries.
“She can be a little proud sometimes, but I said, ‘Mom, that’s what they’re here for.’”
Michael’s sister struggles with her own health issues that prevent her from working, and is raising four children, including Ivan, who came with his uncle to one of the legion’s Mobile Food Pantries to receive food for his family and grandmother.
“It’s not cheap to raise a family these days,” Michael said. He went on to explain how “one little hiccup in life” can turn a family’s world upside-down.
“I help [my mother and sister] out when I can.”
Thankfully, Michael doesn’t have to do it alone. Mobile Food Pantries are available throughout Berrien County thanks to the Pokagon Fund. The resource provides seniors like Michael’s mother – and the two grandchildren she’s raising – with a variety of healthy foods.
“I know a lot of these people spend a lot of money on medication, so they might not be able to have as much food as they need, so this helps supplement that,” Michael said.
Some neighbors who go through the line are veterans themselves. One senior veteran who visited the distribution in August served in the Army for six years. Now he relies on disability benefits and the little bit of money he earns from painting houses and mowing lawns.
“After you spend your money on taxes, house taxes and bills you don’t have much left for food.”
“This is important,” he said.
Feeding America West Michigan relies on dedicated volunteers like Clarence and the rest of the legion members to ensure that those facing hunger have somewhere to turn. Their support, and the support of generous organizations like the Pokagon Fund, enables the food bank to continue reaching neighbors in need throughout its 40-county service area.
Story written by Juliana Ludema, Communication Assistant