Michigan families struggle to find food during COVID-19 pandemic

Gleaners Community Food Bank has nearly doubled its monthly food distribution

Gleaners Community Food Bank distribution.
Gleaners Community Food Bank distribution.

DETROIT – Families living paycheck to paycheck often cannot afford one emergency, let alone a crisis.

From school closures to loss of income, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted households with young children. For many, the result of the crisis is not just an empty bank account -- it’s also an empty pantry.

A recent statewide poll of 600 Michiganders by the Detroit Regional Chamber found that food insecurity has become a wide-spread issue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 30% of respondents are worried about putting food on the table. Parents with children at home from school have experienced several months of additional strains, from childcare to providing additional meals. And as summer progresses with back-to-school plans still unclear, even more uncertainty lies ahead.

To help alleviate some of the burden Southeast Michigan families face, Gleaners Community Food Bank has expanded its services, including Summer Food Service Program sites, where kids enjoy daily meals, and drive-up food distributions, where families receive nutritious groceries. Community members can support this vital work through Gleaners’ Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign. For 10 years, the campaign has provided millions of meals to children while they are out of school. This year, the Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign must meet an even greater need.

Like many food banks across America, Gleaners is stepping up to meet the increase in need for emergency food. The food bank has nearly doubled its monthly food distribution and greatly expanded its services to meet people where they are -- from Detroit to Howell.

Since March, Gleaners’ emergency response efforts have reached more than 250,000 households and counting, many of whom are seeking assistance for the first time.

“If you are hungry, you only recognize one problem. You are not going to work on the next problem until hunger is solved,” said Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners. “If people know they will have access to food through our distributions -- not just today, but for the months ahead -- these families can start to solve the other problems they face. Gleaners is dedicated to serving our hungry neighbors with healthy food and hope for their future.”

In the face of many unknowns, families in need have come to rely on Gleaners daily and weekly food distributions to maintain their households through this crisis. From a recent survey of guests at Gleaners’ sites, 70% said they had attended a prior drive-up distribution. Each household receives an average of 36 pounds of nutritious groceries, including items like fresh produce, lean protein, milk and shelf stable grains, helping families stay home and stay within their means.

“I believe the aspect of food insecurity that is most stressful is the uncertainty about one’s access,” said Dr. Cindy Leung, assistant professor in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “The stress that this pandemic is putting on parents in food-insecure households will undoubtedly trickle down to the children and negatively affect their health and development in the long term.”

Through her research, Leung focuses on the diet and health disparities in vulnerable populations and the wide-ranging affects hunger can have on kids.

“My hope is that Gleaners sees a significant increase in support to continue to provide food and assistance to those who need it the most,” she said.

As we move from the summer to the school year, a lot is at stake for Michigan families, especially those at risk of hunger. Gleaners will continue to provide its expanded level of service, ensuring households in need have consistent access to nutritious food. And the work remains a community-wide effort.

Now through Sept. 7, all donations to the Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign will be matched. Thanks to Citizens Bank and many generous donors -- including the Toni Wisne Sabina Foundation, General Motors and Ford Motor Company -- every dollar given provides six meals.

To learn more about Hunger Free Summer Plus, click here.