Food pantries in need of donations
ESCANABA — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of donation at local food pantries has decreased. With several grocery store necessities in limited supply at that time, like toilet paper, sugar, and yeast, many community members were unable to purchase extra stock for those in need. While monetary donations have persisted over time, food pantries have just recently seen a comeback in terms of food donations. This increase, however, may be short-lived, with food prices expected to rise well beyond the annual average in the upcoming weeks.
“Food donation has been slower now and it was slower during the pandemic because people had a higher need for food in their own homes,” Barbara Van Ermen, pantry manager for St. Vincent de Paul Pantry in Escanaba, said. “Shopping for food has recently become more controlled. I mean, I went to buy some things this morning and many of the shelves were empty.”
Delta County is home to many food banks, including the Salvation Army of Escanaba and the St. Vincent de Paul food pantries in both Escanaba and Gladstone. With the goal of providing food, goods, and a variety of services at no charge to those in need, these organizations rely on donations in order to effectively operate.
“Everyone has been impacted by inflation. It is difficult for stores today to have their shelves full because they are not able to keep up with the demand, and manufacturing places are not able to keep up either,” Van Ermen said. “We all have to share this situation. But especially here, we just want to be helpful to every person.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the consumer price index (CPI) for food-at-home purchases increased 1.3 percent between March and April of 2022. The CPI is used to measure the rate of economy-wide inflation in the United States. Food-at-home purchases, which accounts for all grocery store food purchases in the United States, is 10.8 percent higher than it was a year ago. The USDA predicts that food-at-home prices will increase by over seven percent in 2022.
“Because of inflation, people, especially those in need, have to pay more for their groceries. But the need is currently greater than the ability to pay,” Van Ermen said. “So what we do is we try to give people choices when they come to St. Vincent de Paul.”
The Escanaba St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, located at 115 N. 8th St., collaborates with area businesses to help fulfill their daily needs. In connection with Meijer, gift cards are available for purchase in support of the food pantry. Elmer’s County Market also works with the food pantry through a gift bag service, each bag ranging in cost from $5 to $20. All funds collected through these two programs are used to purchase food and hygienic products for the pantry.
“I would encourage people, if they donate, to use the gift giving service at Meijer or Elmer’s. Those help us,” Van Ermen said. “It is so special. Even if it is a $5 donation, it all comes to help our cause.”
The food pantry works to provide those in need with kitchen and pantry essentials. For those looking to donate, needed items include canned ravioli, spaghetti, and fruit, along with ramen noodles and applesauce. The Escanaba St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
The Salvation Army of Escanaba has experienced a similar pattern to that of Escanaba St. Vincent de Paul, the number of those in need of the organization’s services significantly increasing in the recent past. Jamie Ray, case manager at the Salvation Army of Escanaba, attributes this change to the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and state-regulated financial aid.
“We have a lot of new clients, or clients who haven’t needed services for quite a few years, are starting to come back and seek our services,” Jamie Ray, case manager at the Salvation Army of Escanaba, said. “Extra relief, food assistance, and the stimulus checks are coming to an end and people are still having a hard time finding employment.”
Outside of its pantry hours, which run from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, the Salvation Army is unique in that it offers lunch services throughout the week. Ready-to-go meals are available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from noon to 1 p.m.
Due to the recent influx of clients, the Salvation Army is in need of dry goods, both canned and boxed, to help keep their pantry stocked.
“We have an amazing community here in Delta County that does donate on a very regular basis,” Ray said. “But if someone cannot donate food, monetary donations, even if it’s just $5, can really be stretched out to four meals for a family.”
The Gladstone St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry has been receiving small, yet daily, food donations since the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Foot traffic at the Gladstone location, however, has been limited, with roughly 10 people seeking services a week in comparison to the 10 people per day before the pandemic.
“With food donations, we have our regular drives, which bring in a lot of food at a time,” Mary Knoch, volunteer at the Gladstone St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, said. “We aren’t getting a whole lot of people coming in, which is odd, but many are still receiving extra aid from the state.”
The Gladstone food pantry, located at 816 Delta Ave., assists individuals with needs beyond that of food. Those struggling to pay utility bills, rent, or need gas money for appointments can request assistance from the food pantry’s service office.
“If someone has a doctor’s appointment down in Green Bay, we will give them a gas card so they can get to their appointment and back,” Knoch said. “Especially now since the price of gas has gotten so high, we have had to give people more, almost twice as much, so they can get where they are going.”
The Gladstone St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry has shifted their current needs to focus on what individuals cannot purchase with their Michigan Bridge Cards. These items include toilet paper, deodorant, tissues, and shampoo. Cooking spices like salt, pepper, and onion powder are being requested as well. The Gladstone food pantry is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
“Escanaba is a really special community. If I have something big in bulk that I know I can’t use I will give it to the Salvation Army, because they can use it for all of their meals,” Van Ermen said. “We just share and compliment each other. It is really unique.”