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When families have to choose between buying food and paying bills, nutritious food is often a luxury they can’t afford, yet sacrificing on food quality can make an already difficult situation worse. Poor nutrition can make health issues even more costly to manage and keep people out of work longer, making it harder for families to get back on their feet.

Karlene felt this first-hand when her husband, Jeff, lost his job as an airline mechanic and her family struggled to make ends meet. To complicate matters, Jeff developed lymphedema, a condition that left him with chronic pain and extreme shortness of breath. Karlene watched as he gradually lost his health and lost his hope as his illness progressed.

Between debilitating medical bills, monthly expenses, and the cost of basic necessities, Karlene and her family were at a loss and needed help. She recalls what a difference Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan made in their lives.

“I was working three jobs. I was going to school full-time to get my nursing license … I was doing everything I could,” she remembered. “You can’t pay the rent and you can’t put food on the table. You can’t buy clothes for your children or even school supplies. But Gleaners was there, saying ‘It’s okay, this food is for you. Take it and enjoy. Nourish your bodies and encourage your souls.’”

For many families like Karlene’s, a sudden, chronic health issue for one person can have devastating effects on the whole family. It becomes an overwhelming cycle of medical expenses and trade-offs in spending — things like nutritious food, exercise equipment or even the time and ability to maintain healthy activities become extravagances.

Gleaners is ready to make that impact go even further by using food security to break the cycle of chronic disease. New partnerships have allowed Gleaners to build on what’s already been achieved.

To build on this body of work and to improve the health of neighbors like Jeff and Karlene, Gleaners has begun working with partners in the healthcare industry to demonstrate how a connection with healthy, sustainable sources of food can not only reduce costs associated with treatment and hospital re-admissions, but also contribute to positive health outcomes for people facing food insecurity thereby resulting in wins for everyone.

The agency offers a variety of programs that not only provide greater access to healthy food, but also instruction on nutrition and how to purchase and prepare food. Working with the community, Gleaners is making an impact across southeast Michigan with innovative programs, including:

  • Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters™ program for low-income individuals and families, providing nutrition education and instruction on how to cook healthy meals on a budget.
  • School Food Mobiles reach families in high-need communities by working with schools and community organizations to distribute 30-35 lbs of frozen meat, fresh produce and other nutritious food to 75-100 households at each site.
  • The Healthy Pantry initiative started in 2016, works to provide nutrition education to pantry clients and easier access to fresh produce to encourage healthy eating and improve overall health.
  • My Neighborhood Mobile Grocery, a program providing customers with an opportunity to stretch their limited dollars further each month
  • Client Choice pantries makes it possible for individuals and families to shop in a clean and attractive setting with aisles of shelved food that resemble a regular grocery store, complete with shopping carts.

For families like Karlene’s, who often have to make the difficult choice between paying bills and putting food on the table, food security is everything and the stability that comes with it is a remarkable relief.

 “I had somebody who was going to help me climb that ladder to help pull me out of that ditch so that I could stand on solid ground,” said Karlene. “There was no food in the pantry, there was no money for gas or for rent, but Gleaners was there. They came and they were there, with that heart, saying ‘We’re here for you. We care about you.’”

Play your part in ensuring that no child goes hungry this holiday season, all donations are matched: $20 feeds a family for a week. Double your donation now!

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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