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OCEF volunteers create happier holidays

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November 25, 2009 - Brandon Twp.- All over the country, shoppers lined up outside retailers early yesterday morning, anticipating great deals on Black Friday.

Last Monday afternoon, in a scene that may have looked the same, dozens of people lined up here, outside St. Anne Church, in chilly weather. They weren't waiting for a chance to buy a big screen television, on sale laptop computer, hot video game, or even the in-demand toy, rather, they wanted something much more basic— food to put on their tables for Thanksgiving. Inside the church, hundreds of paper grocery bags lined the walls, filled with cans, boxes and jars of food. Volunteers stood ready with shopping carts to assist the people seeking help from the Ortonville Community Emergency Fund to provide necessities for their families. While the sight of so many people in the community in need is a sobering one, the volunteers smile and are cheery. The work they are doing is rewarding. Taleah Kesteloot, 16 and a junior at Brandon High School, needs 80 hours of community service per year as a member of the National Honor Society and student council, but that isn't the sole reason why she is here on distribution day to put groceries in OCEF clients cars and why she sorted food the day before.

"I do it because it is very touching and rewarding to see all these people we can give back to," she said. "Volunteering to me is going and doing something because you want to, not because you're forced. I need the hours, but I always come with a smile. It is so rewarding to help people who truly need help. Community service is because you want to from the bottom of your heart."

Joyce Grusnick, 54, is a member of Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church in Ortonville, one of the OCEF-affiliated churches. She has volunteered for OCEF the last four years, sorting food at Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas, working at the annual OCEF garage sale, and acting as liaison to OCEF for her church.

"I take bread over there— we provide 30 loaves of bread once a month from our church," Grusnick said. "It's important to take care of each other, especially now when times are so hard for families. I like it done on a local level and you never know when you'll be in need, too. I get a feeling for me, personally, that I am doing something that Christ is smiling on, that He wants me to do and I am His hands in the community."

OCEF can use all the helping hands they can get as the Christmas season arrives. Food Pantry Coordinator Judy Henley notes that 205 families in the Brandon School District have signed up for assistance for this holiday. These families include 196 children aged newborn to 12-years-old. The organization also provides gifts for the residents of 10 area group homes.

"We know everyone's budget is slimmer this year, but we hope everyone is willing to reach out in some way to help the families in our community who are doing with less," Henley said. "Call St. Anne to adopt a family, or to help in any way you can. Without all the volunteers for holiday distribution and those who work throughout the year, we would not exist. It takes all the volunteers to help, and they are certainly the heart of the organization."

Earl Muhleck is at the church Monday, picking out two tags from the Giving Tree, which identifies needed items. In this case, he will purchase gift cards to Target and Payless Shoe Source for families in need. He also helps carry out food bags to cars as a volunteer.

"It's good to do these things once in awhile," Muhleck says, smiling. "I haven't earned my keep. You have to do some good works in this life."

For more information on how to help, call Judy Henley at 248-627-3965, or Volunteer Coordinator Karyn Milligan at 248-627-3543 or 248-634-4692 or e-mail, karynmil@comcast.net. To adopt a family for Christmas, visit www.churchofstanne.org and click on OCEF Adopt a family.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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