Every December, Aaron Filipski is jittery with anticipation, as he awaits the Sterling Heights Department of Public Works’ Ken Stempowski Memorial Food and Clothing Drives.“So far, I haven’t been let down once,” said Filipski, the DPW water service worker who coordinates the annual efforts.
Filipski and fellow DPW employees are hoping for continued success with the latest installment of the program, which collects nonperishable food for the Macomb Food Program, clothing for the Salvation Army and monetary contributions for both. The drives are named after the late DPW worker who initiated them years ago.
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 1, donors can drop off clothing at the DPW Building on 18 Mile, where a volunteer crew of DPW employees and their family members will accept the contributions and help load them onto a Salvation Army van.
“We try to make this really simple for people,” Filipski said of the long-standing “drive-through” format. “It’s just a matter of driving up.”
Nonperishable food for the Macomb Food Program, as well as monetary donations to either cause — in the form of checks made out to those organizations — will be accepted that day, as well.
The DPW also will continue to accept food items and financial contributions through Dec. 10. Those items can be dropped off during business hours at the DPW Building or at the Community Relations Department, located on the lower level of City Hall.
Sue Figurski, food coordinator with the Macomb Food Program, said the DPW’s drive is critical to helping the agency achieve its mission of keeping local families “food secure,” meaning they know the source of their next meal.
Assistance is especially critical, considering demand for food has shot up 18 percent during a one-year period and financial resources are becoming increasingly scarce, said Figurski.
While local donations have remained static — “Macomb County residents are the most generous; our donations from our individuals have stayed the same, or in some cases, even increased a little bit,” she said — federal grants are dwindling, she said.
“Whatever they donate stays in Macomb County, and it helps their neighbors right in Macomb County,” said Figurski. “Even though the economy is really starting to recover, a lot of the people we help … they’re unfortunately the first ones to lose their jobs and the last ones to get hired,” due to factors like lack of transportation, limited resources or skill levels.
And even with the financial climate improving, Figurski said she’s seeing many people who have only been able to find part-time work that barely keeps their family going.
“Our people, they’re struggling,” she said. “They’re still struggling.”
The Macomb Food Program, which helps supply 55 neighborhood food pantries countywide, is perpetually in need of protein products in particular, including peanut butter, canned meat, tuna, soups, sauces and stews containing meat, said Figurski.
On the Salvation Army end, donated clothing goes into the organization’s thrift stores, the proceeds from which benefit programs for the needy, said Donation Specialist Stephanie Franks. Local residents experiencing a disaster also can get vouchers redeemable at the thrift stores to acquire necessities.
Franks said all types of gently used clothing and linen are needed.
“It’s very important because the need is always in our area, and it doesn’t matter what your zip code is,” she said. “I could be a neighbor that’s in need, and if not today, then tomorrow.”
Life becomes especially difficult for the homeless and impoverished during the winter months, when going without a coat and warm garments isn’t an option, she added.
Franks said she hopes the Sterling Heights drives will serve as an example to other municipalities and businesses.
“They have helped out year after year, the DPW,” she said.
The DPW’s 2011 food drive collected $1,000 and more than 1,700 pounds of edibles, including 20 holiday turkeys. Donated clothing more than half filled an enormous Salvation Army truck, and “we’re hoping it’s going to be full this year,” said Filipski.
The DPW intends to continue the drives on the first Saturday of December in perpetuity, “so that, as the years go on, it can become something that the community becomes used to, almost like daylight’s savings time,” he added. “It comes every year, and they know when they’re kind of going though their closets in the fall that the first Saturday in December, the DPW holds a drive and they can take advantage of that.”
The DPW Building is located at 7200 18 Mile, west of Van Dyke. City Hall is located at 40555 Utica Road, at Dodge Park Road. For more information on the drives, call the DPW at (586) 446-2440 or Community Relations at (586) 446-2489.
Anyone with an emergency need for food is asked to call the United Way at 211 or (800) 552-1183.