#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti area nonprofits seeing impact of inflation on their clients
Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsi nonprofits step up efforts to address rising food insecurity
Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran. And this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community, and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi, in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, our focus is on an effort by Ypsilanti area nonprofits to step up as inflation impacts the ability for many to afford groceries. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on the local plans for addressing this growing problem of food insecurity. Rylee, thanks so much for being with us.
Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy
Cathy Shafran: So, what can you tell me about this Concentrate Media article written by your colleague, Sarah Rigg?
Rylee Barnsdale: So, if you've gone grocery shopping recently, I'm sure that you've noticed that your maybe weekly trip costs have gone up exponentially. I know personally. I'm only shopping for two people, but it's gone up way more than you think it would. And for folks that were already experiencing some issues in being able to pay for groceries for themselves and their families, getting dinner on the table is even more difficult given those rising prices. But, thankfully, in Ypsi, in the Ypsi community, we've got a lot of nonprofits with food pantries, as well as hot meal services that are trying to alleviate some of those issues and make sure folks in our community are getting fed.
Cathy Shafran: I know that Sarah focused on a couple of different facilities that are trying to meet the need. Do you know which ones we're talking about?
Rylee Barnsdale: Yes. So, there is the Swoop's Food Pantry here on Eastern's campus, which is available to the community, as well as to Eastern students who may be experiencing food insecurity. There is also the food pantry at the Hope Clinic, as well SOS Community Services, which is a local nonprofit. And all of these groups are seeing an increased need in the community for fresh food, hot meals, things of that nature, not only due to the cost increase, but also the ending of some assistance programs that were brought about due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cathy Shafran: So, basically, COVID-19 was supporting them financially for their critical needs. And as the pandemic was declared no longer a pandemic, now it's an endemic, the emergency assistance was withdrawn. And so, now these people are experiencing this double whammy of both inflation and no longer having an emergency assistance.
Rylee Barnsdale: That's right. Not only is it folks that are having difficulties providing food for themselves and their families, but these nonprofits are also in need of a little bit of extra assistance due to that increased need in the form of either donations or volunteers.
Cathy Shafran: So, it's a critical need both for the people who need assistance and for those providing them.
Rylee Barnsdale: That's right.
Cathy Shafran: And that is the focus of the article.
Rylee Barnsdale: Yep. And that's what Sarah covered this week in Concentrate Media
Cathy Shafran: Also in the report, in Concentrate Media this week, Sarah Rigg talked extensively with Andrea Kelly. She's a grad assistant in charge of Swoop's Food pantry on Eastern Michigan's campus. Andrea is joining us by phone now. Thanks for being with us.
Andrea Kelly: Thanks for having me.
Cathy Shafran: You know, Andrea, I understand that you've only been in this position at Swoop's for about a year now, but I'm just wondering. In that year, are you already seeing a difference? Are you seeing an increased need?
Andrea Kelly: Yeah, we have seen a huge increase just within the year that I've been here.
Cathy Shafran: What's it looking like?
Andrea Kelly: We have about three times as many shoppers as we had a year ago. Pulling out some statistics. So, April 2022, we had 443 total shopper visits in that month. And then, this past April, we had 1198 total shopper visits. And, in April 2022, we distributed 5,579 pounds of food. And, in April 2023, we distributed 17,182 pounds of food.
Cathy Shafran: Can you do the math for me? What type of increase are we talking about? [
Andrea Kelly: It's about, like, three times as much.
Cathy Shafran: About three times as much.
Andrea Kelly: Yeah.
Cathy Shafran: So, demographically, what is the age group and the type of people that that you're seeing there at Swoop's?
Andrea Kelly: We are seeing mostly students. And I would say, you know, all sorts of ages. You know, we definitely see a lot in like the 18 to 24 range, but we are seeing older students too, especially with EMU's campus. We have a large number of nontraditional students. So, I would say we see all ages of people.
Cathy Shafran: So, you would say to the general public that the need for food assistance is not just families who might be suffering from some financial difficulties. You're saying it's across the age spectrum.
Andrea Kelly: Yes, definitely.
Cathy Shafran: And can you give us a personal perspective? What are you seeing in terms of the need? Who is coming? And why do they say they need to come now as opposed to a year ago when they weren't coming to you?
