By Phil Grimwood
As many of you know (and those who do not), Helping Hands Food Pantry has been serving the greater Charlotte community since 1982, (including the Vermontville and Sunfield areas) with the past 20 years at our current location on the corner of South Cochran and Shaw Street.
In January 2018, articles ran in the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press detailing the tremendous amount of food assistance being distributed through our tiny building. Another article around the same time in The County Journal reported how we filled 5,316 household requests for assistance with more than 500,000 pounds of food and personal care items in 2017. It pointed out that 40 percent of our clients are disable, 37 percent are children and 13 percent are seniors, who often must choose between medicine, utilities and food. In addition to these documented numbers, 35 percent of people requesting assistance do so just once during the entire year. (Even though clients are allowed to frequent Helping Hands once every 30 days, only 2 percent will do so all 12 months of the year.) But then the following month a new batch of requests comes in from an entirely different audience, which tends to confirm the old adage that everyone eventually takes a turn going through a tough time financially.
In light of this, our Board of Directors has come to realize that future requests are unlikely to decrease and in order to continue to meet this documented need, we need to have a much larger, handicap accessible building with improved freezer and refrigeration capabilities to safely and efficiently serve our community. Thus far we have been unsuccessful in finding a suitable building or vacant property to build on and are asking for the community’s help in locating something. It seems like the building we need does not exist and (properly zoned) vacant land is nor for sale. And, whether we are able to find and rehab and existing building or purchase land and build, we also recognize that we will not be able to move forward without the financial support of the communities we serve. While we are still in the preliminary stages (a designated building fund has been established), we anticipate the need to raise approximately $300,000 to complete the task and assure the necessary tools are in place to serve the community for many years to come.
Our partners at the Greater Lansing Food Bank and the Food Bank Council of Michigan (both operate under efficiency and food safety guidelines set forth by Feeding America), will attest to the efficiency of our acquisition and distribution processes and how it sets a standard that other food pantries would do well to examine. (They are the food bank experts and have repeatedly expressed their astonishment of how effective and efficient our operation has become.) An outside audit has confirmed that approximately 85 percent of every dollar received in donations is returned to the community in direct aid. As an example, in 2017 we spent just under $72,000 on food that had a wholesale value of $812,000. Through these efforts we cannot only help people, but we can dot it for about 10 cents on the dollar. Even with this level of efficiency, without the proper tools (more space), our capability to meet this need will erode.
In closing, I ask you — Is this a service that you think should be continued in our community? If so, do you know a more efficient or equitable way of meeting this need? Will you share this information with others and help us to communicate what is at stake here? And finally, will you support us financially as we step up to this challenge?
Donations can be mailed to Helping Hands Food Pantry, 600 S. Cochran, Charlotte, MI 48813, made online at helpinghandsfoodpantry.org, or dropped off during regular operating hours — Tuesday 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or Thursday 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. If you would like to designate your donation to the building fund, please write, “building fund” on your donation. Designated funds cannot be used for any other purpose. Undesignated donations will be placed into the general fund.
Believing that transparency and accountability are essential to the sustainability of our organization, I am available to share the measures we take to be good stewards of the funds entrusted to us. I may be contacted through our website or email me directly at email@example.com.