It’s a conversation with Roy that sticks in Lisa Church’s mind, that compels her to keep helping senior citizens even now that he is gone.
Church was visiting Roy, delivering a Senior Grocery Box from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to his home, when the 40-year Coast Guard veteran living with diabetes explained how it was too expensive for him to buy hand sanitizer needed to clean his skin before checking his blood sugar levels.
“I went to deliver the grocery box and we were sitting there talking and he was saying how astounded he was when he went to the pharmacy for a bottle of hand sanitizer and found that it cost almost $5,” said Church, owner of Alternative Elderly Care, a home health care service that works with the Food Bank to distribute the grocery boxes. “He couldn’t believe it.
“I probably have $5 in change sitting in my purse. Five dollars doesn’t mean a lot to me, but it means everything to these seniors.”
Roy has passed away, but his plight lives on in the challenging financial situations faced by many older people throughout Michigan. Between housing rent, utility bills and medications, it’s difficult for many seniors to find money for one of the most basic human needs: food.
“Every little bit helps,” Church said. “Most of the individuals in our program have an income level of under $1,000 a month, and that’s expected to be able to pay their bills (including rent).
“We’ve delivered to homes that don’t have heat, don’t have appliances. These individuals don’t have access to a vehicle, they don’t have the option to go to soup kitchens or food pantries, and they definitely can’t afford the grocery delivery services that are popping up. A lot of them don’t have families to step up and help, either. For some of them, the box is all they have.”
The Food Bank’s Senior Grocery Box program involves hundreds of local agencies such as Alternative Elderly Care that deliver the food to seniors each month. The 50-pound boxes contain many non-perishable staples of a healthy diet including cereals, canned goods, beans, rice, soup, dehydrated milk, pancake mix, snacks, cookies and seasonal fresh produce as well as household hygiene items such as toilet paper, deodorant, shampoo, soap and toothpaste.
The Food Bank each year serves more than 331,000 people across a 22-county area from Flint north to the Mackinac Bridge through a variety of programs. In 2017, those programs distributed 28 million pounds of food, including 11 million pounds of fresh produce.
The need for Food Bank services is great throughout Michigan, where 1.4 million people live in poverty including 9 percent of residents age 65 and up, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate is even higher in the areas served by the Food Bank: Bay County, 15 percent; Saginaw County, 17 percent; Genesee County, 18 percent; Flint, 39 percent.
The need tends to increase in the winter, when utility costs typically rise. Natural gas bills are expected to increase by 5 percent this heating season due to higher prices, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s about $30 more, on average, than last winter.
For $200 per year — less than $5 per week — a grocery box from the Food Bank can ease financial stress for seniors and give them the food they need without requiring them to choose between medicine, heat or lights. Please donate now.
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