Senior Hunger: Why Does it Exist?

Like any population struggling with food insecurity, seniors face hunger for various reasons. Throughout West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, some of the main factors include:


• Low SNAP enrollment rates. In the United States, as few as 45 percent of eligible seniors are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Insufficient SNAP benefits. Many seniors who are enrolled in SNAP don’t receive enough benefits to meet their needs. Others have difficulty making ends meet, but don’t qualify for benefits because they fall above the poverty line.
• High medical costs. The high cost of prescriptions and frequent doctor visits coupled with less than adequate insurance coverage means many seniors often have to choose between paying for food and necessary medical expenses.
• Raising their grandchildren. The financial burden associated with raising grandchildren is a common reason many seniors become food insecure.
Living in rural areas. In rural regions, not owning a vehicle or being unable to drive can greatly hinder food access. Grocery stores are often few and far between, and there is usually no public transportation available.

No matter what the reason, seniors facing food insecurity throughout West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula can turn to Feeding America West Michigan and our partner agencies for the nutritious food they need to maintain their health. Meet some of the seniors who are getting the help they need.


betty recieving food from volunteers

Betty has received food from one of our Mobile Food Pantry sites for many years. Fresh produce is too expensive for her to afford on her fixed income, so she is grateful for the fresh produce she is able to receive at the Mobile Pantry.

“It means a whole lot to be able to come here and get food,” she said.

Thanks to those who support Feeding America West Michigan and our Mobile Pantry partners, Betty can fill her fridge once a month at no cost.

Cookie and Jan

cookie and jan with puppy

Cookie and Jan are neighbors at a local senior living community. Once a month, the friends carpool to attend Luther’s monthly Mobile Food Pantry.

Jan is on food stamps, but only receives $16 a month because of her social security income.

“It covers for your rent, your life insurance, your other insurance — but when that’s done, you don’t have any money,” she said. “We don’t have the money to go out and buy groceries, so this helps me tremendously.”

Cookie concurred: “It really helps.”

Lisa and Fitz

lisa and fitz

Lisa is a caretaker for a man in his 90s named Fitz. The pair is so grateful for the senior lunch program provided by The Salvation Army, a partner agency of Feeding America West Michigan.

Lisa says it’s the perfect outing for Fitz and herself. Both of them are able to grocery shop, participate in activities and eat a balanced lunch in a social setting.

“This program enhances the whole person, and that’s what these seniors need,” she said.

You can make programs like this possible by supporting Feeding America West Michigan.

This Manistique Couple Faced Hunger — Now They Serve Others Who Do

Good Neighbor Services has worked hard to support Manistique residents struggling to make ends meet for the last 30 years. For nearly a decade, Margo and Loney have been instrumental to the nonprofit’s mission. Two years ago, they became the organization’s joint directors. The couple’s passion for Good Neighbor’s mission stems from their own experience: Early in their marriage, they faced hunger and didn’t know where to turn.

“We couldn’t make ends meet,” Margo said. There were many times when the couple could have benefited from the support Good Neighbor Services provides, but instead they had to make difficult choices — including allocating less money toward food.

Today, Margo and Loney serve people who find themselves in similar situations. Many of the neighbors the nonprofit supports are seniors, and their need is extensive. Schoolcraft County residents face food insecurity at one of the highest rates in our 40-county service area. 1 in 6 people are food insecure, and seniors face additional challenges.

Five years ago, the local paper mill went out of business, causing many to lose their jobs. Around that time, Margo and Loney heard about our Mobile Food Pantry program and began bringing the food distributions to town.

The need for food assistance is so great that some neighbors will do whatever it takes to receive food. Margo recalled an elderly woman who stood in line for hours to wait for a Mobile Pantry in the middle of winter — wearing a skirt and no stockings.

“We put her on the Feeding America [West Michigan] truck, we got her food and got transit to take her home,” Margo said.

To lessen this challenge, those who struggle to attend the monthly Mobile Pantry can pay a dollar or two for their box of food to be delivered to them through the local transit system.

Each of Good Neighbor’s Mobile Pantries provides 20,000 pounds of food — approximately 17,000 meals — to more than 450 families. Community members can also visit the organization’s fixed food pantry once a month to receive non-perishable staples. The pantry is open six days a week.

Each month, between 50 and 75 people come to the pantry, compared to the Mobile Pantries’ hundreds. According to Margo, the stigmatization of traditional pantries may be the cause of the disparity between the two resources: Seniors often feel as if they’re “applying for a system” by coming to a fixed food pantry, whereas lining up to a get a box to take home feels “more approachable.”

