More Michiganders relying on food banks during the holiday season
- Families still dealing with the financial strain from the pandemic say they’re struggling to put food on the table
- Food insecurity is impacting more people who are becoming reliant on food banks and soup kitchens
- Support organizations are trying to manage the demand and have adjusted their operation to do so
So many Michigan families are struggling during the holidays this year that some charities say the people they serve will have to get by with less.
“We're not going to have the same luxury that we had in past years,” said Chad Audi, president and CEO of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, a non-profit that helps the hungry and homeless in Detroit and prepares boxes of food for people in need.
“We're putting just the basic needs (in the boxes) for the families. We're no longer giving them sweets and stuff like that. We're compromising on the unnecessary stuff.”
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Audi, who said his organization typically serves about 2,000 meals daily but has seen those numbers climb to 4,500 over the last 18 months, is among several nonprofit leaders who told Bridge Michigan that they’re struggling to keep up with demand this year.
“We're seeing more people needing our services, especially on emergency shelter programs, and people who are in need of food,” Audi said.
The group’s holiday Adopt-a-Family program typically serves about 700 families, but expanded to serve 2,000 this year, he said.
The holiday season is always a busy time for organizations that provide support services, but while the emotional and economic toll of the pandemic continues to affect families, pandemic-era assistance from the federal government has dried up, said Gary Wagner, executive director of Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit.
“Almost 50 percent more guests are coming in for the services than they were in January at the beginning of the year,” said Wagner whose organization has a soup kitchen, a recovery program for people struggling with addiction, a shower program, an emergency food pantry and a service center that distributes clothing to women and children through its many locations in Detroit.
“Forms of assistance that were available during COVID have expired.”
The enhanced benefits that the federal government approved in March 2020 to help beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the pandemic expired in February of this year.
Since then, benefits have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but pandemic-related economic challenges such as unpredictable pricing have persisted, affecting both the people who need help and the organizations that aim to help them.
Danielle Harden, 31 of Detroit had been going to the food pantry on and off over the last decade.
“They have really helped a lot,” she said. “There's definitely resources out there that can help, so I feel like no one should have to go hungry.”
A food bank that partners with Capuchin, for example, has had issues finding food, Wagner said. “They are using more and more of their food in different ways as opposed to providing for other organizations as part of the new reality.”
The resulting tensions don’t just affect people right now, but can have lifelong consequences for people forced to make poor nutritional choices to get through a crisis, said Michelle Gilleran, a dietician for Morrison Healthcare, which specializes in food service health care.
“A lot of our food insecure homes … tend to reach for more energy-dense foods,” such as potato chips and other highly processed food, she said. “That in turn, of course, has many impacts, you know, that increases the risk for chronic diseases, whether it's diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia.”
Toys for Tots has seen a similar increase in need, said Staff Sergeant for the U.S. Marines Anthony Palagallo, primary coordinator for the Toys for Tots in Sterling Heights.
His organization, which provides needy children with at least one gift to open for Christmas, has had to scramble to serve roughly 3,000 more children in Wayne and Macomb counties than last year, Palagallo said.
“Jobs are scarce around the community and that's the biggest thing,” said Palagallo, whose group plans to give toys to 24,000 kids this year. “A lot of these families are out of work and they can't provide Christmas for their children.”
How to help
- People can volunteer to help serve and prepare food at Capuchin Soup Kitchen, donate sanitary and toiletry items, or give a monetary donation.
- Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries is accepting outerwear, toiletries, household items and toys to donate to families during their holiday party on Dec. 16. '
- Toys for Tots is collecting toys through mid-December. You can find a local chapter near you to donate a toy.
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