The former Servant Church of St. Alexander in Farmington Hills still looks a bit like a church on the outside.
But inside, C.A.R.E.S. (Community Action Resources Empowerment Services) of Farmington Hills has made progress toward creating a one-stop shop for families in need. The nonprofit bought the 10-acre property on Shiawassee east of Middlebelt in June of 2017.
Over the past year, volunteers have built walls to create office spaces, a meeting room, and a clothes closet, run by volunteer Donna Nawrot of Northville. A Realtor by profession, she signed on after spending a day on the campus with a team of volunteers from Keller Williams.
The closet, which distributes hundreds of clothing items, shoes, and accessories each month, is run like a clothing store, Nawrot said, and “people love it.”
She smiled as she recalled how one woman came in looking to find polo shirts so that a group of children would have school uniforms.
“We found 23 for her,” Nawrot said. “It’s stuff like that every day… When I came here that first day and met Todd (Lipa, a C.A.R.E.S. co-founder), I felt God led me here to do this. I love the vision, I love the people.”
Brighton resident Delores Watters recently took over management of the food pantry, after long-time volunteer Carol Greening retired. A retiree from Gleaners Food Bank, she knows the value of having many resources in one location.
“We know it’s never just about food,” she said. “We know if you have food issues, there’s something else going on. I think in the future we’re going to see a lot more of these.”
Eventually, the C.A.R.E.S. food pantry will be set up like a grocery store, so that families can shop for the food they want, foods their children will eat, “so there’s a whole lot less waste,” Watters said.
Lipa recently put out a call for food pantry donations, which can be dropped off at C.A.R.E.S. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. You can also make a donation to C.A.R.E.S. through the Gleaners website, https://virtualfooddrive-gleaners.nationbuilder.com.
The latest C.A.R.E.S. addition, WIC (Women Infants and Children), already serves 200 clients with health screenings, nutrition counseling, and food assistance for pregnant moms and children from birth to age 5. Coordinator Alysse Hanchett said the location works well for the program, which is operated by OLHSA (Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency).
“More than half of our clients are from Farmington and Farmington Hills,” she said, “and these other resources are right in the palm of our hand.”
WIC’s mission is promoting healthy lifestyles and nutrition, Hanchett said. Those who receive food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid are automatically eligible, but others may meet the program’s guidelines. More information is available at mi.gov/WIC.
Work will begin soon in the convent that stands adjacent to the main building, which will serve as headquarters for Rebuilding Together Oakland County. The organization’s volunteers repair and improve homes for low income individuals and families.
Former Farmington Public Schools trustee Frank Reid, now president of the organization’s board, said the group has worked out of donated space, and “it’ll be nice to have a reliable home.” Serving families in southeast Michigan for 25 years, Rebuilding Together has improved more than 1,100 houses in Oakland County, and rehabbed parks and community centers.
“What we believe is, if we can affect several homes in a neighborhood, we can revitalize the community as a whole,” he said.
Also housed inside the main building, Wade Natho and Sandy Teeter offer counseling through Warrior Family Ministries. It’s a “fantastic venue for us, and being able to coordinate efforts with Todd (Lipa) is exciting,” Natho said.
As chaplains, the two help people through tragedy as “spiritual first responders,” Teeter said.
Another Day Resource Center (ADRC) recently relocated to C.A.R.E.S., and founder Cathy Lietz said its community-based philosophy was a huge factor in moving in.” The nonprofit provides food, clothing, prayer, household items and furniture, counseling and mentoring to anyone in need.
“The support that C.A.R.E.S. has given ADRC and the other organizations that have moved in has been a true blessing because ADRC is all about serving the community through outreaches and programs while making a difference to those that need a hand up,” Lietz said. “We can’t wait to watch C.A.R.E.S. grow and succeed beyond its expectations.”
To learn more about C.A.R.E.S. of Farmington Hills and make a donation, visit caresfh.org.