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Connecting food in need of rescue with people in need of food

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Above, Two rows of cars line up to receive mixed dairy boxes as part of Hope and Encouragement for Humanity’s free, public Hope Flows program.

By Christine MacIntyre
Staff writer

You may have heard about the excess of milk and dairy products due to COVID-19 closures. It seems the cows don’t pay any mind to the demand shortage – they’ve decided to keep on producing. So, what to do with all the excess product that can’t be used in food chains or stores? Local churches, such as Abundant Life Assembly of God in Brooklyn and Harmony Baptist Church in Jackson, are utilizing the opportunity to reach those in the community who could use a helping hand during this strenuous time.

As part of the Federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the USDA has partnered with distributors whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the many COVID-19 related closures. Hope and Encouragement for Humanity, an organization based out of Blissfield, Michigan, is helping local communities with USDA free milk and dairy product distribution.

Founded by Garry Phillips in 2004, Hope and Encouragement for Humanity receives products from two different distributors. The federal program covers the cost of the product and transportation to the warehouse in Blissfield. Once the product is received, Hope and Encouragement for Humanity picks up the tab, covering costs such as unloading, loading, forklift and semi operators, and refrigeration of product.

A volunteer loads a car with the requested number of mixed dairy boxes.

As a 501(c)(3), Hope and Encouragement for Humanity’s costs are covered simply by the donations they receive. Once the product is contained in an average of three full-sized semi-trailers, each one requiring about $400 to keep refrigerated, there grows an urgent need for sponsors/partners to host a giveaway to move the product into the hands (or mouths) of consumers.

Sponsors or partners, such as local churches, supply a location large enough to accommodate a semi, fork-lift, and traffic control. There is a need for 20 or more volunteers to run the milk and dairy box giveaway, along with the ability to raise $1,000 per truckload to cover Hope and Encouragement for Humanity’s costs. Partners have previously utilized resources such as churches, businesses, service clubs, and individuals to raise the necessary funds.

Abundant Life Assembly of God, in cooperation with the community church organization “For Irish Hills,” gave away 1,100 boxes to the community last Saturday, August 29 from 9 to 11 a.m. Anyone was able to drive up to the church located at 130 South Main Street, and receive however many dairy boxes they could use or distribute. Pastor Steve Samonek says, “We just want to be a blessing to those around us.”

Similarly, driver Dennis Nusbaum delivered 2,200 boxes of mixed dairy products, including milk, cottage cheese, chip dip, sour cream, and swiss cheese, to Village Hope Church’s Jackson location, 123 West Porter Street. From 8 a.m. Saturday morning until 11 a.m., free dairy boxes were loaded into the vehicles of whoever was willing to show up and receive them.

Shari Robinson works closely with volunteers, organizing the event, and ensuring things are run smoothly.

Shari Robinson, secretary at Harmony Baptist Church explains, “Harmony only has one driveway; Village Hope has two. They are close to two apartment complexes and offered to let us use their [parking] lot, offered volunteers, and are helping to pay for some of [the costs].” Further, “We are the first in the Jackson area to get two trucks for one giveaway,” says Robinson.

“The church(es) raised the $2,000 required for these two trucks through their food ministry program, along with funding from the Central Baptist Association, Michigan Center Bible Church, Village Hope Church, Grace Church and several individuals from Harmony Baptist Church and the community, including gifts in memory of two members of Harmony Baptist Church who passed away recently,” explains Robinson.

“Whether you look at it from God’s perspective or the communities’, it’s all helping somebody,” shares Robinson, who discovered this program and decided to do something with it in the community. She says the giveaways she has overseen have been successful just through word of mouth, some flyers, and passing information along via social media posts. Future giveaways will depend on funding and partnerships with those who can provide a space large enough for traffic flow, according to Robinson. She is hopeful for at least a few more this year.

Volunteers from various churches work together to load mixed dairy boxes into vehicles.

While funding for the Federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program had run out for the summer, there is an extension that will likely carry the program through the end of the year, according to a statement posted on the Hope and Encouragement for Humanity Facebook page. Follow their social media page and check out their website, h-e-h.org, to stay in the loop on future dairy box giveaway dates, times, and locations in the surrounding Jackson, Lenawee, and Monroe counties.

Hope and Encouragement for Humanity is sending two truckloads down to the southern areas slammed by the Category 4 Hurricane Laura. For those who wish to join the effort, please send donations to HEH, 631 Depot Street, Blissfield, Michigan, 49228. All donations are tax-exempt and go directly to helping those struck by disaster, including those in our own communities.

Each year many Americans observe the anniversary of 9/11 by donating blood with the American Red Cross. Eligible donors are encouraged to roll up a sleeve and honor all those who serve and sacrifice for our country at the 8th annual “Drive of Remembrance” Friday, Sept. 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Mill Sports and Events Center, 230 N. Main St. in Onsted. Download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information.

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