Food pantries normally see an increase in client numbers as the weather gets colder. Winter means seasonal layoffs, higher heating bills, more car trouble, and uncertain holidays for many people struggling to make ends meet.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic’s continued presence and sudden worsening in Northern Michigan has added another layer to these problems, and Manna has immediately seen the effects. This past Tuesday, we served over 100 households at our on-site food pantry in Harbor Springs—about a 60 percent increase from the Tuesday before.

Drive Through

Starting at 9 a.m., I registered each family as they came through, one after the other, in a line that extended far out into the McBride Park cul de sac and didn’t shrink until quarter to noon. Donning a mask and plenty of hand sanitizer, I talked to each person as they arrived through the window of our new outdoor kiosk, meant to shelter volunteers or staff like me from the unforgiving winter weather.

Some people had never been to Manna before, or were new to the area. Others hadn’t needed food assistance for years, just had a baby, or were sheltering in place with extended family. Several people picked up for a friend or family member in quarantine. As I wrote down names and addresses—the only information we need to know—I heard their stories, if they chose to share them with me.

The problem of a national crisis, like a pandemic, is that it does not just have one cause and one effect. Yes, one effect of the virus is the hospitalization of hundreds of people in Northern Michigan, but even that snowballs.

Suddenly, emergency rooms aren’t able to treat heart attack or accident victims anymore, meaning people unable to receive help have their conditions worsen or take their lives.

Suddenly, you can’t carpool with your coworkers anymore, and your ride to work is eliminated.

Suddenly, your dog walking business tanks because everyone is home with their pets, and sales from your retail store drop because few people want to venture into small stores anymore.

Suddenly, your three kids are studying from home for the semester, and, since you can’t afford a babysitter every day, you’re forced to quit your job. And now you also have to cook double the food each day, compared to when the kids received free breakfast and lunch in school.

All of these situations can immediately put someone at increased risk of food insecurity. And all are true stories for somebody, somewhere.

Jessyca Stoepker | November 20, 2020