June 11, 2014 - By C.J. Carnacchio
Oxford Leader Editor
Two individuals and one business were honored June 6 by Oxford-Orion FISH for their on-going efforts to help provide free food to the local men, women and children who depend upon it for their survival.
Randy Gower, Joe Ferrari and the Oxford Meijer store all received Advocate of the Needy Awards from FISH at the group's annual volunteer appreciation luncheon held at the Lake Orion United Methodist Church.
"When you look at the whole pyramid of life . . . the first thing you need to do is feed people," said Ferrari, treasurer for Oxford Township. "That's the first, basic necessity of life."
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, through its pantry in Oxford Township, distributed 148,632 pounds of food to 162 households consisting of 378 individuals.
Ferrari received his award because every year he helps ensure that FISH receives federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from both the township and village. He keeps FISH informed as to when the funding will be available and assists in processing the grant information.
Since 2007, the township has allocated $43,151 in CDBG funds to FISH, while the village has contributed $7,546 since 2011.
"FISH does a lot of good work in our community," Ferrari said. "It's an honor to be honored by them. For all the good work that they do, the least that we, the township and the village, can do is help provide food."
Gower, an Orion Township resident, was recognized for his work as FISH's treasurer, a position he's held since 2008.
He's been "instrumental" in securing funding from numerous grants and corporate sources to help strengthen FISH. He's also overseen pantry repairs and even helped acquire new shoes for the children of 18 families at Easter.
When presenting the award, FISH President John Jarvis said Gower has "gone above and beyond" in his duties and is "really appreciated by his fellow board members."
Gower had no idea he was going to be recognized at the luncheon.
"I wasn't asking for that, so it comes as a surprise," he said. "It's just nice to be part of the community, giving back."
Following his retirement from Chrysler after 31 years, Gower decided to devote his time and talents to FISH.
"The whole thing is driven by the fact that you want to help those that are in need. That's why I think most of us are there," he said. "It's all volunteer (run). There's no payment to anybody. Everything that we take in through donations gets handed out or used to operate the pantry."
"It's a great organization – 40 years in the making and we hope to go another 40," Gower added.
Although FISH is "strong right now," Gower noted the group can always use more volunteers and additional funding.
The Oxford Meijer store received an award for all the money it has raised for FISH through its Simply Give program.
Through the program, customers' $10 donations to FISH are either matched or double matched by Meijer, turning them into $20 and $30 contributions.
During the spring Simply Give program, Meijer helped raise a little more than $24,000 for FISH, according to Lisa Hayduk, a representative from the Oxford Meijer who accepted the award on the store's behalf.
FISH reported Meijer's program has "become a major source of income" for the pantry and recently enabled the group to "increase the allotment of meat and total groceries each family receives."
"It's a great a honor (to receive this award)," Hayduk said. "We love partnering with FISH."