June 12, 2013 - Members of Oxford-Orion FISH gathered and broke bread Friday evening at the Orion Community Center for two purposes – to celebrate the nonprofit organization's 40th anniversary and to honor those who've dedicated their time, talents and resources to the group.
Oxford-Orion FISH President John Jarvis (center) poses with 2013 “Advocate of the Needy” award winners Bob Butler (left), who accepted on behalf of Lake Orion United Methodist Church, and Margaret Von Steeg, who accepted on behalf of her late husband, Eugene Von Steeg, of Oxford. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
FISH's compassionate mission was best summed up by Oxford resident Mary Boberg who said, "We help anybody that we can."
Since 1973, FISH has been providing free emergency groceries to families, individuals and senior citizens, who are living on either a low or fixed income, or have fallen on hard times due to job loss, illness or other personal crisis.
Last year, FISH distributed 169,269 pounds of food and served 436 families or 1,156 individuals. The group also provided 183 Thanksgiving dinner baskets and 136 Easter dinner baskets as well as Christmas gifts for 101 families containing 249 children.
In addition to food, FISH provided 223 local students with brand new backpacks full of school supplies
Boberg, who's been involved with the group for about 39 years and currently serves as an honorary board member, explained that FISH volunteers are always "kind" and "don't look down on" the folks they're helping.
"We care about the people and that makes a big difference in how we treat them," she said.
Boberg, who served as the group's president for eight years, noted FISH believes it can fill people's stomachs, yet still allow them to maintain their dignity.
"You get some people who are very upset they have to ask for help," she said.
FISH President John Jarvis, of Orion Township, stressed the group is not one of those large charities that has a ton of overhead such as a payroll full of employees and lavish offices.
"This is a strictly, 100-percent volunteer movement," he said. "Nobody's paid. All these people donate their time and effort. No one is compensated."
FISH truly lives up to its motto of "Neighbors Helping Neighbors."
FISH's pantry stays stocked with food and personal hygiene items thanks to collection drives conducted by local schools, businesses and post offices; monetary contributions from private individuals and groups like the Rotary Club of Oxford and Oxford Women's Club; and federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds provided by Oxford Township and Village.
Jarvis said FISH is a product of "total community support."
"Thanks to the generosity of the community, we have always been able to meet our people's needs," he said.
Boberg noted that over the years, FISH has become "much more efficient" and "so precise" when it comes to distributing food and utilizing its resources.
"We're making sure we get the biggest bang for the buck for the people (FISH serves)," she said.
FISH shows its appreciation and respect for all of the group's donors by not wasting a single cent or the tiniest scrap of food.
"If we don't take good care of (what they give us), we're not doing our job," said Boberg, who noted volunteering for FISH has always given her an immense feeling of personal satisfaction.
"It's a big job, but I am so happy to do it," she said. "I do my darndest to do the best that I can."
As part of FISH's 40th anniversary celebration, the group handed out two of its "Advocate of the Needy" awards.
The first went to the Eugene Von Steeg, a longtime Oxford resident who passed away last year. He served on the FISH board of directors for many years, spending the last three as vice president.
Von Steeg "was always available for whatever we needed," according to Jarvis, who called him the "go-to guy."
"Here was this 75-year-old man crawling on his hands and knees (fixing) the leak between the parking lot and the (pantry) building," Jarvis said. "We've never had a leak in the office since."
Although Von Steeg was definitely a handy guy to have around, Jarvis said, "His greatest gift was his insightfulness and ability to see the other side of issues."
Von Steeg was always there to remind FISH's leadership that it is "a food pantry, first and foremost."
"When we got off track, Gene would get us back on track," Jarvis said.
Von Steeg's wife, Margaret, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.
"It's an honor for me to accept this award for him. I wish he could be here to do it," she said. "It's very nice of the organization to honor him this way. He would be very proud."
Margaret said her husband got involved in FISH because "he loved this community and he understood what it was like for people to lose their jobs and not be able to afford the things they normally could."
As an engineer in the automotive industry for more than 30 years, Von Steeg had experienced his share of "tough times," but he and his wife had always managed to "come out the other end."
"I think this was his way of giving back," Margaret said. "He had a lot of respect for FISH. They do wonderful work. They're very selfless."
Lake Orion United Methodist Church was also presented an "Advocate of the Needy" award for giving FISH a place to meet for almost 40 years, free of charge. The church also provides the group with office services as needed.
"They have always been extremely accommodating and helpful," Jarvis said. "They've never asked us for a dime."
Orion Township resident Bob Butler, a member of Lake Orion UMC since 1947, accepted the award on the church's behalf.
"A lot of people from our church have been involved in FISH at different times," he said.
Butler's been volunteering with FISH in various capacities for about 27 years.
"It's a good organization," he said. "It's been well run."
"There's a lot of needy people and we try to help them out," Butler noted. "It's hard to believe there's so many."
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.