St. Paul of Tarsus to hungry county residents: ‘We have food’

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 5, 2015

 Linda Yapchai, of Clinton Township, is a parish member seen stocking shelves in the pantry’s shopping area.

Linda Yapchai, of Clinton Township, is a parish member seen stocking shelves in the pantry’s shopping area.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A fluctuating economy coupled with individual hardships has left many residents wondering where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep at night.


On the flip side, there are places that can help the less fortunate get back on their feet and look forward to a more promising tomorrow.


Such is the case with the food pantry at St. Paul of Tarsus, in Clinton Township.


In September 2013, Darlene Seifert, the pantry coordinator, walked up and down the aisles of the parish’s pantry and solemnly stated that food was at a minimum. The fallout from the recession was still ongoing, and 40 families composed of 102 individuals scoured the shelves in a span of four hours.


The food was gone. There wasn’t an abundance of new product to replace it all, either.


In a span of nearly two years, Seifert and numerous volunteers have noticed a glaring change: The clientele has decreased while the amount of food in the pantry is at high volume.


Prior to January of this year, the pantry saw about 220 people per month enter its doors. Now, numbers are down to 100-150 people per month.


“We’ve had less clients since January, and we hope it’s because the economy is picking up,” Seifert said. “In a way, we’re sad because we’re not as busy, but that’s what we want. We want people to get on their feet, so it’s not like we’re hoping people will crash so we’ll get busier.”


The pantry is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday every week, from 10 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Around 70 volunteers each work a few hours per week to get the job done.


“We sort of oversee — everybody does everything, essentially,” said volunteer Bob Tripolsky. “I’ll stock, I’ll organize.


“That’s important to rotate the stock. We ended up getting an order that came in today, and that’s why we fill the orders from this side of the aisle, and on this side we restock. We pull from the front, just like a regular store.”


The staff tries to keep track of how long it has been since a person or family last came in, but such statistics are not that easy to record due to certain circumstances — like when a familiar face from a few months prior walks in, that person is not deemed a new client due to past history.


Those at St. Paul of Tarsus want the community to know that their supply is consistent and available to surrounding county residents. While some pantries in the county are struggling, at least one visibly is not.


“We’ve actually been down in clients this calendar year, but we attribute a big part of that to the economy,” said volunteer Bob Klann. “There’s only four parish families who come in, so every other family we serve is not in our parish. We did a geographical survey and you can’t determine — it really varies all over the map. We try to serve people that are here and, fortunately, we’ve been able to be very generous to our clients and haven’t had to hold back.


“If it’s more convenient and we get the clients in, Darlene will talk to them to begin with, and if another pantry that’s blessed is closer to them, we’ll refer them. But if they can’t find another place, we’ll take them.”


Seifert mentioned a few changes the pantry has made in the past couple of years, including a meet-and-greet program that acclimates staff with outside individuals.


“We find out their story and help them move forward toward independence,” Seifert said. “We sit down and help them figure out their budget with their bills, direct them to other Macomb County resources that are available. If they’re looking for work, we tell them agencies to get in contact with. So, we try to move them forward.”


One example was a military veteran who was seen at the pantry over the years; however, nobody knew his situation was so dire that he was struggling to live a normal life. Now, with help from the staff, the veteran found better housing that saved him money from his previous rent costs.


Clients now are offered a grocery shopping list that is tailored by what they want, and it is influenced by family size. So, families with 5-7 members get more food items than a family of three.


And arguably the biggest help has come in the form of Meijer’s “Simply Give” program.


St. Paul is in its third year of the program, which is a way to raise money to buy food for the pantry. “Simply Give” cards are located by cash registers in Meijer locations, and when a donation is made, Meijer will match it.


So, if a person donates $10 toward St. Paul’s pantry, then Meijer will match that $10 amount. That process runs for six weeks, and two days are double-match days: if a person donates $10, Meijer will donate $20 of its own.


The pantry’s largest sponsor is the Meijer location on Hayes and Hall roads.


Meijer’s goal is to keep food on the pantry shelves. Now, pantry clients can get items like ketchup and mustard, which are not necessarily food needs, but are luxuries that are made possible by such donation programs.


St. Paul’s is the third-largest pantry in terms of money raised through the program.


“I want the public to know to pick up those ‘Simply Give’ cards at the registers (and) know their money is being doubled or sometimes even tripled, and then it helps put food on the pantry shelves,” Seifert said. “I want (people to know) that there are pantries in their neighborhoods that maybe their food shelves are full, and ours are and we are accepting new clients.”


For more information call St. Paul of Tarsus at (586) 228-1094. Also, families in desperate need of food can locate a pantry near their home by calling 211. They can also visit www.mi211.org or www.pantrynet.org.

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