By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – The cupboards aren’t bare, but a local food pantry needs more donations of shelf-stable groceries to help meet the increasing needs of local low-income residents seeking food for their families.
The Blessed Hope Christian Church food pantry, 3804 Hazel Ave., run by the Revs. Gary and Crystal Schippling, is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Friday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday to distribute groceries.
Prepared meals are served at noon and 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 5 p.m. Wednesday; noon Saturday; and 4 p.m. Sunday, and uses in part extra food donated from caterers, leftovers from the Lincoln Park Public Schools lunch program, and excess food from corporate and civic group events.
People from local churches go to the centralized site to volunteer.
For more information, call 313-388-1499, or go to blessedhopechurch.net.
The Schipplings started a food pantry in 2006 at their previous location, 1706 Fort St., and primarily serve people who aren’t homeless but whose incomes are strained.
“By us being able to give them non-perishable foods, it helps them stretch their budget,” Gary Schippling said.
“The pantry started very gradually,” Crystal Schippling said. “God may have had that plan, but I don’t think either of us had that idea that we would do what we do now.”
Initially, a church in Monroe was receiving large pallets of food, which it was sharing with other area churches for distribution. As the Schipplings continued to pick up and store food for local residents, they began to accept food donations from other sources.
Crystal Schippling said the pantry often helps families with multiple generations in a home who have members working but who don’t make enough to meet all their expenses.
Transportation, rent or a mortgage, utilities, taxes and medical expenses often leave them without enough money to buy food, she said.
Gary Schippling said they also help households dropped from government subsidy programs, like the Michigan Bridge card, which acts like a debit card for food, shelter, health care and child care.
“All of a sudden a person goes in to use it, and it’s no go,” Gary Schippling said. “They are short workers, but the computer knows it, and cuts them off. It takes weeks to get back on. We are the safety net.”
He said they also help seniors with fixed incomes.
The Schipplings said they have seen the most increase in the need for food in the last four months, rising from 35 households a week to more than 100 each week.
“We have to restock our shelves weekly,” Gary Schippling said. “You see cases and cases of food, but feeding that many families, that many dinners, it goes down very quickly.”
Gary Schippling said they try to give families balanced meals, with fruits, vegetables, and protein sources.
He said City Councilman Chris Dardzinski delivered a pickup truck full of food last week, but even that will be distributed within a week.
The Meijer “Simply Give” program, begun in November 2008, encourages customers to purchase $10 gift cards at checkout during the spring, fall, and winter holidays. The gift cards are distributed to local food pantries to purchase the food items most needed by their clients, as well as baby food, formula, diapers and wipes.
For more information, go to meijercommunity.com/community-needs/hunger-relief/simply-give.
The Schipplings said the pantry also has been helped by food donations from the U.S. Post Office in Dearborn Heights, the Downriver Family YMCA in Southgate, and other community groups and individuals.
Pantries that receive donations directly from Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, Forgotten Harvest, and United States Department of Agriculture commodities distribute surplus donations to them.
“You have to use them, so we will often get the overages that they have,” Crystal Schippling said.
She said sometimes liquid nutrition, or special health-related non-medical supplies, like incontinence products, will be donated when a person is settling a relative’s estate, and those items will quickly find recipients who need them.
They said they no longer take furniture donations from estates.
The pantry neither applies for nor receives grant funding, Gary Schippling said.
Protein-based canned products, like canned chicken, tuna and beef stew are always needed, and are the hardest to acquire, as they are more expensive, and less likely to be donated, he said.
Crystal Schippling said they have no geographic restriction on whom they help.
“I don’t have long nails because sometimes I have much less faith than I’d like to,” she said, “and so sometimes I am biting my nails saying, ‘We are not going to make it through.’ But our help comes from all over, so why would we not serve whoever?”
She said a lot of people don’t realize that their neighbors may face food insecurity.
“That is part of what we have lost in this really busy, very inwardly focused society,” Crystal Schippling said. “It used to be that people would know and just help out, and it wouldn’t be a big deal.”
Crystal Schippling said it is easier to serve others than most people think.
She said in addition to serving seniors with multiple generations in their households, they provide food for people with mental health issues.
Gary Schippling said they want people to know that they accept help and donations of any type.
“All they have to do is come in and ask,” he said. “We are very grateful for any help in any form. God has really blessed us with a lot of people in different times.”