RIVER ROUGE, Mich. – Every Wednesday morning for the past two and half years, Tarence Wheeler is outside of Ann Visger Elementary School in River Rouge with his mobile food pantry, “Pantry of Hope.”
Wheeler spearheaded this initiative after seeing the needs of entire families during the pandemic and how much they were struggling to keep food on the table both then and now. It can be challenging for the roughly 7,000 River Rouge residents to acquire food since the city doesn’t have a big box grocery store.
“This is not just a food pantry this is a pantry of hope,” a local resident explains.
The Director of Corporate and Community Affairs for the River Rouge School District doesn’t have “food pantry creator” in his job description. Still, he started this weekly tradition from his heart for a community he grew up in.
Wheeler developed a partnership two years ago with Forgotten Harvest, and now a semi-truck full of food helps feed hundreds weekly. So far, within two years, the food pantry has given about 7.5 million meals.
The distribution begins at 9 a.m., and cars are wrapped around the blocks in River Rouge, sometimes as early as 6 a.m. Those that live close enough or that don’t have cars walk with baskets and wagons. Volunteers unload the Forgotten Harvest food truck at 8:30 a.m. and distribute the food till 11 a.m.
Jamilah Tucker lives across the street from Ann Visger Elementary School with her son and five grandchildren and walks over with her wagon every week before work. “Food is going up, you know, the cost of living is going up, and pay ain’t going up,” Tucker explains.
“We’re trying. We are just not making it,” said River Rouge resident Liz Vargo. “Do I put gas in the car to go to work? Or do I buy bread and milk?”
Those interested in donating can give products like toilet paper, paper towels, adult wipes, deodorant and socks.
“Every time I see somebody that needs help, I tell them to come here and see Mr. Wheeler,” said Volunteer and Ordinance Enforcement Officer for River Rouge Carl Smart.
For more ways to help, you can contact Wheeler at 313-205-9826.