For many of the retired volunteers who arrive at Riverside Tabernacle in Downtown Flint early every Monday morning to sort and pack food for people in need, reaching retirement age gave them new choices. With so many ways they could choose to commit their time, they each decided to come to Riverside Tabernacle to help put food on the tables of many Flint residents. “My belief is you don’t retire and sit in a chair,” says Sue Jeffes, who retired after working 21 years as a nurse for McLaren Cancer Institute and now helps organize and assist the volunteers at The Storehouse each week. “I’m here to serve others and not myself.”
That humble approach toward community service is shared with at least 25 other volunteers, ranging from young adults to retirement age, who show up at Riverside each week eager to work. They unload food from trucks and then transfer it downstairs where items are sorted and packed, including close-dated bread, fresh eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, canned and dry goods, dairy products, meat, crackers and snacks.
At 92 years old, Grand Blanc resident Lillian Baba doesn’t mind the tedious, sometimes messy task of sorting out cracked eggs into full-dozen cartons. She taught Sunday school at Riverside for 50 years and feels blessed to be a part of The Storehouse crew. Lillian brings an unmatched spark of energy to the group’s efforts, and doesn’t rest until the day’s work is finished. “When we find something we can be a part of, we shouldn’t sit at home,” she says. “We stay until everything is done, and when I go home, I take a nap.”
A state-licensed organization, The Storehouse serves the needy in Flint but is not restricted to low-income households. The program also provides groceries for several Flint-area agencies and food pantries in outlying areas. As the program has developed, the need in the community has not wavered. The Storehouse serves from 500 to as many as 900 Flint area residents each week. Records are kept of each individual and family who receives food.
“You see some people who are so needy. It does your heart good to be able to help them with food and also just to talk to them and give them a pat on the back.”
Gerald Boonstra, Volunteer
A voluntary church service is held on Tuesdays at 9am before the food is distributed to people in line. Most of the food is obtained from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, where volunteers pick up food twice a week, as well as local places like Panera Bread in Grand Blanc. Labels are scrutinized to make sure all of the food is close-dated and fresh to consume.
The idea for The Storehouse began in 2001 when Riverside Tabernacle began collecting and storing food in its kitchen cupboards and giving it away to those in need. Eventually, the service grew as the need remained strong, so the program began providing grocery bags of food on a monthly basis as a consolidated effort with the FBEM’s Mobile Food Pantry. “I had a hard time handing someone a bag of food and telling them, ‘we’ll see you next month,’” recalls Director Steve Krefeldt. “One bag of food does not go very far with a family of four and a lot of those families are bigger than four.” Two walk-in-coolers were purchased with donated funds, and the program blossomed with the addition of a large commercial meat freezer.
Having experienced health problems in recent years, Steve sits at a table each week keeping meticulous records and providing guidance while volunteers buzz around him unloading food and preparing goods for distribution. His work with Hamady Brothers and also at IBM where he retired and did accounting and marketing work, has served him well in this role. The program’s food costs are minimal compared with retail prices. The Storehouse used 882,000 pounds of food from the Food Bank last year. “The church has never budgeted for food. The money is all donated,” he says.
Volunteers enjoy a sense of personal reward from the work. A veteran of the Air Force and the Navy Seabeas, Gerald Boonstra retired from General Motors and now, at 76, volunteers at The Storehouse as the program’s handyman, helping however he can. “It’s a ministry to me,” he says. “You see some people who are so needy. It does your heart good to be able to help them with food and also just to talk to them and give them a pat on the back.”
On Tuesdays, the volunteer crew includes participants of Life Challenge in Flint, a one-year residential rehabilitation center for people struggling with addictions. Riverside Tabernacle provides food donations to Life Challenge, and they give back to the church and community by volunteering their time and muscle to help load up bags and boxes of food. “They fill a need for us as much as we do for them,” says Dave Reed, who assists with the men’s division at Life Challenge. A lot of the guys don’t have a church background. This atmosphere lifts them up.”
“It’s nice to get out and help people,” agrees Life Challenge participant Dan Willis, while loading grocery bags to be distributed to Flint residents. “Taking this much time to do this shows the heart that these people have for the community. It’s infectious.”
To replenish the energy of the volunteers, JoAnn Holmquist prepares lunch each week in Riverside’s kitchen. She uses a donated commercial gas stove and food warmer to prepare large quantities of food, from baked spaghetti to casseroles and homemade soups. When My City Magazine visited, she was busy preparing a tasty lunch of BBQ short ribs with steak fries and salad. JoAnn, who started working in the restaurant business when she was 15, is retired from Canteen Food Service. “I wound up in the kitchen here,” she laughs, while stirring a pot of vegetables on the stove for soup, “but I enjoy it.”
Steve says he relies on faith to keep The Storehouse packed with food from week to week and is amazed by the way people have come forward to take care of the bustling program, from those who donate to those who volunteer. “It’s a privilege to do this,” he smiles. “It keeps me going.” ♦
Would you like to help? Donate two-ply durable grocery bags. Each week The Storehouse uses two-ply grocery bags for distributing food. The expense for bags is significant compared with the cost of food. The Storehouse will graciously accept bags or monetary donations for this item.