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Some mid-Michigan food pantries struggle to keep up with demand following end of COVID-era benefits

Two people hold a box of red Roma tomatoes. One of them is grabbing tomatoes and putting them in a red mesh bag.
Greater Lansing Food Bank
Volunteers at the Greater Lansing Food Bank package tomatoes to distribute at a mobile food distribution event.

Some mid-Michigan food banks are struggling to keep up with demand. That’s after federal emergency food assistance that kicked in during the pandemic ended earlier this year.

Nearly three years ago, Congress enacted emergency legislation expanding cash payments for food stamp recipients.

More than 1 million Michiganders benefited from the additional dollars they received in food stamp benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

March has been the first month many of these families have gone without that extra help. Greater Lansing Food Bank CEO Michelle Lantz says during last weekend’s food distribution day, the pantry completely ran out of food. The Greater Lansing Food Bank distributes food to pantries and organizations across mid-Michigan.

“We anticipated and planned for about 10% more households than the prior month and we actually ran out of food for those who were in line because we had more than that that actually came to the distribution,” she said.

Lantz attributes the increase to inflation, the cut in benefits and issues with the food supply chain.

The food bank used to receive 30% of its food from the Unites States Department of Agriculture, but due to shortages, that number has dwindled down to 17%.

“In addition to what we normally would purchase, we're making up that balance as well,” Lantz said. “So we really are trying to fundraise more than we almost ever have had to before.”

With the cut in benefits, a four-person household with a net income of $1,700 per month could see a cut in food stamp benefits of more than $500 dollars. Compared to last year, the food bank is seeing about a 20% increase in demand. Lantz says they used to see a majority of five to six individuals per household but now families are doubling up due to increases in cost of living.

“Nowadays, we are seeing a lot of grandparents or extended family members who are caring for more children, or there are multiple households moving in together,” she said. “Now when households come to a mobile food distribution, they are sharing with us that their household size is closer to nine or 10.”

According to a 2022 study, the COVID era boosts may have helped keep more than 4 million people just above the poverty line. The reduction in poverty rates was highest in Black and Latino households.

“We know that families, specifically parents, will sacrifice food themselves so that their children can have something to eat and so that's what’s happening a lot.” Lantz said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity visit the Greater Lansing Food Bank’s website to find a pantry in your community.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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