School bus driver laid off, receives groceries for her family at Mobile Food Pantries in Niles

Maria poses with a box filled with fresh vegetables

When schools began closing, parents across our service area struggled more than ever to make ends meet. Maria, a single mom of four, was impacted particularly hard: not only were her kids suddenly home, she also lost her job as a bus driver. Thankfully, Roger, a fellow member of the Niles community, responded quickly to the needs of neighbors like Maria. He is devoted to the fight against hunger in Niles, and is determined to ensure everyone has access to the healthy food they need, no matter their circumstances.

Roger carries bags of food to a neighbor's car

Roger is retired, but spends 50+ hours each week supporting numerous Berrien County hunger-relief agencies, whether by hauling food, volunteering or serving on a board.

“You get to understand what other people are faced with,” he said. “There’s just so much joy in helping people meet their needs – and food is a big need.”

Six years ago, it was his idea to bring Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantries to Niles as a volunteer project for Calvary Road Community Church.

On a hot and humid day in late July, one of these Mobile Food Pantry trucks pulled up in Niles. Volunteers unloaded baked goods, dairy products, cucumbers, potatoes and more, and placed them directly into the cars and hands of neighbors like Maria.

“It’s been very helpful because my kids love fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “That’s really hard to get otherwise.”

Maria poses with a box filled with fresh vegetables

Before the pandemic, Maria rarely needed food assistance. But when she was laid off, she began attending Mobile Food Pantries to fill the gaps in her family’s grocery list. She’s grateful for the support the Mobile Pantries provide, as well as for her friends, who share extra milk and eggs with her.

Her three high schoolers, as well as her youngest – a first grader with special needs – keep her on her toes, especially when they’re out of school. No matter what happens, she strives to set a great example for them.

“I was raised a strong woman,” she said. “I’ve got to get out there and show the kids that I’m not going to give up.”

Maria’s story reflects those of many women across the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. According to a study by USC, women have been more likely to lose their jobs than men, even if they are similarly educated. Women have also been more likely to worry about running out of food, and they are more likely to eat less than they should. During the height of the pandemic in mid-April, 16.5 percent of women acknowledged eating less than they should in the last seven days, while only 10 percent of men did.*

Volunteers load Maria's car

Thankfully, neighbors like Roger are devoting their valuable time and granting organizations like the Berrien Community Foundation, Frederick S. Upton Foundation and the United Way of Southwest Michigan are allocating critical funds to the cause. With their support, we’re providing monthly Mobile Pantries in Michigan’s Southwest corner so neighbors like Maria don’t have to worry how they’ll feed their families.

*At, select “Economic and Food Insecurity” and then “Percent of individuals who experienced food insecurity in the past 7 days” and sort by “Sex.” We used data from April 12.

Story written by Communication Assistant Juliana Ludema.