Not low-income enough: “In-between” neighbors get help at Mobile Pantries

On a cold, clear day in January, neighbors from all walks of life lined up to receive food at Carson City Elementary School. Among them was a school employee who preferred to stay anonymous. Before last summer, she’d never attended a Mobile Food Pantry, but the pandemic meant she couldn’t return to her summer job — a problem, she said, shared by other support staff from the school. She wasn’t paid during winter break, either, so she visited the Mobile Pantry to make up the difference.

A box of cottage cheese, oranges, bread and more is sorted by a volunteer

“This helps the people in between. You can’t get help from anywhere else, so it’s nice to have these. It helps you get by a little more.”

At her job, she makes too much to qualify for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, but not enough to cover all her bills. This “in-between” status is shared by many who attend Mobile Pantries, which don’t have any requirements other than that a neighbor affirms they’re in need. In contrast, some traditional pantries require proof of income.

When she’s able, the school employee helps her neighbors, too, by bringing homemade baked goods to their porches if she knows they’re in need. During school closures, she even offered free tutoring to students who couldn’t afford it.

“We all help each other out,” she said of her community.

Amanda and her daughters peer out of their car

Amanda is in a similar situation. Her husband used to work two jobs which put the family just slightly over the income limit for SNAP. Attending Mobile Pantries has helped fill this gap — “my kids love the fruit and the pop tarts,” she said. Now her husband has a new job that pays better, but they still need a little help sometimes.

A stay-at-home mom, Amanda devotes time to caring for her three kids, two who are on the autism spectrum.

“We don’t have a lot of money for food, so it does help,” she said.

Many of the neighbors who attend Mobile Pantries are in transitional phases, whether, like Amanda’s husband, they’re switching jobs, or like the school staff member, they need help during a period without pay. Traci is another neighbor who attended the Mobile Pantry due to a transition in her life. A recovering addict, she recently got out of jail and doesn’t qualify for SNAP or have a job yet.

Traci (right) brought Deloris, her grandma’s friend, to to the Mobile Pantry as well.

“I’m trying to get on my feet and take the right steps to better my life,” she said.

She planned to check into a local sober living home the next day.

“This really helps me because they said to bring food, and I don’t really have food to take over there, so this will help out a lot,” she said.

Federal hunger-relief programs do far more to feed neighbors than food banks — SNAP provides nine times as many meals as Feeding America National’s network — but for families  who fall through the cracks or need extra support at the end of the month, food from the charitable food sector is essential to making ends meet.

Support from the Tri-County Electric People Fund made six Mobile Pantries at Carson City Elementary possible this fall and winter. Without the generosity of many donors and the hard work of volunteers, Feeding America West Michigan would not have been able to provide 1,500+ Mobile Pantries throughout our service area last year. Together, we can continue this work in 2021 and beyond — until all our neighbors’ plates are full.

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.