According to U.S. Census data, Eaton County and Macomb County are tied for the distinction of having the lowest poverty level of all the counties in Michigan (13 percent) and financial analysts tell us that our economy is the most robust it has been in 15 years. Yet, Helping Hands Food Pantry, located at 600 S. Cochran in Charlotte, received more than 5,300 household requests for food assistance in 2017, of which we honored with more than 500,000 pounds of food and personal care items. (That’s about 400,000 meals!)
Many will question how so many people can be asking for help considering such rosy reports as mentioned in the previous paragraph. There are numerous reasons why a large number of people are struggling in such a time. Layoffs, divorce, deaths, injuries, medical debt, and low wage / low hour / no benefit jobs are all at the heart of most stories and we find that oftentimes people’s lives can be turned upside down even when seemingly proper decisions and choices have been made.
The household requests mentioned above represent about 1,800 actual households, totaling more than 5,500 people, that sought assistance an average of three times during 2017, of which our records show consists of 37 percent children, 13 percent seniors, 40 percent disabled and 50 percent working at least part time. (35 percent of clients come just one time during the year.)
Clients of Helping Hands — like all Mid-Michigan food pantries — have low-income guidelines, residency requirements and are required to sign a statement that they are in need and that all information given us is accurate. These poundage numbers also include food assistance to Free Community Meals, Crosswalk Teen Center and monthly distributions of free produce and baked goods to low income/senior housing units here in Charlotte. In an area such as Charlotte, where more than one Pantry choice is available, the client must choose and frequent only one. With this fairly comprehensive application process, we feel that the number of those who would try to abuse the system is pretty low.
Helping Hands has served the greater Charlotte area since 1982 and has been operating out of our building on the corner of S. Cochran and Shaw Street for 20 years now. We have come to the conclusion that, request wise, this is about as good as it is going to get and we can no longer sustain this level of service to the community at our present location. Our goal is to construct an energy efficient pole type building within the city limits of Charlotte to better meet this documented growth in requests for assistance by providing us with a handicap accessible building with increased office area that will offer improved privacy to our clients sharing sensitive information as we determine eligibility; a separate room for when a client just needs someone to talk to; improved safe food handling by creating an area to store, sort and rinse donated fruits and produce; additional refrigerator and freezer space, expanded work area for putting together food requests; handicap accessible restrooms; improved product receiving area (loading dock); parking and an overall design to improve the flow of people and product.
To do this we need your help.
Owning our current building outright has played a significant part in our being able to return approximately 84 percent of every dollar donated back into the community in direct aid and feel the same approach to a new building would enable us to continue that level of service. We estimate the cost of the new building at around $200,000 and are appealing to the community to help us raise the funds necessary to construct this new tool that would enable us to continue our current level of food assistance to local people going through a rough time, for years to come.
On the surface, raising $200,000 in donations seems rather intimidating to most of us. However, as we consider that there are approximately 11,000 households within the area we serve (Charlotte, Vermontville and Sunfield addresses) and we realize that $20 from each of those households would raise about $220,000. Some can afford that $20 and some cannot. Some will offer more and some just don’t care. But, I believe that enough people do care and want to help, especially considering the transparency and accountability that we offer to our donors.
As always, I am available to share the measures we take to be good stewards of the donations entrusted to us.
So, will you help? Do you know someone who may and share this information with them?
Donations can be mailed to 600 S. Cochran, Charlotte, MI 48813, dropped off during our hours of operations, Tuesdays, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at helpinghandsfoodpantry.org, or phone (517) 543-8737.
Phil Grimwood is the executive director of
Helping Hands Food Pantry in