In this recession-racked town, the lack of food is a serious problem. It's a theme that comes up again and again in conversations in Detroit. There isn't a single major chain supermarket in the city, forcing residents to buy food from corner stores. Often less healthy and more expensive food.
As the area's economy worsens --unemployment was over 16% in July -- food stamp applications and pantry visits have surged.
Detroiters have responded to this crisis. Huge amounts of vacant land has led to a resurgence in urban farming. Volunteers at local food pantries have also increased.
But the food crunch is intensifying, and spreading to people not used to dealing with hunger. As middle class workers lose their jobs, the same folks that used to donate to soup kitchens and pantries have become their fastest growing set of recipients.
"We've seen about a third more people than before," said Jean Hagopian, a volunteer at the New Life food pantry, part of the New Life Assembly of God church in Roseville, a suburb some 20 miles northeast of Detroit. Hagopian said many of the new people seeking assistance are men, former breadwinners now in desperate need of a food basket.
Hagopian is an 83-year old retired school teacher. She works at the pantry four days a week, spending two of those days driving her own minivan around town collecting food from local distributors.
The pantry, housed in the church basement, gives away boxes of food that might feed a family of four for a week. It includes dry and packaged goods like cereals and pasta, peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, 7 or 8 pounds of frozen meat (usually chicken or hot dogs), and eight pan pizzas donated from a local Pizza Hut. Most of the other food is purchased from a distributor or donated by the county food program. Last month they gave out 519 boxes.
Hagopian hopes the demand for food doesn't get much worse.
"I hope we're at the top of it because we'll run out of food, and then we'll have to go out and find some more," she said.
She should brace for the worst. Across metro Detroit, social service agencies are reporting a huge spike in demand for food assistance.Certainly it's not a Siege of Leningrad style famine. One might fairly characterize this as more of a money shortage, or a job shortage. But if the number of gas stations were to dwindle in a major city, making fuel expensive and difficult to find, we'd certainly call it a local gasoline shortage.
At this rate, if the trend of decline continues, I'm guessing the former Motor City will become a virtual ghost town in ten years. The few remaining inhabitants will be the newly emergent urban farmers, destitute squatters living in decaying buildings, and roving gangs of criminals seeking to prey on the first two classes. A utilities shutdown will be the coup-de-grace, but by that time, with all the individual residences cut off for lack of payment, it will barely be noticed.