ESCANABA — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, donations to local grocery stores have declined. Due to the limited availability of essentials such as toilet paper, sugar, and yeast in grocery stores at the time, many members of the community were unable to purchase additional supplies for those in need. While cash donations have held up over time, food pantries have only recently seen a comeback in terms of food donations. This rise, however, may not be long-lived as food prices are expected to rise well above the annual average in the coming weeks.
“Food donation is slower now, and during the pandemic it was slower because people had a higher need for food in their own homes.” Barbara Van Ermen, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Pantry in Escanaba. “Food shopping has recently become more controlled. I mean, this morning I went to buy some stuff and a lot of the shelves were empty.”
Delta County is home to many food banks, including the Escanaba Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Food Depots in both Escanaba and Gladstone. In order to provide free food, goods and various services to those in need, these organizations rely on donations to operate effectively.
“Everyone has suffered from inflation. Stores today find it difficult to fill the shelves because they are unable to meet demand, and manufacturing plants are also unable to keep up with it. Van Ermen said. “We all need to share this situation. But especially here, we just want to be of service to everyone.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the consumer price index (CPI) for food purchases at home rose by 1.3 percent between March and April 2022. The CPI is used to measure the economy-wide inflation rate in the United States. Takeaway food purchases, which account for all food purchases at grocery stores in the United States, are 10.8% higher than a year ago. The US Department of Agriculture predicts that home food prices will rise by more than seven percent in 2022.
“Due to inflation, people, especially those in need, have to pay more for food. But the need is currently greater than the ability to pay. Van Ermen said. “So we’re trying to give people a choice when they come to Saint Vincent de Paul.”
Food pantry Vincent de Paul Escanaba, 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 operates a food pantry service through a gift bag service, each bag ranging from $5 to $20. All funds raised through these two programs are used to purchase food and hygiene products for the pantry.
“I encourage people, if they are making a donation, to use the gift giving service at Meijer or Elmer’s. They help us.” Van Ermen said. “It’s so special. Even if it’s a $5 donation, it all goes to help our cause.”
The food pantry is working to provide those in need with everything they need for the kitchen and pantry. For those who wish to donate, items needed include canned ravioli, spaghetti and fruit, as well as ramen noodles and applesauce. Food Pantry Escanaba St. Vincent de Paul is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10:00 to 13:45.
Escanaba’s Salvation Army has experienced the same pattern as Escanaba St. Vincent de Paul, the number of those in need of the organization’s services has increased significantly in the recent past. Jamie Ray, Escanaba’s Salvation Army curator, attributed the change to the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and government-managed financial aid.
“We have a lot of new clients or clients who haven’t needed services in a few years are starting to come back and ask for our services,” This was announced by Jamie Ray, curator of the Escanaba Salvation Army. “Supplemental aid, food aid and stimulus checks are coming to an end and people are still having a hard time finding jobs.”
In addition to pantry hours, which are open from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm and from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm on Mondays and Thursdays, The Salvation Army is unique in offering dining services throughout the week. Ready meals are available on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.
With a recent influx of customers, The Salvation Army is in need of haberdashery, both canned and boxed, to keep stock in its pantry.
“Here in Delta County we have an amazing community that donates on a very regular basis.” Ray said. “But if someone can’t donate food, cash donations, even if it’s only $5, can really be spread over four meals a day for a family.”
Gladstone St. Food Pantry Vincent de Paul is also receiving small but daily food donations since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, foot traffic in Gladstone has been limited, with approximately 10 people accessing services per week, compared to 10 people per day before the pandemic.
“Thanks to food donations, we have regular trips that bring a lot of food at a time,” Mary Knoch, volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Gladstone said. “We don’t have many people coming in, which is strange, but many still get extra help from the state.”
Gladstone Food Pantry, located at 816 Delta Ave., helps people who need more than just food. Those who are struggling to pay their utility bills, rent, or need gas money for meetings can contact the food pantry service office for help.
“If someone in Green Bay has a doctor’s appointment, we will give them a gas station card so they can get to the appointment and back.” Knoch said. “Especially now that the price of gas has become so high, we have had to give people more, almost twice as much, so they can get where they are going.”
Gladstone St. Food Pantry Vincent de Paul has shifted her current needs to focus on what people can’t purchase with Michigan Bridge cards. These items include toilet paper, deodorant, tissues and shampoo. Cooking spices such as salt, pepper, and onion powder are also required. The Gladstone Food Pantry is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11:00 am to 1:45 pm.
“Escanaba is a really special community. If I have something big and I know I can’t use it, I’ll give it to The Salvation Army because they can use it for all their meals.” Van Ermen said. “We just share and complement each other. It’s really unique.”