Season for sharing

This year, the Food Bank of Oakland County is in the unenviable position of having to do more with less.

Corporate contributions, which make up about 10 percent of the charity’s annual $2 million budget, have fallen sharply because of our slumping economy. Likewise, half the hospitals that made commitments last year have discontinued their contributions too. “It’s unbelievable,” says Helen Hicks, the agency’s executive director. “We are experiencing a major problem in terms of financial donations.”

As donations fall, the number of people needing help is rising. That means fewer dollars have to be stretched even further.

This year, the food bank will be serving 20 percent more people through its 200 member pantries, with the total number of people asking for help approaching 70,000.

The Food Bank of Oakland County is one of many local agencies that will be struggling with the “season of giving” this year, although no one in need has been turned away quite yet. Leave that to be determined by the number of good-hearted people who turn out to help.

Yep, this means you. Got some time? Some money? A big old bird? Local charities could certainly use all of the above. So get ready, get set, and go spread that holiday cheer.


Baldwin Church

The holiday store in Pontiac’s Baldwin Church probably won’t have the expensive J. Crew sweater you put at the top of your wish list. But it will be stocking plenty of goods that might be at the top of somebody else’s: socks, underwear and toiletries. The church also provides toys for children. At the moment, their greatest need is gifts for teenagers. Sylvia Wheeling, the volunteer coordinator, suggests donating handheld video games, watches, movies, hats, gloves, and sweatshirts and sweatpants in every size. She’s also looking for volunteers to run the store Dec. 1-19 and to deliver holiday baskets on Nov. 25 and Dec. 23. To pitch in, call the Baldwin Church at 248-332-6101.


The Church of the Messiah

Pat Mentzer, director of the Church of the Messiah’s senior pantry in Detroit, estimates that this year the institution will be serving about 175 people for the holidays, a number undoubtedly greater than the turkeys on hand can feed. Turkeys, she says, are what the pantry needs most. She could also use a few “able-bodied men” to help unload the delivery truck on Wednesdays. The pantry, she says, doesn’t take a break after the holidays. “If people are hungry at Christmas, they’re hungry and in need the rest of the year,” she says. “We need people to come in on a regular basis and volunteer.”

As for divvying up the turkey, Mentzer says, “We’re put in the position of making decisions of who’s the most needy. You do the best you can and pray that you made the right decisions.” If you’d like to add some poultry to someone’s plate, contact the Church of the Messiah at 313-567-1158.


Focus: HOPE

Two years ago, Kathy Moran, Focus: HOPE’s public affairs manager, went along with her husband and 18-year-old daughter to deliver a Christmas package to the family they adopted for the holiday. Upon pulling up to the family’s flat on Detroit’s east side, Moran decided it would be better if she went to the door alone. “I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable,” she says.

Moran took with her some children’s books and clothes, and a gift certificate to Farmer Jack, something the adopted mother had told her would help to feed her family between visits to the hospital to visit their premature infant.

At the door of the family’s sparsely furnished flat, Moran met the husband who had recently lost his job and the wife to whom she had spoken. The couple acted graciously, she said, but no one looked more excited than the energetic 3-year-old. “He was just buzzing around, and his eyes just lit up when he saw that we had packages,” says Moran.

Focus: HOPE’s Family to Family program is one of two programs the agency sponsors to pair up needy people with those who have something to spare. The other, Share With a Senior, matches volunteers with homebound seniors living on fixed incomes.

Moran says both programs rely on the help of individuals, corporations, businesses and school groups. Last year, University of Detroit High School helped 44 families by collecting donations, going shopping according to each family’s needs, and holding a major food drive.

About her own encounter, Moran says, “It’s kind of a heartwarming experience on both sides.” Not only did she help a family in need, she says, it also “reinforced to my daughter that we’re really fortunate and that we have an obligation to share with people who aren’t as fortunate.”

Find your match by calling Focus: HOPE at 313-494-5500 or visiting


Food Gatherers

Ever donated a can of food? Wonder where it ended up? “Oftentimes, people have some misconceptions about who the food is going to,” says Missy Orge, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor. Some numbers she cites: One in 13 Michigan residents uses emergency food banks. Some 39 percent of the households served by local food banks have one employed adult. About 30 percent of the state’s unemployed were once in skilled or professional jobs. Only 12 percent of people who receive emergency food are homeless.

If you’re interested in starting up a food drive, Orge encourages telling perspective donors just where their food will be going. Some other advice: pick a theme, or hold a competition among co-workers or classmates. One year, the Borders store in Ann Arbor amassed 6,000 pounds of food in just two days by holding an employee competition.

To get started, all you need are fliers, some tape, and a drop-off point. Pantries like Food Gatherers will usually take care of the rest. Call Food Gathers at 734-761-2796, or find them on the Web at


Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit

If you’re used to celebrating Christmas with a container of Chinese food, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit offers another way to spend the seventh day of Hanukkah. “Mitzvah Day” begins at the Federation’s headquarters in Bloomfield Hills, where volunteers will have a chance to meet, greet, and grab a bagel before heading out to an assigned charity to lend a hand. Senior staff associate Alaine Waldshan says that last year about 800 Jews showed up to deliver meals, hand out gifts, and pitch in at soup kitchens. Want to spread the simcha? Call the Jewish Federation at 248-203-1486 or log on to


Volunteer Impact

It’s hard to imagine anyone having a very merry Christmas while living in a shelter. That’s why Volunteer Impact will be adopting 14 safe havens during the holidays. Its goal is to elicit some holiday smiles from the youngsters in residence. The Adopt-A-Shelter program needs participants who are 15 years old and up to lead arts and crafts projects, do face painting, provide music and — perhaps most importantly — pose as Santa. Volunteers are also needed to run each shelter’s holiday “store,” where parents will be able to pick out gifts for their children. Last year, the abundance of donated goods meant parents could choose up to three gifts per child, items which included boots, mittens, dolls, trucks, household goods and personal hygiene products. Says Joan Bodnar, Volunteer Impact’s executive director, “We bring a little bit of the holiday joy into the lives of children and their parents residing in local shelters.” Join the party by calling Volunteer Impact at 248-559-4950, or by visiting


Holiday cards

What could be better than a Christmas card adorned with pictures of the family? How about a card with the insignia of a local charity? The Children’s Hospital of Michigan sells 15 cards for $16, and the Make-a-Wish Foundation offers 20 for $20. Choose from a long list by logging on to

Happy volunteering!


Check out more Holiday Survival Guide stories:

Family matters
Surviving the gatherings of the clan.

Giving on the cheap
Or should we say "inexpensive?"

Pass (on) the stuffing
Ways to keep the holidays from becoming too weighty.

Blue for Christmas
How to battle the holiday blahs.

Presents from tinsel town
What would the season be without its flicks?

Avoiding Xmas bling bling
You needn't sell out to the corporate juggernaut.

Jingle boots
A gift guide to underground recordings.

Oh, holy naught
This year's Xmas sounds like the hour 13 lineup on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

Overcoming hangovers
A dilettante's guide to holiday imbibing.

Silent night, sober night
How to stay on the wagon.

Ronit Feldman is a Detroit-area freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]