November 27, 2013 - BY ANDREA M. BEAUDOIN
Clarkston News Staff Writer
"I doubt anyone, when they are young, think when I grow up I want to visit the food pantry," said Lighthouse Emergency Services in Clarkston Manager Connie Stapleton.
While Lighthouse also has a location in Pontiac, the Sashabaw Road office is the only official food bank in Independence Township and serves mostly northern Oakland County residents in need of emergency assistance.
In addition to a food pantry, Lighthouse also helps with emergency assistance with rent, utilities, prescription drug costs and other types of emergencies.
"Many people don't realize that Oakland County has pockets of poverty," said Stapleton. "We often have people that come in and have not eaten in two or three days."
Stapleton said they serve many residents in Independence Township.
Although many people are embarrassed they may have to seek help, Stapleton said staff at the Lighthouse always keep in mind that it could be them that needs help someday.
Financial hardships occur because of a variety of reasons.
Many people are on disability, don't work enough hours work, are unemployed or have a felony record which often prevents them from getting a job.
No matter what the cause, a limited budget leaves families and individuals unable to afford much after paying expenses like rent, utilities and gas.
"Buying groceries comes after major expenses like rent and utilities-leaving families with no food budget," said Stapleton.
Holidays can hit those in already dire financial straits especially hard.
On average about 200 families visit the pantry for food once a month. During the visit the Lighthouse provides enough food for three meals a days for three days.
This holiday season about 230 families are signed up to receive a holiday food basket.
"We give them anything you would find on your table at Thanksgiving," said Stapleton. "The basket helps so that families can have a holiday meal without drastically cutting into their food budget."
The pantry is stocked with items like canned goods, boxed foods and personal care items. Sometimes people will drop off food for pets which is always welcome because pets get hungry too.
Around the holidays food banks have less trouble filling shelves because people are in a giving mood, but in the summertime when kids are home from school and the need for food is greater because kids are not eating at school so sometimes the pantry shelves are bare.
"In late spring or early summer our shelves are bare," said Lighthouse volunteer Laurel Szaroletta.
Stapleton said the Lighthouse count on donations received over the holiday season to keep shelves stocked through February.
A multitude of food is donated, but there are staples always needed at the Lighthouse. Food like peanut butter, tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti noodles and spaghetti sauce are always good donations.
Donations big or small are always welcome.
"Never diminish how much you give because one can of food put with all the other cans can make a big difference," said Stapleton.
Although Lighthouse staff works first to resolve a crisis, one of the main goals is to help a family or individual become self-sufficient.
Lighthouse wants to help people with more than just providing a few days worth of food.
"We want to help point people in the right direction and help them be more self-sufficient," said Stapleton. "Self-sufficient and less reliant on an agency or the state."
Staff will sit down with clients to find the root cause of their financial problems or make referrals to the Center for Working Families which provides help with several things like resume writing and help improving interview skills.
"Anyone that has any money can learn to budget more wisely," she said.
Other help comes in the form of free classes at the Center for Working Families or help with a new outfit for a new job.
Success stories of former clients are celebrated.
Sometimes families that have received help from the Lighthouse are able to help when their situation changes.
One of those success stories, Stapleton said was when a woman who used to come in for assistance was able to make a donation of her own.
"The woman had come in for four or five years and we helped her several times, often every month" said Stapleton.
That woman they previously helped recently donated six frozen turkeys and all the sides for a complete Thanksgiving meal.
"She told us it felt so good to be pushing a cart full of food in rather than taking a car full of food out," said Stapleton.
You can never tell who may need help or what someone is going through.
"Just because we live in a nice community it does not mean you never know what's going on behind closed doors," she said. "You can't always look at someone, and just because they're dressed nice, tell they are going through a rough time."
Stapleton said the types of people coming in for help has changed over the years.
"We are seeing more middle class than we used to," she said.
"Sometimes I have kids come in and ask where are the homeless, where are the poor," said Stapleton.
"They want to know what they look like, but I tell them they look just like you and I.
Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.