Food insecurity is a prevalent problem found in all mid-Michigan communities. In 2020, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan said the area's food insecurity rate spiked from 14 to 40 percent.
Residents are returning to food drives more often or for the first-time ever. Trying to find food while paying your bills in the middle of winter and a pandemic is adding stress to families.
“Time you pay your bills, we got nothing left,” said Theresa Colangelo, Saginaw County resident.
The stress is especially felt by Colangelo, who frequents food drives for her family. She's a mother of two, and wife to a veteran amputee.
“I can’t work because I’m like disabled, but then also my husband is an amputee so I have to help him out,” Colangelo said.
Colangelo and her family get one check a month: her husband's disability check. Colangelo said it covers their rent and utilities. As for food, Colangelo visits up to three different food drives a week, just to get by.
“I have to feed my family so I sacrifice myself to come out here and sometimes spend the night all night,” she said.
At times, Colangelo will spend up to 15 hours waiting in her car, just so she has the best food options at food distribution events.
“It helps me all the time,” she said, reflecting on food drives' role in her life.
The stress felt by Colangelo, is also shared with Pablo Cruz, another Saginaw County resident.
“I don’t grab everything, I just grab stuff that I need,” Cruz said.
Cruz also goes to great lengths in order to get food. Cruz is a single dad of four and gets assistance checks twice a month. Cruz said the money goes towards his rent, utilities, and child support. He does not have enough left over for a trip to the grocery store.
“It’s been a big struggle, not working or collecting any money. That’s why I come here. It helps me out a lot,” Cruz said.
He knows the important role these food drives play in his life. He shows up early too, but not to wait, he would rather volunteer.
“I come here early all the time. When I come, I help out knowing they’re helping me out,” he said.
In these long food drive lines, you'll also find people like Sue Plessner.
“I know people from church who are trying to make ends meet and can’t seem to sometimes, so they appreciate the help,” she said.
Plessner has been enjoying six years of retirement from working in the emergency room. She's now found a purpose coming to food drives. You'll find her in line at least once a week.
“I mean, I use it but I also try to get some for other people,” she said.
Plessner will wait an hour, sometimes more, in line. She will get food for herself and nearly half a dozen other families, who'd rather not go to a grocery store during a pandemic, or just physically can't.
“Definitely saves a lot of money, time, effort. I have time because I’m retired. So if I wait in a line, I’m just fine," Plessner said.
Relief partners scurry to alleviate some of the pain and uncertainty these families face. Jerry Thomas leads the Saturday soup kitchen at Old Town Christian Outreach Center in Saginaw.
“Usually the people that come through here need the food. This doesn’t feed them through the week, this helps them through the week,” Thomas said.
For Colangelo and Cruz - and plenty of others - that couldn't be a truer statement.
“A big difference, a real big difference. Helps out a lot,” Cruz said.
“I have to like support my family the best I know I can do," Colangelo said. “I just hope my kids realize all the stuff I go through just to help my family."