typical Food Pantry/Clothes Closet clients:
One of the regular clients I see for emergency food at the Rochester Area Neighborhood House (RANH) is *Bill*. He’s legally deaf, so I to tap him on the shoulder in the waiting room before I bring him back for food intake. He can read lips if you speak slowly, and he speaks well. Today he limps; his arthritis was acting up. Bill gets about $900 from Social Security and $73 from DHS for food a month, but DHS recently cut his amount to $70 because they claimed his rent didn’t increase this year. Actually, his rent did increase but DHS doesn’t know it. Obviously it’s hard for Bill to communicate with them on the phone. I don’t know how he manages.
I can see he’s in pain today. I almost hate to tell him he needs to bring in updated paperwork with his 2018 SS and DHS statements at his next visit. I write him a note. His brows scrunch together and he glances toward his file. I show him the copies we have for 2017, and point to “2018?” on my note. He nods, understanding. Before he leaves for the food pantry, we talk a little about arthritis treatments; he isn’t a complainer. He says he’ll get his paperwork back to me. An hour later, he brings us copies of what we need.
Last fall, I had a grown man sit across the table from me and cry. All he wanted was a winter coat. I suggested he visit the food pantry, too,but he admitted he had no place to store food. He was homeless. He’d been evicted the day before (they woke him at 8 am and carted all his stuff out, which is when he got teary, talking about all they broke). He used what money he had to take what he could to a storage facility, which was where he spent the night, “even though you aren’t supposed to.” It was cold. This was why he wanted a coat. I asked how he gets around: he rode a bike. Oh, and he resumed chemo treatments the next day.
Neighbors in need
Some of the other clients I see who seek help from the Food Pantry at RANH include
- A man in his twenties who works in a local pizza place. He manages to earn just enough that the government cut him from Medicaid, but can’t afford health insurance. I almost fell out of my chair when he told me he has blood clots, and held up his swollen leg. He looked scared.
- A woman starting over in life after fleeing from her home state to Michigan because of a domestic violence issue.
- A father raising seven children (ages 17 to 5) on his own. He is out of work because of a horrific car accident a year ago that left him disabled. Everything he says to me is “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am,” and “Thank you, ma’am.” He’s grateful he at least has a home with his brother. I signed his children up for the Blast Off 2 School program.
- A lonely, 87 year-old, legally blind woman with white curls, scraping to make ends meet on SS. She’s approved for home delivery of food, but comes in to socialize when she can get a ride.
- A family with a one month old baby and two other children. The mother had a rough pregnancy and couldn’t work, and now they have massive medical bills. I was able to give them a baby layette, diapers and a Pack ‘n Play in addition to the food support they needed. The mother asked how she can give back to us once they’re on their feet again.
- A retired elderly couple who are caretakers of two young (boisterous) grandchildren. I don’t ask about the parents. The grandfather was just diagnosed with cancer, and they’re facing eviction.
- A family of four whose husband, the sole breadwinner, was taken by ICE. She has no idea where he is.
- A woman who suffered a closed head injury in a car accident 5 years ago. Since then, she’s had two brain aneurysms, 3 concussions from falls, and open heart surgery. I cannot imagine her medical bills.
Misconception about need
Because Oakland County, Michigan is considered wealthy and has relatively low unemployment, there’s a misconception that people aren’t in dire need. You might be surprised to learn how many of your neighbors are living paycheck to paycheck. Some of them may be employed, but in low-paying jobs. Here are the poverty statistics for the RANH service area:
- Addison Township 23%
- Auburn Hills 43%
- Oakland Township 14%
- Rochester 28%
- Rochester Hills 24%
Our clients are Caucasian, African American, Asian, Hispanic and Arabic, and range in age from eighteen to ninety. They live on the edge of sustainability even though they may have housing and/or are employed. They typically have no assets. A medical emergency, such as cancer, a death in the family, divorce, a layoff, an auto accident or a car breakdown can devastate them. They lose their their jobs, end up evicted, struggle to pay bills and go without food. The number of homeless clients has spiked this year. Affordable subsidized housing is becoming unaffordable. Health costs are rising. Food costs are rising.
The Food Pantry is only one piece of the many wrap-around services that this nonprofit human service organization offers. RANH also provides clothing through our Clothes Closet, rent and utility assistance, counseling, transportation, and educational and parenting classes. Our mission is to help our clients reach sustainability.
Please learn more about the RANH, our Food Pantry, Clothes Closet and the ways you can make a difference. Your neighbors may be counting on you.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell her truth without shame.
2017 New Apple Book Awards Official Selection
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters