At Neighbor to Neighbor, volunteers continue long legacy of service

Ever since its inception, Neighbor to Neighbor has been run by women passionate about fighting hunger. Currently, that role rests on the shoulders of many at the organization, including Nancy, who manages the organization’s traditional food pantry, a role her mother — now 98 — once held.

For Nancy, serving is not only in her blood, it’s something she loves. Especially when she knows she’s made a difference in someone’s life.

“Stand-out moments are when someone will leave a message and tell us how much we mean to them. Or when we find an envelope with a dollar in it saying ‘we can’t afford much but want to give you this help.’ It gives me goosebumps.”

Pat, in her 80s, recently retired from Nancy’s position, but that doesn’t stop her from helping out at the Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Pantries the nonprofit regularly hosts.

Pat (left) and Sue volunteer at the Mobile Pantries.

To someone in need who is hesitant to come and receive help, she’d say:

“It could be any of us. If I was in your shoes I would want you to welcome me. If you don’t come, we don’t have anyone to serve. Times change — some people say ‘we’ll donate when we get back on our feet.’ Pay it forward.”

“Times change” — this statement rings true across hunger-relief programs. Most people in line for food assistance today won’t be next year or even next month. Our recent survey of more than 600 Mobile Pantry attendees across our service area revealed that, on average, attendees surveyed were in need for only 6.2 months out of the last year.

Many community members who attended an August Mobile Pantry at Neighbor to Neighbor shared that they were indeed in short-term sticky situations. Like Brenda and Scott, who started coming to Mobile Pantries in 2020 when food costs began rising in some areas. Scott, a Navy veteran and truck driver, also didn’t get his expected bonuses during the pandemic, despite working.

“We were sitting there watching our grocery cart. You’d spend the same amount of money and the stuff kept getting less and less when you went to the store,” Scott recalled.

They got back on their feet for a bit but returned to the Mobile Pantry in August after Scott became injured at work. Medical expenses and lower pay made a dent in their budget, so being able to pick up food from a Mobile Pantry helped them fill that gap. Scott explained, however, that once his workplace clears him he’ll be back on the road.

Receiving fresh produce and other food from the Mobile Pantries has also helped Jessica, a mom of six, whose family, like Scott and Brenda, is in a tough spot right now. She started attending Mobile Pantries last year after her husband lost his job due to the pandemic. He’s now back to work, but the recent birth of their twin daughters has made it difficult for the family to catch up.

Whether they’re experiencing need for just a month or for multiple years, all our neighbors should have access to enough food to thrive. This is something Neighbor to Neighbor fights to ensure — and when someone gets back on their feet, they welcome donations and volunteers with open arms, no matter how small the effort may seem.

The food bank is proud to support Neighbor to Neighbor’s efforts. Together with support from organizations like the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, we can solve hunger in Berrien County and across our service area.