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Meal deliveries to some low-income seniors stopped during the shutdown, and distributors are now racing to get meals out. (iStockphoto.com)

With Shutdown Over, The Race To Feed Low-Income Seniors Is On

by Patrick Center
Oct 17, 2013 (All Things Considered / WGVU Public Media)

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The USDA is back to funding its meals program for low-income seniors. That's good news for those who depend on the weekly food deliveries, which stopped during the government shutdown.

Across Michigan, tens of thousands of seniors turn to dozens of agencies for assistance. In Grand Rapids, where we first reported on the program freeze, a local agency is playing catch-up, relying on volunteers to fill the void.

The race to feed low-income seniors is on. In a warehouse half the size of a football field, more than a dozen volunteers form an assembly line, filling boxes with government surplus food.

They're surrounded by stacks of cereal, canned veggies, soup and dried milk from the USDA's Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

"I'm hoping we can get 3-, 400 boxes packed today," says Stacie Nobles, a volunteer from Feed America.

It's a lofty goal, but she's confident it will get done. She's disturbed by the idea the food here has been sitting the past two weeks, not getting to the stomachs of vulnerable seniors.

"You know, that's our grandparents. What do you do? You go hungry. And how long do you go? Two weeks is a long time," Nobles says.

Kent County's Community Action Agency is pushing to make sure its weekly deliveries go out on Friday. Nobles says 600 boxes are ready to go — but there are 1,500 low-income seniors to serve.

"We've got to try to get everything in by the end of the month now," says Ron Cusin, who runs the warehouse and makes deliveries.

He says those 60 or older with an annual income under $15,000 qualify.

"They'll be very happy to see me, I'll tell you that much," Cusin says. He says he'll be happy to see them, too.

Across the country, in warehouses like this one, the scene is being repeated as volunteers quickly try to put food back on the plates of the elderly poor who rely on them.

Copyright 2014 WGVU Public Media. To see more, visit http://www.wgvu.org/index.html.

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