In 2020, after James injured his shoulder at work, he was propelled into early and unexpected retirement. Despite this, he did not receive unemployment benefits and went without a paycheck for 20 weeks. As a result, he and his wife Susan — who also can’t work due to a disability — were forced to deplete their savings.
During this time, they began visiting food pantries every month, including Mobile Pantries held in Sparta, their hometown. Today, James receives disability income, which helps, but doesn’t always stretch far enough to cover all of the couple’s bills, so they continue to rely on food pantries, plus a small summer garden, to put food on the table.
Thankfully, the couple owns their home, but it requires a lot of maintenance and expense at times. Fixing it up is something James enjoys, but his shoulder makes it difficult, and he can’t afford to do everything he wants to right now.
James and Susan’s daughter, son-in-law and three grandkids live with them, which means their family is among the growing number of “grandfamilies” in the country. There are many benefits to living with extended family, but it can be challenging, too. James and Susan at times help their family members with food as well, a cost that can add up, especially since the couple doesn’t qualify for government hunger-relief programs (like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) despite being in need.
Attending Mobile Pantries in Sparta helps the couple create a little more wiggle room in their budget each month. The Mobile Pantries they attend are hosted by the local schools, and some distributions were sponsored in part by the Sparta Community Foundation last year.
“Everybody’s always polite and nice,” Susan said. “Fresh fruits and vegetable are so expensive at the stores. I like to snack and it’s better to snack on fruits or vegetables.”
James loves cooking and particularly appreciates receiving vegetables when he attends Mobile Pantries — “When I get vegetables, it’s soup time!” he said.
Did you know that, during the pandemic, 1 in 5 U.S. residents needed help with food at some point? We all need help sometimes. Feeding America West Michigan works hard to be that help for those facing hunger every month — in Sparta and across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Together with the support of volunteers and donors, we can ensure all people in our community have access to nourishing food whenever they need it.
Story written by Communication and Marketing Specialist Juliana Ludema.