Still in need one year later: Zeeland Mobile Pantries help families affected by the pandemic

Marie’s car was full when she arrived at a Mobile Pantry in Zeeland this month. She’d driven her daughter Penny and 93-year-old neighbor Phyllis to the food distribution, since both were in need but lacked transportation. Along for the ride were Penny’s daughter, age 3, and step-granddaughter, age 6.

Penny is a Zeeland community member.

“It helps my family out because we’ve been laid off through this pandemic,” Penny said. “I was working in a nursing home, and then I worked in a rehab center, but everyone started getting COVID. My boss laid everyone off because she didn’t want us to get sick.”

Phyllis, 93, rides along with the family because she no longer drives.

Friends and fellow parents Gretchen and John carpooled to the Mobile Pantry as well. They started attending Mobile Pantries after the pandemic made it difficult for them to keep food in their homes.

“I was one of the unfortunate ones last year who lost a job,” John said. “I ran into issues with having enough food in my house for myself or my daughter when I have her.”

John is back to work now, but he’s still “trying to get back into a stable routine.”

Volunteers prepare to load neighbors' cars
Lana, the Mobile Pantry coordinator, prepares to load neighbors’ cars.

Gretchen’s 10-year-old son attends Roosevelt Elementary, where the Mobile Pantry was hosted. Two COVID-19 exposures caused her to miss a month of work, so friends told her about the food distributions.

“I was behind on bills and groceries. I attend these so I can have enough food for myself and my son,” she said.

Gretchen and John, as well as Marie and her family, are among many who are still feeling the effects of the pandemic. In Ottawa County, 1 in 8 neighbors is estimated to be facing hunger — a higher ratio than before the pandemic, but the lowest food insecurity rate in our service area.

Sue receives food from a volunteer
A volunteer loads Marie’s car.

Hunger is often hidden, especially in places like Zeeland, described by Mobile Pantry coordinator Lana as a “fairly wealthy community.”

“It’s hard for a lot of the residents to wrap their heads around the fact that not everyone may have what they need,” Lana said.

Nancy, who volunteers at the Mobile Pantries and also works at Roosevelt’s cafeteria, shared that many students receive free and reduced lunch, but community members often think hunger “doesn’t happen here, it happens elsewhere.”

Nancy directs cars at the Mobile Pantry.

Lana and her team of volunteers work hard each month to ensure each family in line receives their box full of fresh produce, dairy and other food. Typically, they serve around 100 families each month.

“Many people are really very grateful,” Lana said. “When our volunteers take food to the cars, they hear a lot of ‘thank yous!’”

Feeding America West Michigan provides Mobile Food Pantries to Ottawa County communities like Zeeland thanks to support from the Greater Ottawa County United Way, the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland Area and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation’s JSJ Fund.

The hard work of all our supporters makes it possible for the food bank to fight even hidden hunger every day.