COVID-19 worsens Michigan's growing food insecurity problem

For Metro Detroit families struggling with food insecurity, COVID-19 made a bad problem much worse.

"When I lost my second job and realized that I didn’t have any income right away, I started researching available local resources and I found CARES," Katherine May said.

May, a single mother who lost both her full-time and part-time job due to the pandemic, found herself in the impossible situation of deciding where to put what little money she had. Like so many other residents, she turned to food banks.

Food pantries, such as CARES in Farmington Hills, have worked to fill the impossibly-large void that poverty has left in Michigan.

"It helps with the kids and whatnot - the milk, the snacks, and whatever," Kathryn Brown, another client of CARES said. "I appreciate what they do."

And what they do has taken on an entirely new meaning after the need for more food spiked during the onset of the pandemic. Before COVID, the food bank served about 400 families.

Now, more than 500 people receive food assistance.

"We have grown immensely since Covid," said Kitty Ostach, who works for CARES.

While concerns of not enough food hit everyone at once, Ostach also said they are servicing a whole new breadth of people who have never been in the position before.

"We have had guests that have never been in this situation," she said. "They just lost their job and they have to come to a food pantry."

So has the need for all food banks in the area. Gleaners Food Bank, which services Metro Detroit and assists with food insecurity, has ramped up distribution from 3.5-4 million pounds of food each month to seven.

Along with the increase is the rising number of Michigan residents who live in poverty, a metric that's climbed to the hundreds of thousands. At least one in five children lives in poverty.

Efforts to reduce the number of people that live poor were bolstered last year when the state formed a poverty task force to address the numerous needs. That's why CARES added a Busche's Market to its food pantry location. When people shop there, the proceeds go to the food pantry.

For May, it was a strange new world to enter. 

"It's the first time I ever came to a food bank, I didn't quite know what to expect," she said. 

After Katherine May lost her second job during the pandemic, she found herself at a food pantry for the first time ever

May has channeled her energies toward starting her own bath and beauty product business, called Candy Bar Beauty. She said she has also appreciated seeing people come together to help others during difficult times. 

"I'm super grateful to see it and be part of it," May said. "It's just really exciting to see all the hands of help that come together in different ways to support and provide help for the local community."

Learn more about CARES in Farmington Hills here.