Grants bolster FISH food pantry through crisis

FISH volunteers Dana Stone and Lynn Kennis keep their distance while boxing food orders. Photos provided.

 By James Hanlon

Leader Staff Writer

In the last few weeks, Oxford/Orion FISH food pantry has received thousands of dollars in grants and donations from companies, organizations and individuals.

This generosity is helping to feed neighbors in need in Oxford, Orion and Addison townships, by keeping the pantry well-stocked through the crisis.

Anyone who is unable to feed themselves due economic and/or health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraged to reach out to FISH for help. FISH is not turning anyone away.

Oxford Township’s grants manager, C.J. Carnacchio, secured contributions from United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Kroger Co. of Michigan, Farmers Insurance and Delta Dental Foundation, totaling $24,500. The money will be used to purchase food items to keep the pantry stocked.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan awarded FISH a $20,000 grant from its COVID-19 Response Fund. According to its website, United Way and its partners established the fund “to help ensure families in need can access health care, financial resources and other supports.”

Carnacchio researched and wrote the COVID-19 Response Fund grant proposal on FISH’s behalf.

“Words cannot begin to express how grateful Oxford/Orion FISH and the Charter Township of Oxford are to United Way for Southeastern Michigan for this sizeable grant,” Carnacchio said. “Every penny of this $20,000 will be used to feed individuals and families in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships as well as the villages of Oxford, Leonard and Lake Orion. Every penny will be invested in the most precious resource we have – the people who make up our communities, our friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, customers, students, churchgoers and volunteers. Thank you so much, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, for being there when we needed you.”

Gleaners Community Foodbank donated 900 dozen eggs to the pantry.

FISH vice president Michelle Behm said to United Way for Southeastern Michigan and their partners, “I am overwhelmed at the level of generosity that you have shown us. Thank you so much. We are truly overwhelmed. I cannot believe what they have given us.”

United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a member of the United Way Worldwide network and an independently governed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works to ensure families can meet their basic needs.

Kroger Co. of Michigan donated $2,000 in gift certificates to help stock the pantry.

Farmers Insurance awarded FISH $1,500 from a $250,000 fund to support nonprofits that are directly responding to community needs during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Delta Dental Foundation (DDF) awarded FISH $1000 from its COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. According to the foundation website, “Funds will address needs faced by both safety-net dental clinics and non-profits who work with vulnerable populations and provide health services or food assistance in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.”

In addition to the funding, DDF will provide FISH with 144 adult toothbrushes, 144 youth toothbrushes and 200 educational rack cards emphasizing the importance of oral health in preventing COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Carnacchio has netted a total of $24,500 for FISH. “It’s been really satisfying and rewarding,” he said.

Carnacchio also reached out to Jamie Felix, a local State Farm insurance agent, to see if State Farm offered any crisis grants. Although there were none available, State Farm Corporate agreed to match donations by a group of agents from Orion and Oxford, through its Matching Gifts Program. Jamie Felix, Scott Ockerman, Don Sherman and Nick Horvath each donated $250 to the pantry. With State Farm matching those donations, the total contribution was $2,000.

In addition, Oxford Meijer recently donated 100 hams and $5,000 in gift certificates, while Gleaners Community Foodbank delivered 900 dozen eggs to the pantry, along with apples, potatoes, and canned goods.

Behm said private donations have been wonderful as well. They have received $100, $200 and even a few $500 donations from individuals through PayPal.

“Honestly, we’re very blessed right now,” Behm said.

These grants and donations have come at a critical time. Since the crisis began, FISH is no longer accepting food donations due to safety concerns. All groceries must be purchased new, so FISH’s expenses have increased.

FISH was worried since its largest food drive of the year, the Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, which had been scheduled for May 9, has been postponed due to the pandemic.

Thanks to the generosity of these organizations and individuals, however, Behm believes FISH is well-positioned for at least the next three months.

In the first weeks of the crisis, FISH was concerned about just being able to obtain enough groceries because of food shortages, but now everything is nicely stocked.

She is “cautiously optimistic” and pleased to be meeting everyone’s needs. “We take care of our families,” she said.

Food orders are prepared in new cardboard boxes.

Along with FISH’s regular clients, the number of emergency clients has increased. In a normal month, FISH will help two or three emergency clients – folks who have had some sort of unexpected emergency come up who need short-term assistance. FISH served 16 emergency clients in the first half of April alone.

Behm has noticed a shift the last few weeks as the crisis has persisted longer. Larger families, people who are still waiting for stimulus and unemployment checks, and even previous donors to FISH have sought help.

To expedite things, the normal procedure for accepting new clients has been suspended. There is no interview or review process.

FISH is distributing food to more than 40 families a week, according to the May edition of the pantry’s newsletter, FISHline.

All pantry workers wear masks and gloves. Clients no longer come into the pantry to do their shopping. Instead, FISH volunteers prepare food orders in new cardboard boxes.

Clients must call to schedule a pickup time. When clients arrive, they are instructed to stay in their cars while a volunteer loads their food order in the trunk.

Currently FISH is distributing food on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Behm says there have been no problems with this shortened schedule and the system is working well.

Anyone who is unable to feed themselves due economic and/or health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraged to reach out to FISH for help. FISH is not turning anyone away.

Folks who are in need should call FISH at 248-628-3933 to set up an appointment. FISH is located at 1060 S. Lapeer Road.

Although FISH cannot accept food donations at this time, monetary donations are still greatly appreciated. Folks can donate at OxfordOrionFish.org/donate.

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