LANSING – Doors open, and they stream into the Tabernacle of David Church.
They are poor. They have been hungry. And they are toting clothes hampers and cardboard boxes. They are pushing wheeled carts, hoping to fill their containers with fresh food, the kind that removes hunger’s edge and leaves them feeling sated.
They exceed the sum of seats. They stand against walls, waiting to hear a range of numbers that includes the one written on the orange ticket they’ve been given.
Organizers make their announcements and lead the crowd in prayer before a couple of 35 years are told they can line up to return outdoors. Outside the church, they can select wholesome free foods that the employed and more fortunate thrive on.
Darwin Colby and Donna Loveall, both 57, have lived in a car together and wandered the streets as homeless people. On this recent Saturday, they departed from their south Lansing apartments around 5:30 a.m. so they could meet up and walk to the tabernacle.
They were first in line. In less than a half hour, their containers are stacked with edibles: Pizza, pork, cereal and cake. A friend pokes at the pork , and Loveall playfully slaps at his hand.
“This will probably last, hopefully, about two weeks,” she said, noting there are seven living in her residence. “The pizza will be gone today.”
The city’s inaugural mobile food pantry of 2013 was held Jan. 19. Joan Jackson Johnson, director of Lansing’s Human Relations and Community Services Department, estimated the event fed more than 600 households – or more than 4,000 individuals.
A joint effort with the Greater Lansing Food Bank, the mobile food pantry debuted in 2007. It has become an integral part of the support system established for Lansing’s hungry.
Jackson Johnson said the event that once drew 300 households began feeding 600 households in August. Approximately 37,000 pounds of food are laid out wherever the mobile food pantry appears with its frozen meats, fresh vegetables and other treats.
Sometimes there is not enough. The food runs out before the last numbers are called. The mobile food pantry does not reappear until the next third Saturday of the month.
Michigan had 1.9 million food insecure residents, with approximately 25 percent of Michigan’s children living in food insecure households, in 2010, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project. The same database reports that nearly two in 10 children are food insecure throughout the Tri-County area.
The Jan. 19 crowd was replete with individuals not too proud to take the free food. They were new to town, unemployed and dependent on food stamps and soup kitchens.
Alexander and Schnika McKissic hesitated when considering whether to bring their children along. They did.
“This is a real issue,” Schnika McKissic said. “Why hide it from them? There are available resources.”
Mobile food pantries cost the city about $5,000 a month, Jackson Johnson said. The pending budget cuts of approximately $10 million for the next fiscal year threaten the support system, she confirmed.
“What they’re really giving is hope,” said 80-year-old Holly Richmond, an East Lansing resident packing up her vehicle at the January event. She looked forward to returning home. A carrot cake was amid her free groceries.
“They’re treated with respect,” she said of the mobile food pantry’s patrons. “You end up feeling like family. You don’t feel like you’re having to get down on your knees (for food).”
Lansing’s mobile food pantry next stops at the South Church of Nazarene, 401 W. Holmes Road, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16.
If you’re hungry or needy, dial 2-1-1 or visit http://www.greaterlansingfoodbank.org. For more information about the mobile food pantry, call (517) 483-4477.