Andrea Kelly: We really see students from all types of backgrounds coming into the pantry. Some students might have families that they're supporting, like they have kids or they're even, like, supporting their parents. Some students, it's just them, and they are using the pantry to provide food for themselves. But, really, what we are hearing is that grocery shopping is hard. The costs have gone up, and it's becoming more difficult to pay for things like food. And we've really just heard a lot of feedback that people are really thankful to have Swoop's as a resource.
Cathy Shafran: I understand that you are working on a graduate degree in counseling. I'm just wondering. Does this background at all inform the type of work that you're doing at the food pantry?
Andrea Kelly: Yeah, I think it does. Within my counseling program, I'm just learning a lot about the importance of mental health and well-being, and that is, like, really important. In order for students to succeed, they need to have good mental health. And that's really connected to our physical health, too. If somebody is not getting enough food, they're not going to feel their best. And they're not going to be able to do well in their classes. So, having resources like food pantries is really important. And so, we also like to make sure that students are aware of other resources. So, if it comes up that you have other needs, like they do need mental health care, we would refer them to CAPS, or we're informing them about other resources on campus or in the community.
Cathy Shafran: If Swoop's were not available, what do you think would be happening with these students who are now coming to you in terms of finding food?
Andrea Kelly: Well, we do have other food pantries in the area. I know that Hope Clinic is a big one, but what we do know is that a lot of the pantries in the area are currently kind of overtasked because there are so many people coming into the pantries that they just don't have enough food for everyone, or food clinics set up, like, appointment times. And we've heard from people that there aren't any appointments available until August. So, that's really not helping people get their immediate needs met.
Cathy Shafran: So, it's really a critical time then. Are you guys planning anything at Swoop's to expand the services, given the fact that we're seeing nearly a tripling of need over a year ago? Is there anything you can do at this time?
Andrea Kelly: Yeah, definitely. We have been able to keep up with the need that we're seeing. So, we are so grateful for that. And we are continually looking for sources of funding. So, we have been applying for many grants. We always encourage student groups and community groups to, like, host food drives to bring in food to the pantry that way. We're just always looking for new ideas to meet that need.
Cathy Shafran: So, you're appealing to the public to assist you as you try to grow to meet the needs?
Andrea Kelly: Yes, definitely.
Cathy Shafran: And if you were to be able to receive the funds that you're looking for, what type of expansion do you think you really need to meet the needs right now, for those that are coming to you?
Andrea Kelly: I think the most important thing is just being able to keep our shelves stocked, which we have been able to do so far. But I do expect that we'll continue to see more students coming in and using food. And then, in addition, we have some grants right now that we're working on to get an additional fridge for produce and dairy items and also just to get some nicer organization for our produce because we want like our space to be really nice and just, like, a welcoming space for shoppers.
Cathy Shafran: In addition to looking for assistance with funds and fundraising, do you look for donations from the community as well?
Andrea Kelly: Yes, we do look for donations. So, we're looking for unopened, unexpired food items. We can also take, like, unopened personal hygiene item items, like shampoo, toothpaste, those types of things. And in addition, we have a thrift section. So, we do take nice, clean, gently-used clothing items, kitchenware items, small appliances like microwaves, mini fridges, things like that. We're definitely open to accepting donations, and if you have any questions about what you can donate, you can email us or give us a call.
Cathy Shafran: If you are able to reach out to the public to say this is a need that needs to be filled, what exactly would you say to them?
Andrea Kelly: Um, I would say just that college is a time for a lot of people that it is difficult to pay for things like food and rent and tuition and just get all those needs met. And it's really important that we can help students, like, meet their basic needs during this time, so that they do have the best chance of being able to focus on their classes and succeed and get their degrees. I would say something that's really cool about Swoop's in particular is that a lot of the time, once students who have, you know, utilize our services, once they graduate, they oftentimes come back and they want to volunteer or they want to donate now that they're in, like, a more financially secure place. So, that's something really cool is that we're providing assistance to students while they're in school, but a lot of times they do go back and help groups, or they help other community organizations, and they give back.
Cathy Shafran: And probably very much needed at this time of higher inflation and an end to the pandemic crisis dollars.
Andrea Kelly: Yes.
Cathy Shafran: Andrea Kelly from the Swoop's Food Pantry at EMU and Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, I want to thank you so much for joining us today for On the Ground Ypsi.
Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.
Andrea Kelly: Thank you.
Cathy Shafran: I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is 89.1 WEMU-FM, Ypsilanti. It's public radio from Eastern Michigan University. And online at WEMU.org.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.