How one grandma keeps food on the table without work or help from SNAP

Sally and her grandkids show off the food they received

On a blustery day in late October, a Feeding America West Michigan truck pulls up in front of Ridgeview Elementary in Sparta. Volunteers and school staff begin unloading an abundance of food – squash, sweet potatoes, beef, milk, pop tarts – and repacking it into boxes for the neighbors lined up and waiting in their cars.

Sally is driving one of these cars with two of her grandkids in tow. Caydon, 8, shares that his favorite food is “doughnuts,” while his 5-year-old sister, Zaeleigh, says she likes “everything.”

Sally and her grandkids show off the food they received

Since the pandemic began, it’s been harder for Sally to make ends meet. Usually, her main source of income is her job as a night cook at a restaurant – but there have been no night shifts in months. In an attempt to keep food on the table and other bills paid, she was also working two other part-time jobs, but now, a recent surgery on both her hands is preventing her from working any job.

By nature, Mobile Food Pantries serve anyone in need – no matter their zip code, income or criminal history. This is especially helpful for neighbors who can’t access or afford enough healthy food due to gaps in the food system. Like an ecosystem, Michigan’s food system is made up of many parts – such as the government, farmers and consumers – and they all must work in harmony in order for the system to function properly.

Caydon and Zaeleigh sit in the car while waiting for the Mobile Pantry

When prices rise, government support isn’t sufficient or another disruption occurs, the system falls out of balance. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has a few gaps that make it more challenging for some neighbors to get the food they need.

Currently, Michiganders with two past drug convictions are ineligible for SNAP for life. Sally is working hard to put food on her family’s table – especially now that her partner has lost his job. But, her past convictions prevent her from applying for SNAP. A recent bill that passed in the state senate may mitigate this gap in the food system.

Fortunately, Sally has been able to bridge this gap and fill her grocery bags at Mobile Pantries.

“It’s a godsend,” she said.

A box of mobile pantry food holds milk, squash, cheese, pop tarts and more

With the help of organizations like the Sparta Community Foundation, which sponsors Mobile Pantries in the area, the food bank can continue to provide nutritious food to Sparta neighbors like Sally. Hopefully soon she will be able to return to work and apply for SNAP to help feed her family.

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.