In Watervliet, a Berrien County community, neighbors face challenges similar to those in many small towns when it comes to accessing and affording enough healthy food: Jobs are harder to find, grocery stores are farther away and what little produce corner stores have in stock is expensive. As a result, families often choose between paying for healthy food or for other essentials.
But when someone finds themselves in need, Feeding America West Michigan’s partners are there to help. Living Water Food Pantry and HOPE Resources are two of our partners devoted to filling neighbors’ plates in this community.
“A community that helps their neighbors in need tends to be a better, tighter knitted community, which only has positive effects on all those dwelling within it,” said Caryn, who directs Living Water. “We are so much more than a food pantry to most of our families. We have been there for the best times and the worst times for so many.”
Carole, director of HOPE Resources, said that the biggest proportion of neighbors their pantry serves are those who are in need but don’t qualify for government assistance. People from all walks of life can fall into this category, but Carole said many of the clients the pantry serves are seniors who live on fixed incomes.
To help these elderly neighbors who lack transportation, or face other barriers to accessing nutritious food, pantry volunteers have delivered food to them since early March, when the pandemic struck and it became riskier for seniors to leave their homes.
For Carole, hunger isn’t an abstract idea. It was once her reality.
“The first time they come is always the hardest,” Carole said. “It’s a little bit of fear and uneasiness because their ego is at stake. And I resembled that many years ago when it was real hard for me to acknowledge the fact that I needed help.”
This small town’s hunger-relief efforts are a microcosm of the ones found across our 40-county service area. With our network of more than 900 partners, the support of our parent organization — Feeding America — is essential, especially as the pandemic continues to make it harder for many to put food on the table.
This year, it’s estimated that 1 in 6 neighbors in our service area is facing hunger. This includes more than 120,000 children. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, the rate would have been 1 in 8.
Since the start of the pandemic, the national organization has supported our efforts through their relationships with UBS, Kraft Heinz, Casey’s, Morgan Stanley, the NFL Foundation and more. Some of this funding has helped us purchase nutritious food, so that our food pantry partners — including those serving Watervliet — could source from us to stock their shelves in a cost-effective way. And some of this funding has supplied behind-the-scenes necessities such as a trash compacter and a truck for one of our partners.
The collaboration of the Feeding America National Organization, its 200 food banks, and their local partners — like the two in Watervliet — are leading the charge against hunger across the country. With their efforts, we believe, one day, all of our neighbors in need will know where their next meals are coming from.
Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.