“This helps us not have to worry” — Mobile Pantries a crucial resource in Berrien County

Volunteers fill boxes with food at a Mobile Pantry

When the site where Linda typically hosts Mobile Pantries fell through a few months ago, she and her volunteer team weren’t swayed. They instead chose an unusual but effective location: a small parking lot along a Berrien County road.

Volunteers fill boxes with food at a Mobile Pantry

Linda and her small, committed team of volunteers aren’t swayed by much. They run multiple Mobile Pantries through the Episcopal Church of the Mediator each month, many of which are sponsored by the Pokagon Fund. The group fills boxes with nutritious food and loads them into cars in record time. But though their methods are speedy, they always take time to listen to the neighbors they serve.

“The first time I was taking names I was shocked at how many people were crying and saying, ‘I’ve never been in this position, I just really need some help,’” Jeanne, a volunteer, said. “They’re just so grateful. It makes me feel like we’re giving back just that little bit.”

Jeanne stands in front of a Mobile Pantry truck wearing a mask with flowers on it

Jeanne and many of the volunteers began helping at the start of the pandemic, wanting to do something tangible in response to the increased need.

Jake, Rachel and their three children — ages 6, 3 and a newborn — are one family who found themselves attending the Mobile Pantries for the first time this fall.

Usually, Jake works seasonal jobs — landscaping in the summer and fall, and snowplowing in the winter. The pandemic has made work scarce and, he shared, after the leaves are all raked, there usually isn’t much work for him to find until it snows. Rising grocery prices have been an added burden for the family.

“When we go to the grocery store, it’s easily $100, barely filling the cart these days, so we can’t really afford that,” Rachel said.

To ensure their kids have full plates, Rachel and Jake have visited traditional pantries in the past, but they just recently learned about the fresh options Mobile Pantries provide.

“This helps us not have to worry about spending all our money on food and not having the other essential items,” Rachel said.

Jake encouraged anyone in need to seek help, even though it can be hard.

“It’s definitely worth it,” he said.

Deborah, age 87, just began attending the Mobile Pantries as well. A single mom for many years, Deborah worked hard to provide for her four kids. She put them all through school and is proud of the careers they’re in today.

After she retired from her job as a prep cook, she went on to volunteer with the blind, helping them drive and navigate life, until she fully retired two years ago.

Today, she and her husband live on fixed incomes and often struggle to afford all their bills, especially as heat costs rise during the colder months.

“I would have to stretch [my income] out in the wintertime,” she said. “[The Mobile Pantries make it] easier to make ends meet.”

Box filled with food such as juice and bagels awaits distribution

When she first began running the Mobile Pantries, Linda was surprised at the magnitude of the need among neighbors like Jake, Rachel and Deborah, but she was also surprised by the number of neighbors like Jeanne who went out of their way to help.

Thanks to the Pokagon Fund’s support, Berrien County neighbors can keep giving and receiving help at Mobile Pantries.

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.