CARES of Farmington Hills second year brings growth, need

Two years have passed since a newly formed nonprofit took over the 10.5 acre property that formerly housed the Servant Church of St. Alexander in Farmington Hills.

CARES of Farmington Hills

In that time, C.A.R.E.S. (Community. Action. Resources. Empowerment. Services.) of Farmington Hills has grown by leaps and bounds, now serving more than 540 families in the Farmington area, Redford, and Southfield. Executive Director Todd Lipa says the campus on Shiawassee sees about 300-400 client visits every month.

Thanks to donors and volunteers, a bank of coolers lines a wall in the food pantry, a fully stocked clothing closet distributes more than 3,000 items every month, and the facility houses offices for the WIC (Women Infants and Children) program, veterans services, Another Day Resource Center, and Rebuilding Together Oakland.

So much has been done to make C.A.R.E.S. a one-stop shop for people in need. And Lipa says much more work remains.

The big asks

As temperatures soar, Lipa worries most about fixing the church building’s HVAC issues. Through equipment donations, contractor Air Temp managed to whittle an estimate from $135,000 to $70,000 – but that’s still a huge investment.

CARES of Farmington Hills
Executive Director Todd Lipa and food pantry manager Delores Watters say CARES clients appreciate the pantry’s grocery store-style amenities.

The heat affects volunteers, many of whom are seniors, as well as heat-sensitive donated food items and the coolers.

“It kills me every day to know there are people stopping in and working in a very warm building,” said Lipa. “It’s not good for a lot of reasons.”

He also loses sleep over the $500,000 needed to repay backers who provided funding for the building purchase. While raising money is always a challenge, people don’t generally see Farmington/Farmington Hills as a community where people need help.

Lipa, who also serves as Director of Youth and Family Services for the City of Farmington Hills, said he’s been surprised to find that about 60 percent of the families served by C.A.R.E.S. come from Farmington Hills. According to data collected, the food shelf also serves more children than any other in the Gleaners Community Food Bank network.

C.A.R.E.S. has applied to major foundations for assistance, and Lipa believes they’ll eventually find the right match. The organization is also now part of the Amazon Smile program, through which customers can designate a charity to benefit from their purchases.

’There’s a lot of dignity to it’

In the meantime, the organization has its hands full providing food, clothing, and other services to clients in need. Lipa said food pantry manager Delores Watters came to C.A.R.E.S. with a vision for a different kind of food pantry, one that held up clients’ dignity.

“When Delores came on last July, she said she was going to make changes. It happened faster than I think we were ready for, but what happened was needed, so we made the change.”

With support from Busch’s Fresh Food Market, the C.A.R.E.S. pantry offers a quick and more comfortable shopping experience. Clients can select the foods their families will eat, then “check out” with volunteers at a grocery store-style lane.

“There’s a lot of dignity to it,” said Watters, “and there’s a lot less waste…We’re serving about twice as many people with the same amount of money. That tells me people are only taking what they need.”

It also saves on volunteer hours, she added, “because the guests are doing a lot of the work, so we can serve more people.”

SNAP grocery store

Coming soon, thanks to a recently won grant: a unique grocery store area for people who get supplemental nutrition assistance through a Bridge card. Lipa said people who have the cards are typically about one week short of food every month.

“If we can bring down the cost of food, they can stretch it further,” Watters added. “They’ll be taking less food from the pantry, and we’ll be able to serve more people.”

Lipa said CARES has been in touch with Detroit’s Eastern Market to provide fresh produce. Busch’s has also offered to help set up the logistical end and assist with providing food for what will be the “Busch’s Cares Market”.

CARES of Farmington Hills youth project
Youth United volunteers worked last year on the CARES property. (Contributed)

As the inside of the former church building takes shape, volunteers have also shaped up the grounds, from landscaping to parking lot lighting. Youth United, a coalition of teens and adults from local churches, mosques, and synagogues, will spend a week this summer laying the groundwork for a community garden, creating artwork for the new Bridge card store, painting exterior trim, and more.

“What has been really surprising is the number of organizations, individuals, families, and businesses that have stepped up,” Lipa said.

“Even the people who shop here donate money,” Watters added. “It’s as if the whole community is all in.”

Want to help?

  • The next big fundraiser will be a Duck Derby in Shiawassee Park during the Greater Farmington Founders Festival. A $5 ticket gets you a duck in the race; prizes include a year of $100 monthly shopping sprees at Busch’s Market, $500 gift certificate to Steinkopf Nursery, a year of family dinner nights at Bunchy’s Chicken & Pizza, an LG UHD 49” 4K Smart TV from Paulson’s Audio & Visual, a $300 gift certificate from Focal Point Studio, Farmington Hills; and more. Learn about the event and how to buy tickets here.
  • Make monetary donations or sign up to volunteer through the CARES website.
  • Stop by CARES, 27835 Shiawassee in Farmington Hills, with food pantry or clothing donations during their regular hours, Tuesday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Thursday evenings, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.; or Saturdays, 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m.
  • Clothing donations that are clean and in good condition are most welcome. Clients often use the closet to find suits and other business attire for interviews or work.
  • Consider donating higher quality, unexpired food items. (If you wouldn’t eat it, why would anyone else?) The pantry also goes through diapers, baby wipes, baby food, paper goods, and personal hygiene items almost as quickly as they land on shelves.
  • Keep up with CARES progress and most current needs by following the organization on Facebook.