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The 10th anniversary of the Fish & Loaves Community Food Pantry serving the nutritional needs of hungry people in Taylor and six surrounding communities will be celebrated on Thursday, February 8, at the Crystal Park banquet facility at 17009 Champaign.
A VIP reception is scheduled for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The night’s program follows.
The celebration will reflect on Fish & Loaves’ goal to “ensure no one goes hungry,” while recognizing those that have helped facility become the largest client-choice pantry in Michigan. Located at 25670 Northline Road in Taylor, Fish & Loaves has grown to providing 1.6 million pounds of food annually.
Ten years after its founding by church representatives in the region, Fish & Loaves remains focused on fighting “food insecurity,” which refers to the lack of access to enough nutrient-rich food for a healthy, active life. Food insecurity has emerged as one of the biggest barriers to well-being across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 14 percent of Michiganders are food insecure – higher than the national average.
Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Drutchas, one of the pantry’s founders and president of the Board of Directors since its inception, said the celebration will recognize the important efforts of a number of people and organizations that have helped build Fish & Loaves and have been involved in the fight against hunger and food insecurity for a number of years.
The “hometown heroes” include:
Mary Hollens, executive director of Fish & Loaves, said all of those set to be recognized have been integral in supporting access to healthy, nutritious food for those in need.
“We would not be where we are today, in terms of longevity, without the support of the Ford Fund and companies like MASCO, which is the title sponsor for the 10th Anniversary Celebration.”
MASCO executive Sue Sabo and husband Mark are serving as honorary hosts along with Greg and Cindy Saenz, John and Greta Elliot II, Marjorie and Charles Bernard and 23rd District Court Judge Geno Salomone and wife Karen, who is a past executive director of the pantry.
The event chairwoman is past board member Dana Lapinski, market manager of the health and well-being company Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM). Humana’s sponsorship of the celebration aligns with its Bold Gold commitment to help make the communities it serves healthier by the year 2020.
“We all want to work together to build a stronger, healthier community,” Lapinski said. “We’re delighted to support the Fish & Loaves Community Food Pantry as part of our broader commitment to help improve community health by addressing food insecurity.”
The celebration also serves as a fundraiser for Fish & Loaves. Tickets are $30; $75 for supporters; and $150 for patrons. It is $1,000 for a table of 10. Fish & Loaves is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by the law.
“We’re glad that this meaningful event will also help us help so many community members in need,” Executive Director Hollens said. “We truly appreciate MASCO, the Ford Fund, the Ford Motor Company, and Humana’s support of our organization’s mission, as we share a commitment to increase awareness about the importance of community access to fresh, healthy food.”
Entertainment will be provided by the duo Girl’s Night Out. Heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served. A special announcement is expected from Jim Vella, president of the Ford Fund, platinum presenting sponsor and host of the Ford VIP reception that evening.
Fish & Loaves volunteers will receive service pins in recognition of their many years of selfless service to the community.
The pantry was founded in 2008. The 10th Anniversary Celebration is one of a series of anniversary observations in 2018.
“Fish & Loaves takes its name from the miracle of loaves and fishes in scripture,” said Rev. Drutchas, who is pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Taylor. “In a way, Fish & Loaves is in itself a miracle. What these communities have accomplished is fantastic and extraordinary. That needs to be celebrated. We have a reason to be proud of what has been accomplished.
“As a person of faith, it’s a time of Thanksgiving. Thank you God that you’ve gotten us through this wonderful ministry that has been able to help so many people and has helped us to share. It’s a time to celebrate what our communities together have accomplished. It’s time to thank our generous donors, to thank those that have donated their time and talents, those that have donated food, those that have donated the financial resources – the dollars necessary to sustain. It’s time to thank our partners: Gleaners, Forgotten Harvest, Wayne-Metro Community Action Agency, Focus Hope, our churches, the community. All of these things are really a part of this 10-year celebration.”
Even as participants celebrate the successes of the past 10 years, organizers are looking forward to the future and rally support for the years ahead.
“After 10 years, we can say that we are here to stay,” Rev. Drutchas said. “And we need to continue to build to ensure sustainability to ensure that no one goes hungry.”
