TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – You don’t have to look around much to see the lines of cars at food pantries across the country and hear the stories of people having to choose between paying for gas or paying for rent or their prescriptions.

Michigan is not immune to the hardships striking American families. Even with governmental assistance through the SNAP program which puts money for food on a Michigan Bridge card once a month, that help is not often enough.

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Leelanau County in Michigan has the largest affordability gap in the entire nation. That is the gap between the money handed out by SNAP and the actual cost of a meal. In 2020, in Leelanau County, the average meal was estimated to be around $6.16 which was 68% more than SNAP was covering.

That was before the wild inflation that has hit us all.

But food isn’t the only thing that’s needed during these hard economic times. The non-profit Leelanau Christian Neighbors isn’t just trying to fill that gap in food costs. They have five different programs that assist their county residents who need help. Besides the food pantry, they have a baby pantry; Blessings in a Backpack, where elementary children and high schoolers receive kits of food and hygiene products; Neighborhood Assistance Ministry (NAM) which provides financial assistance for things like utility bills or a new furnace; Samaritans’ Closet, a retail shop selling items donated by the community; and the newer Affordable Housing Fund.

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Gleaners Community Food Bank in Southeastern Michigan is also struggling to meet the needs of their community. They work with a network of about 600 partners that includes soup kitchens, schools, food pantries and shelters in the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe and Livingston. Demand for their services increased 40% in March of this year and President and CEO Gerry Brisson says people outnumber the food in store.

A recent New York Times article reports that Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in the United States, says that 65% of their members surveyed reported an increase from May to June in the number of people served as well as cash donations being down. Pantries are spending more on the food they buy, the fuel to pick up donations and higher labor costs.

In an effort to help food pantries in Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Cross Complete of Michigan and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan started a program that will allow Michigan food pantries to apply for a grant which gives them access to dairy, fruit and vegetables. This grant provides matching funds when they buy dairy items and they can also apply for money for infrastructure to safely store and transport dairy products and fresh produce.

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In early 2022, the Food Security Council reported that Michigan’s food insecurity remained a persistent problem. Their report showed that in 2019, there were about 1.3 million Michiganders facing food insecurity.