Greater Niles Senior Center distributes commodities, witnesses increase in need

NILES — On Friday, a line of cars wrapped from the parking lot next to the Greater Niles Senior Center to the Big Lots parking lot across Bell Road. The line, directed by workers and volunteers with the center, kept traffic flowing. Those awaiting commodities distributions moved through the line in their vehicles to a woman with a checkboard and then a tent where food boxes were loaded into their vehicles.

The boxes this month contained items like canned tuna, egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, raisins and shelf-stable milk.

This scene takes place once a month as the Greater Niles Senior Center distributes the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Commodity Supplemental Food Program monthly commodities. The center has been closed under COVID-19 mandates since March 16, but is still seeking ways to work with the population that depends on it. The commodities distributed Friday had increased in need, from 275 boxes being distributed in prior months, to May’s distribution hitting 300 boxes distributed to the community.

On months like May when the quarterly distributions for The Emergency Food Assistance Program commodities occur, distribution will take place twice. Wednesday, May 20, will be the next date for TEFAP distribution.

The CSFP distributes food to seniors in the area who are 60 years of age and older. To qualify for the assistance, there is an income guideline and pre-registry that must be made with the center.

The TEFAP commodities are for those 18 and older, with no income guideline to meet. Both food assistance programs require pre-registration with the Greater Niles Senior Center, and the food boxes are distributed on a first come, first serve basis to those registered to pick them up.

In addition to the line of cars, there are others who will get the distribution of commodities as well.

“We home deliver to those who cannot get out, or those who are bedridden,” said Brenda Hammond, service coordinator for the center. “We have people out now delivery 36 of those, because they cannot get out and we want them to get it.”

The boxes for the CSFP come pre-packaged in boxes, delivered by the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency. The food for TEFAP requires a larger operation to assemble.

“It’s a very coordinated event with the Niles Township Fire Department,” said Jennifer Krueger, director of the Greater Niles Senior Center. “When the [delivery] truck comes in, we have a limited staff, so all of the firemen come and help get it off the skids of the truck and push it against the wall.”

This makes it easier for staff and volunteers to pack each distribution package, according to Krueger.

When the Greater Niles Senior Center was open prior to the COVID-19 mandates, the center would normally see 130 to 140 people coming through, Krueger said.

“This is usually going on while people are going in and out, and getting exercise, art classes and everything else,” she said.

Krueger said the Greater Niles Senior Center is still working to keep its services available to the area’s population.

“A lot of our services haven’t stopped; they’ve just changed,” Krueger said of the center’s offerings. “We are working more as a resource center because so many other places have closed.”

She is still working to connect seniors to the programs and offerings that the center usually offers when it is open. Exercise classes have gone online, and loan closets for equipment are made available as they are needed.

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