In a city facing an especially hard winter for unhoused Michiganders, Daily Bread of Lenawee is showing how to give back this holiday season.
ADRIAN, Mich.—In a particularly desperate season of giving, the residents of Lenawee County without housing need support more than ever.
As the weather gets colder, unhoused Michiganders typically face harsher challenges. Winter forces the unhoused to scramble for things like old coats to protect against temperatures that can get dangerously low in Michigan. If the extreme cold drops a person’s body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the health results can be catastrophic.
Add to that the unusual pressures that exist in Adrian, Michigan, today.
In September, Adrian passed a local ordinance effectively criminalizing homelessness, leaving unhoused Michiganders’ existence alone an illegal act in their rural community. The town banned activities like eating or sleeping in public and gave broad enforcement discretion, as The ‘Gander explained, to allow the ordinance to specifically target those it sought to drive out.
And, of course, there’s the pandemic.
As the necessity of keeping patrons safe has forced soup kitchens, warming centers and homeless shelters to drastically reduce capacity, people without homes have fewer places to escape the cold and now criminal realities of their daily survival.
The tightrope balance between serving the underserved and keeping patrons safe is felt keenly at Adrian’s Daily Bread.
“Part of our mission is to serve nutritious meals and fellowship in a compassionate, safe environment,” Daily Bread of Lenawee Executive Director Haley Cook told The ‘Gander. “It’s kind of a weird thing that one is contradicting the other.”
Still, Cook says Daily Bread volunteers are desperately needed. Cook needs both people to come in and prepare meals and run them out for the impoverished and unhoused Michiganders to collect—Daily Bread has become take-out only—and she said she needs people to volunteer to do grocery runs, donate money or donate food to their effort.
Those volunteers do their best to preserve the fellowship afforded to their patrons where they can, but the exchanges are fleeting and carried out often in the cold.
This reflects a reality faced by similar meal-focused programs like Meals on Wheels. Volunteers with Meals on Wheels described early in the pandemic the role interacting with food providers plays in being a social lifeline for vulnerable Michiganders.
“It used to be a little bit more relaxed. People would come in, they would come pick up their own tray, they would sit down, and have a meal, and have a chat; there was a lot more socialization both among the patrons themselves but also between the volunteers and the patrons and we’re not getting that,” Cook explained. “We try to do our best standing at the door to try and chit-chat with them while we’re waiting for their food to be collected, but it’s just not the same.”
While it’s made the experience less personal, the coronavirus has also dramatically changed the amount of people Daily Bread interacts with.
The pandemic, she explained, has ramped up everything for Daily Bread. A busy Thanksgiving typically brings around 150 people in search of turkey boxes and hot meals. This Thanksgiving, Daily Bread prepared for 100 patrons. It served over 300 meals..
“This Thanksgiving was a madhouse,” Cook laughed. “It’s more than double what we’ve ever done.”
That doesn’t surprise Cook. The pandemic has disrupted people’s lives dramatically, and as protections preventing evictions are posed to expire and a looming eviction crisis on the horizon, the work at Daily Bread is likely to get all the more important.
So she is grateful for how the community has stepped up to support their work. As demand has increased, so has the charity Daily Bread relies on. So, she said, Lenawee residents in need of what Daily Bread can provide shouldn’t hesitate to reach out, and those who can provide help shouldn’t either.
“The people that receive our services and need our services might be [your] neighbors, might be someone that didn’t until recently because of unemployment,” she said. “If anybody needs that, there’s no shame in coming and getting help.”