Our Savior Food Bank in a Pandemic

What’s been happening at the Food Bank lately?

This is a question we hear from people who know that the Our Savior Food Bank provides food assistance through the Greater Lansing Food Bank to hundreds of families in the South Lansing area. Thankfully, by God’s grace, the Food Bank continues to serve people with food, household supplies, gently used clothing, and smiles and hugs that radiate God’s grace and goodness.

A young woman came to the food bank the other day with a baby and small child. She was on her own after fleeing a violent husband who was abusing her and the children. As she was being helped by the Food Bank volunteers, she asked if they had any diapers. She stated that if Social Services found out her baby didn’t have any diapers, she feared they would take the children away from her, and she began to sob. Director Sharon Miller asked the woman if she was willing to come around the corner, which she was. Members at Our Savior had given Sharon some Kroger gift cards, and said, “Give these to the people you think are the most in need.” Sharon gave the $50 Kroger gift card to the young mother and said, “Here, go and use this to buy some diapers. We’ll makes sure you have enough groceries. In fact, you can come twice a week instead of once a month, and we’ll take care of you.” The mom began to sob again, this time tears of joy. The little child with her looked up at Sharon and said, “I’m hungry.” Sharon had to hold it together as she helped this family get the food they needed.

The Our Savior Food Bank has been supporting the food-insecure population of south Lansing since the mid-1990’s. It is located in the former OSL parsonage, where our first pastor, Pastor Bickel, and his wife Dorothy raised seven children, on the property at our former location on Holmes Road, just west of MLK. When Our Savior Lutheran Church and School relocated to Delta Township in 2008, the Food Bank was an important connection to our old neighborhoods.

Food Bank Director Sharon Miller coordinates over a dozen volunteers who work to organize and sort donations and process food orders from the clients served by the Food Bank. These clients come to us through the Greater Lansing Food Bank, which provides deliveries of food at discount prices and serves as a clearing house for requests. While our Food Bank needs to follow the rules and policies of the Greater Lansing Food Bank, we are still able to bring our own unique blessings to this ministry. Government-issued food stamps can only be used for food – things consumed by mouth – and do not cover any hygiene products or cleaning supplies that we often pick up at the grocery store in addition to our food. Our Food Bank offers a number of “extra items” in addition to groceries, including health and cleaning products, gently used clothing, frozen meat, and school supplies.

Not only does the Food Bank serve general clients through the Greater Lansing Food Bank, but there are special segments of the population that we particularly are there for. Our Food Bank is known by the Department of Veterans Affairs as having a special interest in assisting veterans, and so we get a number of them who have fallen on hard times. The Department of Mental Health utilizes our food bank, and often the case workers themselves come to shop on behalf of their clients, who are too unstable or violent to come to the Food Bank in person. These case workers express their appreciation for our Food Bank, the volunteers, and how this is a blessing to the people they serve. Another special group is parolees, who are often turned down by other Food Banks. Our Food Bank has welcomed them and helped them get on their feet.

Prior to the pandemic, the Food Bank was one of the largest in Ingham County, serving nearly 100 families a week (30-35 families 3x a week), almost 10,000 people a year. The reputation of the Food Bank was that it went the extra mile to get people the help they needed, with a loving and caring group of volunteers who work there.

During the shut-down in 2020, the Food Bank was also closed for several months. This weighed heavy on the hearts of the volunteers who knew the families they served and their needs. A number of mobile food pantries popped up to serve the community, and additional government assistance helped fill in some of the gaps. A lot of decisions had to be made when the Food Bank reopened in August 2020. How should the procedures and facility be modified? Which volunteers were healthy and confident of returning? What health protocols should be in place? The volunteers were willing to make it all work. Gary Kandler built a Plexiglas window at the service counter and framed it in. New procedures and protocols had to be learned and adapted. With mobile food pantries also serving the area, the Food Bank clients dwindled, and when they reopened they were open only two days a week, by appointment only, with the volunteers who were able and willing to return.

In the past year, the process for coming to the Food Bank has been streamlined and improved, and while several area food banks closed due to lack of participation, things are starting to pick up at the Our Savior Food Bank again. They are still open twice a day, but now serving up to 19 families a day. Sharon Miller says that while the worst cases tended to be the elderly in the past, now they see people of all ages who are in desperate need. People who were hunkered down during the pandemic in miserable conditions are now starting to reach out for help. The Food Bank is there to assist them.

Several people from the community have dropped off donations to the Food Bank, often unannounced and unaffiliated with Our Savior. A random gentleman from the neighborhoods recently came to the door and gave the volunteers $55 and said, “Here, give this to someone who could really use it.” He trusted the Our Savior Food Bank to help the people who needed it the most.

We pray that our Food Bank can continue to be a blessing to the community, especially through the pandemic. We anticipate numbers slowly but steadily increasing, and at some point we may need to go back to being open three days a week. The possibility lies in the future of expanding the services provided there, such as ELS classes, life improvement skills, and spiritual care of some kind.

For those who have fallen on hard times, and are in need of grace, they find that and so much more through the smiles, encouragement, and extra items at the Our Savior Food Bank.