OPEN HANDS FOOD PANTRY, housed in the lower level of St. John’s Episcopal Church, provides emergency food and toiletries to residents of Oakland County. Completely staffed by a dedicated group of Volunteers, the pantry is open every Saturday from 9:30 A.M. to 11:45 A.M. and every Monday from 12:30 P.M. to 2:45 P.M.
Open Hands Food Pantry volunteers place a premium on treating people with dignity and respect, so each household is met with individually to create a food or supply package that helps them most,” said Reverend Elizabeth Bingham.
Open Hands was founded in 1982 by a small group of parishioners from St. John’s Episcopal Church who saw a need to provide a few cans of food whenever families came by who needed some assistance. “The groceries were kept on a small bookshelf in a Sunday School room,” Elizabeth explained. “After a few years, the whole room was taken over as a space to store and distribute food. Over time, more and more space was required, more volunteers were added, and now an entire floor of the church is dedicated for food storage and distribution.”
She added, “Hunger is real in Oakland County” and the specified 2017 goal of the pantry was to feed 14,000 people. Of this goal, Elizabeth said, “14,000 is about the capacity that we can reach with our current hours of operation and current volunteer and funding base. If we were open more often or had more resources, we would serve more people. We don’t despair about that. We do what we can, with dignity and respect for our neighbors.”
Recently, some members of the parish invited students from the Oakland University’s engineering department to develop an irrigation system on a volunteer basis as part of their capstone project. “They got real-life experience in solving a problem for a ‘client’ using industrial engineering concepts and tools,” Elizabeth said of the endeavor and Open Hands Garden was the recipient of an automated irrigation system.” As a result, she added, “Open Hands Garden plants are always well-watered and producing – no matter what the weather!”
The Open Hands Garden is fairly new to the church, having been established only three years ago as part of an initiative to be able to provide both perishable and nonperishable food items. “We now have eight raised beds, and hope to expand the garden next year to lengthen our growing season and provide more vegetables. This is a volunteer-intensive project, and people come all over the region to help us plant, weed, and harvest. We always need more volunteers!” she explained.
The food pantry has been supported mostly by individual donations and a few local grants, such as The Village Club in Bloomfield Hills. “The ‘GM Men’s Club’ and ‘Corvettes on Woodward’ are very generous with us, as they use the St. John’s Parking Lot during the annual Dream Cruise and have become very supportive of our program,” Elizabeth explained, adding that donations also come in regularly from many of the local businesses, schools and organizations.
“Cash gifts are the best way to support us,” she said. These donations are tax deductible. “Also consider organizing a toiletry or non-perishable food drive for Open Hands in your faith communities, schools or businesses. It’s always best for us if you collect ‘just one thing’ – toothbrushes, canned soup, or tuna fish, etc.” Donating one specific item rather than mixing and matching makes it easier to shelve the product and distribute it from one place without having to sort lots of items. Some of the goods most needed are personal hygiene products, laundry and dish soap, soup and other canned goods, dried beans, peanut butter, socks, mittens, gloves, hats, and scarves and backpacks.
Small donations are accepted during the food pantry’s open hours. For larger donations, the church should be contacted first via phone or email: (248) 546-1255, option 2, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The goal of Open Hands is to keep extending its reach. “Our goal is to expand our volunteer base and our pool of funders,” Elizabeth said. “We could do so much more if we had consistent funding. We are in the process of seeking gifts and long-term commitments from individual donors, as well as corporations, foundations, and other entities.”