By Amanda Renkiewicz – Photos from The Father Fred Foundation
An oversized yellow post-it note in an office proclaims in bold written letters:
Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.
The quote by Albert Einstein utterly encompasses the gracious haven of a northern Michigan saving grace and is perfectly placed within its walls: The Father Fred Foundation. With thirty years of helping the area through community-funded donations, the Foundation serves as an example of humility and empathetic care for those in need. In 2019, close to 14,000 families in our area benefited from free assistance. The Father Fred Foundation serves five local counties (Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska), and a dedicated team of volunteers and a small staff are the hands and soul of the charity.
The northern Michigan landscape is an idyllic paradise, where it’s easy to forget that there are many, many residents who struggle to meet their everyday needs. Over four hundred local children reside in food-insecure households and benefit from Father Fred’s Blessings in a Backpack program. The program is focused on assisting one of our most invisible local needs: young children who do not have secure food sources outside of school. They are given meals to take home on Fridays, because as Advancement Manager Elaine Keaton says, “Hunger does not take a break on the weekends.” Twenty-one schools have students who rely on the help, and 14,586 bags were distributed in 2018-19 alone.
It’s impossible to grasp the enormity of the Foundation and its outreach without taking a tour at their Hastings Street location. The food pantry rivals a farmer’s market, with fresh fruits and vegetables, rotisserie chicken, canned goods, and necessities. It focuses on healthy options and is organized as a self-shop model to preserve a guest’s dignity and simultaneously reduce waste. The pantry is carefully stocked through the community’s financial support. In another unit, a clothing area provides everything a person may need, from newborn items to seasonal clothing. The Foundation also assists guests who may need other home items such as a bed, dishes, or shelves, or even a listening ear. “If a guest is struggling with eviction, keeping the heat on or medical bills, we have a financial services staff member available to listen to their circumstance and advise or assist them as we are able,” Elaine explains.
Several annual events help to keep the Father Fred Foundation strong. The Frostbite Food Drive is crucial to ensuring that the pantry is stocked for the cold winter months. One in four families in our community feel the stress of food insecurity, where daily meals are uncertain. Many of their guests are working but just cannot seem to make ends meet. On an average day, The Father Fred Foundation Food Pantry serves 70 local families. This year’s Frostbite Food Drive helped stock their pantry shelves. “What Father Fred has to offer local families in need is a direct result of the generosity of our community,” shared Deb Haase, Executive Director. A Bi-Annual Garage Sale occurs in May and September and directly helps the Foundation to continue its community programs. The autumn brings a Back to School Drive and a Fall Food Drive. Yet every day, the Foundation is in need of support, and help is as easy as dropping off gently used clothing or nonperishable food. There are so many on-site or off-site volunteer opportunities that make a difference in the lives of countless people and require very little from a giver.
It’s evident that the Father Fred Foundation provides help above and beyond what families need temporarily. By sharing a mantra of achieving sustainability within a household, the Foundation offers judgment-free help in moving a family from struggling, into strong. They treat all guests with meticulous dignity and respect. The Foundation receives no state or federal funding and exists only through the goodwill and assistance of the community, and the countless hours of volunteer support. If the lifeblood of the Father Fred Foundation is the community funding and donations, the heart is the volunteers. There is a sense of efficiency and joy in the atmosphere that speaks to their gracious, generous belief that “Love in action is compassion.”
The Father Fred Fitness Series is going on NOW until May 16
Get Fit & Give Back. The Fitness
Series includes 7 donation classes.
Pre-registration is required for all classes. Visit their website for more information.
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