“That’s part of the reason this [Mobile Pantry] is so important,” Margo said.

This mindset among the elderly is exemplified by the number in need who don’t sign up for the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP). Fewer than half of eligible seniors are signed up. No one should feel ashamed to apply for food assistance, but Mobile Pantries provide a more accessible option for these seniors and for others who don’t qualify for SNAP but still face hunger. It’s also a useful resource for those who receive some help from SNAP but still need a boost to make ends meet.

Volunteer Joe

Many community members come together to help out at each Mobile Pantry. Joe, a volunteer and veteran said:

“Spending time giving back to our community is something I have come to look forward to each month.”

We are grateful to have agency partners like Good Neighbor Services. Their efforts ensure that people facing tough times — like Margo and Loney once did — have somewhere to turn for the help they need.

marguex at farm

Lettuce Revolutionaries Fight Food Waste and Feed Families

Here at Feeding America West Michigan, we believe everyone should have access to fresh, local produce — including food insecure neighbors. Revolution Farms takes this belief to heart by choosing to donate 1 percent of its hydroponically grown lettuce. Doing so fights food waste, while bringing farm-to-table freshness to those in need.

marguex at farm
The farm strives to make people “feel good about what they’re eating, knowing that it’s fresh from the local community,” said Marguex, the farm’s business development and HR manager.

This includes people who may be struggling to feed their families at all, much less afford nutrient-packed, greenhouse-grown lettuce.

“A majority of the people who are food insecure in our community are down on their luck for a phase in their life, and it’s nice to be able to provide them some normalcy,” Marguex said.

Still in its debut year, the acre-wide greenhouse has provided delicious lettuce to many facing food insecurity by donating surplus produce to Feeding America West Michigan. Since the farm’s first yield last November, 4,000 pounds of lettuce have ended up on one of our trucks, headed toward the plates of those facing hunger.

The hydroponic farm also donates surplus lettuce to a local farmer, who uses it to feed pigs and cattle.

employee with small plants

Hydroponics — a method of growing produce that uses water infused with nutrients instead of soil — has many benefits. This method of farming enhances crop flavor, conserves water, eliminates weeds and makes it possible to grow a lot of produce in a small space year-round.

So why do farms like Revolution end up with surplus produce to donate in the first place?

“To keep our greenhouse healthy, we have to keep harvesting our lettuce every day,” Marguex explained.

Hydroponic farms like Revolution are constantly moving. Seedlings are placed on rafts so their roots can dangle into the water below. As the plants grow, the rafts are pushed through the water pools to make room for new rafts of baby plants. When these new rafts are added, some of the more mature plants must be harvested to make room, and to ensure they don’t bolt (send up a flower stalk and go to seed).

“Right now we are fortunate we have two avenues for our surplus lettuce,” Marguex said. “If we didn’t have these options, it would end up in a landfill.”

After one of the food bank’s truck drivers picks up the lettuce, it’s brought straight to our warehouse, and is then sent directly to those facing hunger via Mobile Food Pantries.

Mobile Pantries create a “farmers market” experience for our neighbors facing hunger. Thanks to partnerships with local farmers, neighbors who attend Mobile Food Pantries often receive the cream of the crop — including surplus lettuce from Revolution Farms.

Whether they’re donating lettuce, or helping us fight hunger in another way, the commitment of the food bank’s partners makes it possible for us to serve more than 900 agencies throughout West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Meet a Food Banker: Chuck the Truck Driver

How long have you worked for Feeding America West Michigan and what is your role?
I’m a truck driver for the Mobile Food Pantry program. I’ve been in this position for eight months.

What led you to your current role?
I retired from operations/manufacturing after 42 years in December of 2018. I learned about [this position] from a friend that had recently left the position for another job.

What was your first experience with food insecurity in our community?
My first Mobile [Pantry] was in New Buffalo. This is where I went to high school. It was really quite an eye-opener to see folks I went to high school with coming through the line — really quite sobering.

What is something you experience as a truck driver that might surprise people?
The overall kindness of the associates at each event I go to. They always welcome me with a smile and a prayer, and they always wish me safe travels on my way back home.

Can you tell us about the most impactful thing you’ve seen or heard while on the job?
As a Christian going into my retirement years, it warms my heart to see and be part of a prayer at the start of the event. This doesn’t happen every time, but often enough that it gives me a profound sense of peace that I have chosen to do the right thing for my last few years of my working career.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
The gratitude of the folks waiting in line. [They are] always thankful for the food that has been brought.

What do you like doing in your free time?
I hunt and fish, I play the guitar. I enjoy the simpler things in life with my family.

Read this edition of Full Plate Press again!