Paw Paw, Michigan

Named for the trees that once grew along the Paw Paw River, Paw Paw is a rural village in the southwest corner of Michigan, located in Van Buren County. Proximity to Lake Michigan gives the area moderate temperatures and a climate good for growing grapes. The Great Lakes region is also historically known for vast oil reserves.

Between 1980 and 2007, Michigan experienced an 85% drop in oil and natural gas production, creating a fragile job market in Paw Paw.  To compensate for the energy job losses, the region worked on developing cost-competitive renewable energies industries, but consumer investment in fuel alternatives has been weak.

Michigan’s grape industry has also seen its share of struggles in recent years, as higher water prices and raw material costs, combined with cold weather damage to crops, have significantly lessened local grape yields.

As of January 2016, Paw Paw is the 30th poorest community in Michigan with an estimated poverty level of 43.8%.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for Van Buren County:

  • 27.8% of children live in households with income below the poverty level
  • 25.5% of families have an annual income of less than $25,000
  • 30.3% of individuals over the age of 25 did not earn a high school diploma.
  • 32.4% of individuals over the age of 16 are unemployed.
  • More than 2/3 of public school children qualify for reduced price school lunches*
  • 88.1% of Paw Paw’s residents are White and 3.8% are African American

Family-to-Family’s partner organization in Paw Paw is Eleanor’s Pantry, established when four church pantries were consolidated into one central pantry.  Now run by more than 70 volunteers, Eleanor’s Pantry provides food to over 1,000 children and adults every month from Paw Paw and the nearby town of Lawton.    

The effects of the slow economy on this community are clearly reflected by the increased number of visitors to the pantry, which served around 650 visitors a month in 2009 and an estimated 11,000+ in 2012.

In Paw Paw, Family-to-Family partners with the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank to provide groceries for our sponsored families.

Community Partner:
Lorraine Sauer
Eleanor’s Pantry
221 Drew Street
Paw Paw, Michigan 49079



Michigan League for Public Policy (school lunch statistics)
Van Buren County Community Center(
Village of Paw Paw Official website (
US Census Bureau: 2009-2011
US Census Bureau American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates (poverty statistics)
2010 Michigan report, Capital News Service
U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, “These Are The 10 Poorest Cities in Michigan”

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