Families’ needs for emergency food services expected to soar this summer

Volunteers at food pantry. (Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.)

According to projections from Feeding America, one in six people -- including one in five children -- across Southeast Michigan are at risk of facing hunger this summer.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified awareness about hunger throughout the region, it is a persistent issue that impacted vulnerable populations long before the crisis, and it will continue for far too many in the coming months.

Gaining access to nutritious food has been a challenge for Detroit resident Melina Cavazos ever since she moved out of her mother’s home at age 18.

For many years, she and her husband worked hard to provide for themselves and their two young children, but they still struggled to make ends meet. They often became overwhelmed with stress and anxiety about how they would be able to pay all their bills and still have enough money left over to put food on the table.

“One day, I was crying to my husband, asking how we’re supposed to feed the kids. We didn’t have anything else to eat,” Cavazos said. “My kids are always first, no matter what. I always want to make sure my children are safe, happy, and never hungry.”

Although Cavazos’ family of four was in dire need of help, she and her husband did not qualify for government assistance. They were both employed but lived paycheck to paycheck and simply could not afford to take care of their basic needs.

The couple reached out to the Mercado Food Hub, a branch of Gleaners Community Food Bank that’s located in Southwest Detroit, for support.

“They called me back that same day in the afternoon, and I got a next-day emergency appointment,” she said. “We received a very good amount of food from Gleaners that lasted the whole month, plus half of the next month. It was able to stretch that far.”

Across its service area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe and Livingston counties, Gleaners reports that 80% of guests who come to their emergency mobile food distributions are families with children under the age of 18.

While this year offers new signs of hope, low-income families across Southeast Michigan are still experiencing instability and economic setbacks. Many working parents are recovering from unexpected job losses this past year, due to furloughs and layoffs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an added hurdle, grocery prices have risen 3% in the last year, prompting many to seek emergency services from food banks like Gleaners.

Today, Cavazos has peace of mind knowing she has one worry taken care of so her family can allocate their limited resources to other bills and needs. With the assistance she receives from Gleaners, her refrigerator and kitchen pantry always remain fully stocked with fresh produce, canned fruits and vegetables, milk and cereal, and shelf-stable food staples like rice and beans.

“My kids love the fruit we get at Gleaners -- the grapes are always really juicy, as if we just bought them from the grocery store,” Cavazos said. “I think about how terrible things used to be for us. Now I’m thinking forward about how perfect everything is, because Gleaners helped me take care of my kids.”

Cavazos added that Gleaners always provides extra food during the summer months, due to schools being closed.

“This summer, as children take a three-month break from school, we expect to see an increased volume of people in need of emergency food services,” said Jessica Ramsay, director of Food Access & Youth Engagement at Gleaners. “We are committed to meeting our hungry neighbors where they are, through our expanded and adapted distributions across Southeast Michigan, to make sure kids, families, seniors, veterans and other vulnerable populations have access to nutritious food all summer long.”

From June through August, every donation made to Gleaners Community Food Bank will be matched by a group of generous donors that includes Citizens Bank, Toni Wisne Sabina Foundation, GM, Ford, and the Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation. The initiative is part of Gleaners’ Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign, which directly supports more than 85 summer food service program locations across Southeast Michigan, including grocery sites, meal sites and mobile delivery sites.

Every dollar donated provides six meals for hungry neighbors in the community.

For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.hungerfreesummer.org.