Ralph Frontera, of Macomb Township, is one of two warehouse coordinators at St. Paul of Tarsus in Clinton Township. He stands with a pantry client’s grocery cart.

Ralph Frontera, of Macomb Township, is one of two warehouse coordinators at St. Paul of Tarsus in Clinton Township. He stands with a pantry client’s grocery cart.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Partnership between food pantry, county resource changes lives

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published November 12, 2018

 Nancy Latham, a program instructor at MSU Extension, and Art David, assistant food pantry coordinator at St. Paul of Tarsus, stand next to a client enrollment room.

Nancy Latham, a program instructor at MSU Extension, and Art David, assistant food pantry coordinator at St. Paul of Tarsus, stand next to a client enrollment room.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — People in need have visited St. Paul of Tarsus for 35 years.

The pantry of the church, located in Clinton Township, is open to those who are going through their own tribulations. By showing a driver’s license and a piece of U.S. mail for everyone in a household, ages 18 and older, individuals can be helped.

St. Paul pantry coordinator Darlene Seifert said that due to a better economy, more employment and higher salaries, the pantry has seen the number of families who walk through its doors decrease. Last year, 200 families were served. This year, it’s around 125.

Assistant pantry coordinator Art David said the church is composed of three main initiatives: sharing God’s word, sharing food and lifting lives through educational resources.

“That is our nucleus,” David said. “That is the center and core of everything we do.”

But what volunteers and staff didn’t always realize was that families kept coming back, and back, and back again, because many didn’t know any better.

“They either don’t know how to budget their money, they don’t know how to spend their money, they don’t know how to save their money,” he said. “It’s a dog chasing its tail. They’re constantly going in a circle and they’re lost.”

Thus, a relationship bred out of financial empowerment was created between the church and MSU Extension, a county resource that provides resources that individuals either might not be aware of or don’t often utilize.

People like Seifert and David were linked to extension coordinator Robert Weber and program instructor Nancy Latham, who teaches people about the costs and advantages of home ownership, as well as the steps in the home-buying process and how good credit can go a long way.

It stems from identifying and understanding needs, Weber said, and figuring out long-term solutions for future viability.

“If you tie those things together, you can help people find a path forward and become a little more sustainable and a little more financial literate,” he said.

Latham, who has met with people seeking financial advice since April, said she sometimes sees attitudes change in real time. That’s because they originally walk in with low expectations.

“My goal is that they always leave with something — some knowledge, some different ideas on maybe how to try to do things differently, to save money, to spend differently, and even to track what they’re spending, find out where your money’s going,” Latham said. “Most people have no idea.”

For her, it’s about making that real connection and giving people the opportunity to provoke change. She’s been offering some kind of financial education program for about 25 years, though her current specialty of financial empowerment is relatively new.

She’s offered homeowner rehab programs in northern Michigan, and conducted homebuyer education when the financial crisis decimated a countless number. She averaged 12-hour days, all because “I love to help people.”

Her tips go a long way, too. She makes her own laundry detergent and vegetable stock, and she uses vinegar and baking soda for cleaning purposes to avoid chemicals and expense.

“I love to teach, and so when I’m sharing, I feel like I’m teaching, because I’m giving them tools — things that they can use to make a difference in their life,” she said.

Weber said low-income individuals only see the financial problem right in front of them, because it’s immediate. But financing and budgeting require more planning.

One individual wrote to Seifert in August, mentioning how she and her family have visited the pantry intermittently for the past year. That was, however, before she met Latham and was provided advice to help get her on the right financial footing.

Her family hasn’t needed to return to the pantry for months.

“(Latham) was helping me with (advice) on life insurance plans and stopped me from picking the wrong one,” said the woman, whose name was withheld. “Thanks to the program, I have been able to get our monthly auto insurance payment cut in half, as well as our cable bill. I also learned some tips on how to limit my grocery shopping expenses and stretch my dollars out.”

Those who benefit and gain a new hope are not forgotten.

“We’re not just processing numbers,” Seifert said. “We’re getting involved in people’s lives. It’s like they come alive again.”

The St. Paul of Tarsus pantry is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 41300 Romeo Plank Road in Clinton Township. People can learn more by calling (586) 228-1210.

Those who want to connect with Latham can call (586) 469-7609 or email lathamn@msu.edu.

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