By SAMUEL BLATCHFORD
Capital News Service
LANSING – Additional federal food assistance for low-income people that recently ended has led to increased demand for help from food banks and pantries.
The cuts were to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotments which were a temporary strategy to help low-income families overcome COVID-19 hardships. The allotments to the program popularly known as SNAP, expired at the end of February.
Since then, the First Presbyterian Church Food Pantry, a satellite of the Greater Lansing Food Bank, has seen increased demand for food, said Marna Wilson, an Okemos volunteer at the pantry, which is open four days a week.
“It’s pretty common that we are feeding 20 families a day,” Wilson said. “We are feeding a lot of people from all over the city.”
The pantry has handled the surge with an arrangement with a local grocery store to take any food that would otherwise go in the dumpster for free.
The South Michigan Food Bank in Battle Creek, has seen a similar surge in demand, said chief operating officer Brittney Fletcher. The food bank has over 300 agencies that serve Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Jackson, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties.
“Some of our sites have almost doubled in the number of households that need food,” Fletcher said
And inflation doesn’t help.
“The money that families have available to purchase food doesn’t go as far at the grocery store as it used to,” she said.
Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan has run into similar problems.
The Detroit organization serves Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston and Monroe counties. The food bank also supports a partner network of over 400 soup kitchens, schools and shelters.
Pressure to distribute more food was increasing even before the expiration of the COVID-19-related benefits.
“We’re seeing increases in requests for support across our partner network and direct-service operations since spring of last year, even without the added impact of conclusion of expanded SNAP benefits,” said Kristin Sokul, director of advanced communications, marketing and pr/media.
From January 2022 through January 2023 there was a 40% increase in guests coming to mobile distribution centers, she said.
Since the conclusion of expanded SNAP benefits, Gleaners’ community mobile distribution centers saw an 11% increase in the average meal packages distributed from February 2023 to March 2023, she said.
The agency had to strengthen partnerships across the food industry, taking advantage of efficiencies to reduce expenses by collaborating, Sokul said.
“Gleaners had to be creative, innovative and versatile in how we continue to serve the community,” Sokul said.