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FISH to get $12K boost from local govt.

November 21, 2012 - A local group that helps folks in need got a significant financial shot in the arm from Oxford Village and Township.

On Nov. 13, the village council voted 4-0 to allocate $2,967 in 2013 federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for "emergency services," which means the money will most likely go to Oxford/Orion FISH given it's the only local group that fulfills that role.

The next day, the township board voted 5-0 to allocate $8,706 in 2013 CDBG funds to provide residents with "emergency food, utility, rent/mortgage, medical and educational assistance." Again, since FISH is the only local group which does all that, it will most likely receive this money.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CDBG program provides annual grants to entitled cities and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment. It's also designed to expand economic opportunities, principally for folks with low or moderate incomes. CDBG funds can be used to revitalize neighborhoods and improve community facilities and services.

In both cases, the village and township must solicit bids to award the CDBG funds. FISH is usually the only bidder.

"There's hundreds of our neighbors here in Oxford and Lake Orion who use that organization and would be starving without them," said village resident Sue Bossardet.

Last year, FISH distributed approximately 157,000 pounds of free food, ranging from nonperishable items and dairy products to meat and fresh vegetables.

Not only does FISH help feed low-income families and individuals via its food pantry in Oxford, it also helps them pay their utility bills, rent/mortgage and medical expenses, which can be difficult bills to pay for folks who are unemployed, living on fixed incomes or simply trying to make ends meet.

Every fall, the group provides educational assistance by giving brand-new backpacks filled with school supplies to local children who need them.

FISH is a 100-percent volunteer operation that relies entirely on donations. "Pretty much everything that comes into our organization is either given out to clients or it's used to run the physical pantry," said FISH Co-Treasurer Randy Gower.

Bossardet made a "personal appeal" to council on behalf of FISH. "There are people in our community who rely on this organization," she said.

Council was also considering giving the funds to HAVEN, Lighthouse of Oakland County and Oxford-Addison Youth Assistance, the latter of which needs money to send kids to summer camp.

Councilman Tony Albensi requested his fellow officials consider giving the money to HAVEN this year.

"I think HAVEN does some great work," he said.

HAVEN gives 24-hour emergency shelter and assistance to domestic violence victims and their children along with sexual assault survivors who are afraid to stay in their own homes. The group also offers counseling and education to help families stop violence, begin to heal and create hope for a future free from abuse.

Given council has awarded CDBG monies to FISH for the last two years, Albensi proposed the village return to its previous practice of funding different groups on a rotating basis. "I'd like to see us go back to that," he said.

The last time HAVEN received CDBG money from the village was back in 2010.

"It's very tough to decide what to do because, unfortunately, we can only choose one," Albensi said.

Albensi made it clear he'd support which ever organization council chose to fund. "No matter which one we choose, it's money well spent," he said.

Bossardet noted HAVEN and Lighthouse are a lot better off financially than FISH because they receive funding from other sources given they serve many communities throughout Oakland County.

"FISH is a little organization in our community," she said.

Gower noted FISH calculates the value of a pound of food to be about $1.50. Based on that, the township and village's combined contribution of $11,673 in CDBG funds is equal to 7,782 pounds of FISH food.

The remainder of the township's CDBG monies, a total of $20,317, were allocated for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements to be made within Powell Lake Township Park behind the public library. The money will used to repair and enhance existing universally accessible trailways throughout the 56-acre park.

The rest of the village's CDBG funds, a total of $6,923, were allocated for sidewalk construction on Pleasant St. leading to the Polly Ann Trail.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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