At the Flint Eastside Mission, volunteers bustle around beginning at 8am, preparing for clients – anywhere from 100 to 180 men, women or children who typically live in the 48506 zip code. They come for a hot meal, or a chance to visit the food pantry or “shop” at the Clothing Center, get a haircut or eye exam, wash a load of clothes, pick up diapers or baby items, or select a business suit from the “Dress for Success” room for a job interview, or even attend Bible study.
This multitude of services is offered from 8am to 1pm, Monday through Thursday, at the site on the Delaware and Franklin block which encompasses three separate buildings – the basement of New Life Church, and two adjacent homes converted into the food pantry and clothing center. The complex, which served 20,000 hot lunches last year, functions as a Nazarene Mission and promotes an environment of respect, courtesy and compassion to every person who seeks assistance.
There are 35 to 40 volunteers who share their time and talents at Eastside Mission and greet one another and the public like family. Volunteers – who range from Michigan Works referral clients to members of any Genesee County Nazarene church, to General Motors and Genesys retirees, to those who live within walking distance – know what to do and what is expected, because it is a well-organized operation thanks to its leader, Reverend Roger Lutze.
“We’re human beings helping
other human beings.”
– Reverend Roger Lutze
The energetic 71-year-old is a GM retiree who wanted his retirement years to be purposeful. “I knew I couldn’t just sit around on the couch. This is my way to give back,” says Lutze, who formerly served at Carriage Town and then landed at Eastside Mission in 2007, where he began as an assistant and is now the facility’s executive director.
Lutze and his team are experts in the business of giving back. “We’re human beings helping other human beings,” Lutze explains as he unloads two bags of shredded lettuce he picked up at Gordon Food Service before arriving to work. “We serve a diverse neighborhood,” he says. “We treat everyone with respect and dignity, whether they’re Hispanic, black or white, homeless, single parents, drug addicts, prostitutes, students, young or old. We try to help improve their lives and get them going in the right direction.”
Lutze says there are many well-intentioned and appreciative people they serve who don’t have enough resources, income, food or clothing, access to eye exams or glasses, or the mental capacity to handle daily life. “They might be recovering from an addiction, living under a bridge or sleeping in their car, or they’re just plain lonely,” he says. “But they’re human beings who lack basic necessities.”
Lutze knows that many of the people he serves could benefit from having access to a shower, too. “It was always my vision to make Eastside Mission a place for someone to get cleaned up, get a shower and a new outfit for a job interview.” His vision is now a reality. Soon, all of the regular services will be obtainable – and a shower (if needed) – at the former Shelter of Flint location, an 11,000-square-foot building at 1829 Delaware Street, which the Eastside Mission recently purchased for one dollar.
“We bought it for one dollar, but have put $250,000 into renovations,” Lutze states. “I made sure we built a single-stall, handicapped-accessible shower. A newly remodeled and modern facility will allow us to better serve people.” Funds from grants and donations from organizations, churches and businesses made the remodeling possible. In addition, a brand new, local Head Start preschool program will be housed in the newly acquired building. Lutze says that prior to this, there was no Head Start program available to children living in the 48506 zip code.
Lutze is grateful for the help he gets from volunteers; he especially counts on his assistant, Terry White, who also believes in giving his time to a worthy cause. “Terry keeps me straight,” laughs Lutze. “We bounce ideas around and he is a tremendous asset in the area of paperwork.” White keeps track of the dozens of volunteers, their agreement contracts, and the number of hours they serve; those in the cash assistance program or who are doing court mandated community service have to be reported to the State of Michigan. “I enjoy doing the computer work, reports, drafting letters and other documents,” says White, also a GM retiree and Nazarene Church member. White helps run the clothing house, sorts donation items, and is on hand to do anything Lutze might delegate to him.
Other volunteers, such as Bobbie Jean, sweep the front steps and tidy up the space – she takes the bus to get there. “I help sweep, mow grass, bleach tables, fold clothes, vacuum or mop the floors,” says Jean, who is impressed with the team-like environment at Eastside Mission. “Everyone works together and gets along,” she adds.
Tyria Martin agrees, as she gathers ingredients for the daily meal. “In order to receive cash assistance for my one-year-old baby, I volunteer here,” says Martin, who helps the head cook, Debbie Roberts, prepare meals. Roberts, who retired from Genesys, is known for making quality, homemade meals such as chicken, mashed potatoes, spaghetti, macaroni & cheese, and pork chops. “Working here gives me joy,” says Roberts.
Lutze works closely with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and says random donations from farmers also make a difference. “We’ve had cows, pigs, and venison donated. This helps us provide satisfying meals,” he says. The on-site food pantry is supervised by Gary Davis, also a Nazarene Church member who previously experienced difficulties in his own life, and volunteers as a way to make a difference for others who struggle. “It’s a blessing to work here,” Davis says.
Photo identification and a piece of personal mail with the 48506 zip code is all that is needed to receive food, such as fresh vegetables and fruit in the summer.
A local hairdresser, Jamie Caldwell, offers free haircuts on a monthly basis. A nearby optometrist, Dr. Chris Hall, visits bi-monthly, volunteering his time to provide free eye exams. “Teachers at Potter Elementary School know about what we do and they call to tell us they have a child who needs an eye exam and whose parents will need help purchasing glasses,” Dr. Hall shares.
The altruism and selflessness of so many volunteers makes the Eastside Mission known for its compassion – and they’re pretty famous for their “Back-to-School Bash,” recently held in August, which gives away 400-500 backpacks, school supplies, and a free lunch.
Shirley Herner oversees the Clothing Center which stocks items for people to browse and take. After showing I.D. and paying 50 cents, clients receive a 13-gallon trash bag to fill with such things as towels, sheets, small household appliances, shoes, purses, diapers, baby food, books and toys.
“I used to work here as a volunteer, but now I have a better job at the Flint Auto Auction,” says Jessica Rosencrants, 24, a single mother who shopped for a purse, pants, and a few children’s books. “This place helps a ton of people,” she says. “I don’t know what I’d do without it. The people who work and volunteer here really care about me.”
Hearing that makes Reverend Lutze proud. “We’re here to serve others any way we can,” he says. To donate items or volunteer at the Flint Eastside Mission, call 810.767.5312 or e-mail email@example.com.
Terry White, Assistant
Photography by Eric Dutro