Sylvester Jackson wheels a metal basket into Messiah Food Pantry where the 76-year-old senior has been coming every Saturday for about 13 years. She receives a free bag of canned goods, bread, fresh vegetables and sometimes meat, which she shares with her 90-year-old mother.
"I take the bus here," she says.
Jackson is one of about 680 seniors who receive food from the pantry each month.
"It's for seniors only," says Pat Metzer, who has been running it since 1983, one year after it opened.
She explains that the Church of the Messiah at East Grand Boulevard and Lafayette, which funds the pantry, opened it because there are a lot of elderly people in the neighborhood who can't afford to buy food.
"Hunger is a constant problem," says Metzer.
But not just in Detroit. The Urban Institute found in 1993 that five million seniors either had no food in their house or worry about getting enough to eat. The Federal Administration on Aging studied 4,000 home-delivered meal providers between 1993 and 1995 and found that 41 percent had waiting lists. According to Second Harvest, the nation's largest food bank, 16 percent of the 26 million people it served in 1997 were 65 or older.
The reason for the increase, says Doug O'Brien, director of public policy and research for Second Harvest, is that most seniors are on fixed incomes. With the rising cost of medications and housing, there is not as much money for food, he says.
"They reduce the amount of food they buy and eat," says O'Brien. "And we find increasing numbers of them showing up at pantries."
The modest incomes of those served at Messiah Food Pantry are reflected in the Christmas gifts they request. Metzer pulls out a list from one senior citizen that reads: meat, Listerine, and a fruit basket.
"I've had people ask for a light bulb or a mop for Christmas," she says.
Though they are poor, most seniors who come to the pantry donate a dollar for a bag of food, says Metzer.
"A lot feel better if they give something," she says.
To volunteer time, money or food to Messiah Food Pantry call 313-839-8867.