Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — It’s one of those things that helps put the daily strain — work, bills and fussing kids — into context: Every year at this time, just when families in need are at their most vulnerable, giving to area food pantries and social service agencies is at its highest.
People here care about their neighbors and are willing to show up. At the Father Fred Foundation, donations in November and December often make up 40 percent of what the agency takes in for the year. Its fall food and cash drive — along with additional donations of holiday meals — is usually enough to meet demand and help make the holidays special.
And there’s no doubting the demand. The Father Fred pantry averages 1,100 to 1,200 visits a month, chaplain Jim Holwerda said. In December of last year that number rose to 2,100.
David Abeel, director of development at Benzie Area Christian Neighbors in Benzonia, said things get really busy as we head into the holiday season. “From mid-November to the first or second week of December is one of our peak periods” in both demand and donations.
“The holiday season is when we get a surge of donations,” he said. Holiday thoughts of “giving and goodwill” help fan that support, he said, It’s also helps to remind businesses to donate before the end of the year for tax purposes.
The agency works to “remain steady” during that period and offer clients a wide variety of foods for holiday meals.
All this says a lot about the region and the volunteers who keep organizations like the Kalkaska Area Interfaith Resources food pantry going. Local churches donate about a third of the food that finds its way into Christmas dinner boxes for KAIR clients, said pantry coordinator Brenda Vowels.
She said she expects about 300 families to apply for the boxes this year; the boxes contain either turkey or ham and fixings for a holiday meal, from cranberry sauce to rolls and potatoes. Regular Father Fred clients will be able to pull out items for a full holiday meal in November and December, said executive director Rosemary Hagan.
“They’re going to walk out with an added bag of groceries,” she said.
Poverty and need can be relatively invisible in northern Michigan, where blighted neighborhoods are few and far between. But the October jobless rate for Grand Traverse County was 6.8 percent in October (it was 8.9 percent in Antrim County, 8.4 percent in Benzie, 6 percent in Leelanau and 8.4 percent in Kalkaska) and, judging by the numbers served by area pantries, there is plenty of need — but also lots of generosity.