TRAVERSE CITY — When gas climbs close to $4 a gallon, Maureen Robinson and her husband run short of money for food.
Thanks to the Acme Christian Thrift Store & Food Pantry, they have enough to eat.
“Without it, we’d have a very difficult time making ends meet," she said.
Now the Williamsburg food pantry has run short of money.
“It’s a financial thing, but it’s also a great religious and moral issue of how much we can afford to give and still stay in business,” said Larry Avery.
Avery is the board secretary of the nonprofit thrift store and pantry, created in 2002 by several churches.
The pantry relies on grants, donations, and thrift store revenues, but is running $1,000 a week short at its current giving level. At that rate, it would have to close in six months, begging the question of whether to give less, Avery said.
The pantry moved into a larger space on M-72 last year to meet the growing number of needy families in the Acme area. It helped 3,554 families last year, about 400 more than 2011, said Carol Hockin, operations director.
"There are just a lot who are underemployed or on disability. They don’t have enough to make it."
Robinson is one of them. She hasn't worked as a cashier since 2009, sidelined by fibromyalgia and arthritis. She's awaiting word on if and when she might qualify for disability. Her husband now has a job at a local casino, but bills piled up when both were jobless.
“We can go to the pantry twice a month,” she said.
Board members are looking at their options to confront the financial shortfall. They may expand the thrift store, for example, so it can sell bigger ticket items, he said.
The pantry used to operate out of a 1,950-square-foot building on U.S. 31 North, where it was "bursting at the seams" and unable to help the growing number of needy families, said Gini Claudepierre, board member.
The pantry was forced to move after the owner decided to sell the building. The pantry had to be out by summer, she said.
That's when serendipity struck; members of the Rotary Club of Elk Rapids offered to help the pantry buy a permanent home.
“They were absolutely instrumental in making the jump at light speed here,” Avery said.
Within a few weeks, the pantry received more than $70,000 in cash donations for a down payment and renovation, Claudepierre said.
Elk Rapids Rotary members and other volunteers donned hard hats to help clean the space and bang out the walls of the former shops, Avery said.
“We’ve gone through so many changes in such a short time,” Avery said. “Six months and we’re a full-blown operation and we’re working out the kinks. We need a computer to have clients log in and figure out how much food we can buy; all the minutia of running a professional operation.”
The mortgage is comparable to the former rent payment. But heat and snow removal costs are driving up expenses, just when volunteers and contributors moved south for the winter, Claudepierre said.
The new space, with its enhanced security, qualified the pantry to obtain food from Feeding America, a national nonprofit. Hockin also gets food from Food Rescue and Fresh Food Partnership. And she's become an expert shopper.
“I have friends who want me go to on the Price is Right, but I’m not ready for that yet," she joked.
The operation has no paid staff, Avery said.
“If people had an extra day to give, we could really use the help,” he said.
The ACTS nonprofit was created in 2002 by several churches that wanted to help the needy.
“It’s all about doing the right thing, the good thing,” Avery said. "There's no other agenda."