More About Fish & Loaves Community Food Pantry
Fish & Loaves Community Food Pantry is a 501(c)(3) food pantry in Taylor, dedicated to “Ensuring No One Goes Hungry” in seven communities: Allen Park, Brownstown Township, Dearborn Heights, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor and Woodhaven.
Fish & Loaves is a faith-based, non-sectarian organization staffed by volunteers and offering a wide range of canned goods, refrigerated and frozen foods, dairy products and seasonal produce. Since opening its doors in 2008, Fish & Loaves has assisted tens of thousands of local residents, providing 1.6 million pounds of food last year alone.
The need for emergency food, emergency housing and youth programs emerged from a 1992 forum on Taylor’s needs in 1992. The forum, organized by Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Drutchas, the senior pastor of St. Paul United Church of God in Taylor, and the Rev. Hal Weemhoff, then pastor of West Mound United Church in Taylor, drew 22 participants, most of who had never met before that day.
Further discussion and investigation by forum members led to the formation of Christnet, an emergency shelter program for the homeless in the Downriver area. Rev. Drutchas served as volunteer president and executive director of Christnet for the first 10 years before the directorship transitioned to paid leadership.
Several years later, based on a need for emergency food in the region, Rev. Drutchas renewed efforts with former meat market owner Chuck Vella, Joan Forest of St. Cyril of Jerusalem Catholic Church (now Our Lady of the Angels), Associate Pastor Amos Humphries of Gilead Baptist Church and others.
The group brought together additional volunteers and financial sources and provided an initial food distribution during the Christmas holidays at the Taylor Sportsplex. The success of that distribution led to further meetings, a search for a permanent pantry for a food pantry, a partnership with Gleaners, Forgotten Harvest and other organizations and the creation of Fish & Loaves.
“Fish and Loaves has always been about community partnerships that are concerned about helping those in need,” Rev. Drutchas said. Focus Hope partnered on a food program for seniors. Wayne County supplied food commodities. More recently, Wayne-Metro Community Action Agency has partnered with Fish & Loaves.
The goal of partnering with churches in the region came to fruition through a 50/50 program, where 50 churches agreed to contribute $50 a month to assist with the operation of the pantry.
The pastor wrote for a variety of grants and received assistance in the early days from United Way and low-cost food from the USDA.
Fish & Loaves is a client-choice pantry, which means clients choose the food they need in a store-like setting.
The first year of operation, Fish & Loaves volunteers distributed a half-million pounds of food. A few years later, a “Million Pound March” was held outside the pantry to commemorate a million-pound annual food distribution. In 2017, $1.6 million pounds of food were distributed.
To meet the needs, the board organized several annual fundraising events, including the Santa’s Magic Forest holiday display in Taylor, an 18-hole golf outing, a 5K run and a concert. Successful non-perishable food drives to help stock pantry shelves are conducted by youth groups, schools, mail carriers, local businesses and others.
A key to Fish & Loaves’ goal of meeting the food needs of its local communities has been the participation of volunteers. Chuck Vella, Russ Newsome, Bev Sitz, Howard Wilson, Connie Fedel, Dave Kulhanek and others provided expertise needed in the warehouse and office.
With steady growth – in both the need for food and the cost of food – the Board of Directors hired its first paid employee: an executive director. In 2017, a part-time warehouse manager was hired.
Current Executive Director Mary Hollens has brought force expertise needed to attract larger corporate donations, including assistance from such organizations as the Ford Motor Fund and Masco. The City of Taylor, the Colina Foundation and others.
“As time has gone on and the economy improved, people think the problem is over – but it has not,” Rev. Drutchas said. “It’s just more hidden. In fact, what happened is we saw the cost of food edge up higher and higher. We’re paying double of what we paid when we started out. Initially, we thought we would have people cycle out after a couple years and we could limit it. That was not feasible.
“Fish & Loaves is one of the few client-choice pantries that have survived. The City of Taylor is such a special community and Downriver is such a special area, which gives rise to Fish & Loaves to work effectively.”
The pantry is located at 25670 Northline Road. For more information, call (734) 992-6284 or visit the website www.flcfp.org.