BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The mid-January morning, like many others this winter, started with below-normal temperatures.
But the frigid forecast didn’t prepare Traverse Bay Manufacturing President Mark Toteff for the shock he got when an employee went to the storage area to turn on a compressor and discovered a pipe had frozen and burst overnight.
“There were 8 inches of water on the floor,” said Toteff, whose Elk Rapids company manufactures outdoor clothing for the military and retailers including L.L. Bean, Patagonia and Cabela’s. “A lot of water, a lot of damage.”
That damage extended to more than 800 new shirts and long underwear sets that, once wet, couldn’t be sold. Also among the sodden: ear warmers and headbands. Altogether the stock had a retail value of $20,000 or more, he said.
Seeing the perfectly good clothes go to waste wasn’t an option for the community-minded businessman. So he set about trying to donate them to the local nonprofit The Father Fred Foundation, which provides clothing and other assistance to many of the region’s families in need,
There was just one problem: neither the agency nor Toteff’s company had the laundry facilities to wash and dry the garments.
Toteff, a volunteer for the Detroit Red Wings NHL Prospects Tournament and Training Camp, made several phone calls seeking help. Then he remembered Cambria Suites, which provides lodging for several hockey teams that come to Traverse City for the event.
The hotel readily agreed to launder the clothing and prepare it for delivery to Father Fred.
“We have a big commercial laundry that’s not running 24 hours a day,” said Ron Robinson, operations director for Summerside Properties, which includes Cambria Suites. “We are part of the community and when we can we like to help out the community because the community supports us. It’s not a lot of cost or trouble for us to do that, and the end result is really nice.”
Toteff said several tubs of clean clothing already have been delivered to Father Fred. The remainder are expected to arrive by Monday.
Warm garments are a hot commodity at the agency, especially this year with its harsh winter, said foundation chaplain Jim Holwerdam. And long underwear is seldom donated.
“We cannot keep winter garments in stock,” he said. “A lot of our guests deal with the high cost of propane and gas and even natural wood by keeping the thermostat way down. They close off rooms. They use their stoves to heat. So for them, comfort around the home as well as outside could be important.”
Holwerdam said many of agency’s guests could benefit from resources to make their homes more energy efficient. But when it comes to spending precious dollars on preventive measures like weather stripping or survival measures like keeping warm, most opt for keeping warm. And that’s where Toteff’s donation comes in.
“When somebody goes the extra mile to care for people in need, people in need get cared for,” Holwerdam said.