Cars lined up for food pantry

Cars lined up as far as the eye can see. One person after another with the same need

Cars lined up as far as the eye can see. One person after another with the same need.

The food giveaways in mid-Michigan, and across the nation, remind Roberta Winters of her past.

"I've been low income for a long time and I can remember standing in the Salvation Army line and a woman, and this was in the winter in snow, she had flip flops on in front of me," Winters said. "So I know there's a need out there."

The Bay City resident lives with one of her sons, his wife, and three kids in a food desert.

"It's basically defined as an area where there's no access to fresh, healthy, affordable food and more than 20 percent of the neighborhood of that food desert falls below the poverty line," said Laurie Solotorow, senior program officer at the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Solotorow said the Tri-City area has more food deserts than you might think.

"In a food desert, there is food. It's not that there's just nothing, but often times it's not healthy, right," Solotorow said. "There's McDonalds, there's Kentucky Fried Chicken, there's others. There's things to purchase. There's food to be purchased, but it's not always healthy and it's not always affordable."

Affordability is the main issue for Winters. Her nearest affordable, healthy option is Walmart, which is five miles away.

"For the most part, we can get there," Winters said. "But it's not always being able to purchase."

Food pantries, like the Caring Closet, can help address some of those issues. It's on the corner of Mackinaw and Kochville Roads on the edge of Freeland, filling in what used to be a food desert. However, for many of its visitors who don't have access to transportation, or even on a bad snow day, the closet becomes a lot less accessible.

If you can make it to the Caring Closet, Anita Collins, its director, will be waiting for you.

"Before COVID, our numbers were usually about a little under 100 people each time we opened," Collins said. "Once we closed, we ended up opening in September, and then that's when our numbers just doubled."

For example, a food giveaway hosted by the closet with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in November drew hundreds of cars. Dozens were turned away.

"I think that with families on a limited income like that, food can become such a big part of their budget. So if they don't have a lot of money, those are the areas where they're going to be. That's what's going to hurt them first," Collins said. "Not clothing or anything else, but it's food. And especially if they have children."

As it turns out, Winters had been going to the Community Christian Reformed Church, which is now connected to the Caring Closet, for decades. So the introduction of the pantry was huge.

"It's helped me out in a number of ways. Recently I got a warm blanket," Winters said. "The food is very helpful, it fills in. Especially the fresh vegetables that we get."

Now, she's on the board of the closet, helping the team help people like her.

Copyright 2021 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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