TRAVERSE CITY — The week before Christmas is always a busy time at the Father Fred Foundation, and this holiday season is no exception.
Temperatures dip and heating bills rise, along with the need for food, warm clothing and requests for economic assistance in paying utility bills to avoid shutoffs and possible homelessness. At the same time, several organizations are bringing in food collected in year-end food drives, plus the Foundation is one of several distribution points for this year's annual Toys for Tots campaign.
The 23-year-old charity and its partners in outlying counties provide free food, clothing, household goods and some emergency financial assistance to about 6,000 families in need in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties.
It is northern Michigan's largest food pantry, serving about 4,400 unduplicated families this year. The foundation takes no federal or state money, existing on donations and grants from individuals, businesses, philanthropic foundations and corporations.
As of last week, it also had provided $534,558 in economic assistance to 3,094 "unduplicated" families in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties. Executive Director Martie Manty expects that total to grow to $607,000 by year's end. The annual average amount received by recipients was $185, she said.
About 3,754 unduplicated families obtained free clothing, valued at $479,500, from the nonprofit's clothing department this year.
Overall, the Father Fred Foundation and its 160 to 180 volunteers served almost 6,000 families in the five-county region, about the same number as in 2011. Of those, 1,843 were newcomers to the area's human service safety net, Manty said. Another 2,850 families, however, did not return for services this year, she said.
The statistics include services provided in the outlying counties by the Benzie Area Christian Neighbors, Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources (KAIR) and Antrim County's Good Samaritan Family Services in Ellsworth, which are other public nonprofit partners based in those areas.
It takes about 20-25 volunteers a day to keep the Foundation in operation Tuesdays through Fridays, Manty said. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for food, clothing, furniture and economic assistance. On Wednesday, the Foundation opens at 10 but stays open until 7:30 p.m. Economic assistance isn't available after 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
Some 200-250 people come on those days, Manty said. "Guests" are limited to two visits a month to the food pantry and clothing department. The amount of food they receive is based on family size. Up to two big plastic bags of clothing are available during each visit. They can shop the furniture section every six months and take two items.
Client services are not available from Dec. 24 through New Year's Day and during the National Cherry Festival in July, though the Foundation's administrative offices remain open except for Christmas and New Year's Day.