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FISH food pantry under new management

May 05, 2010 - A changing of the guard concerning Oxford/Orion FISH is due to take place at the end of this month.

Valarie Cass, who's been the nonprofit group's pantry coordinator for the last six years, is stepping down and handing the job over to Sandy Klersy and Kelly Fuller.

"It's a huge undertaking," said Klersy, a 45-year-old Ortonville resident. "She's been grooming me for the last four months. I just thought she'd groom me for more like a year."

"We're just really passionate about FISH," said Fuller, a 41-year-old resident of Groveland Township. "I think it's a great thing for the community to have something like that."

Cass' decision coincides with the April 14 death of her beloved husband, John, who was president of FISH.

Although Cass plans to continue doing volunteer work for the group, she decided it was time to pass the torch when it came to managing and operating the food pantry in Thomas, a tiny unincorporated area of Oxford Township, located north of the village and west of M-24.

Although Klersy and Fuller won't officially be in charge until June 1 – they must still be appointed by the FISH board at its May 13 meeting – Cass noted they've "been kind enough to really take over almost everything for me now."

Both Klersy and Fuller are happy to step in and help considering how much the Casses have done for FISH.

"Val is the pantry; she is FISH, her and John," she said. "You think of FISH, you think of them immediately."

"We just want to continue what Val has started," Fuller said.

Kerlsy's involvement with FISH began about three years ago when she was living in Lake Orion. She and her home-schooled daughter were looking for a volunteer opportunity.

"I love giving back to the community," Klersy said. "I'm also a wish-granter for the Make A Wish Foundation."

She and her daughter saw an item in the newspaper about FISH and started bagging groceries for clients at the pantry."

I just kind of became attached," Klersy said. "It's a neat organization. They do a wonderful job on everything."

About a year ago, she became secretary of the FISH board and now, she's poised to run the pantry, which is the heart and soul of the organization.

"Anything I can do for other people is fulfilling. I love to see people come in and get food," Klersy said. "For such a small pantry and for such a small community, it really does help a lot of people."

In 2009, there were 1,911 visits to the pantry. A total of 449 different households, with a combined 1,135 individuals, were provided with 165,805 pounds of food, not including holiday baskets.

And the need has not diminished this year. In March alone, the pantry provided 177 households (472 individuals) with 14,790 pounds of food.

Running the FISH pantry means making sure it stays stocked, organized and clean.

"It kind of energizes you to see all those shelves full of food and all the refrigerators full of food, just waiting for people that need it," Fuller said. "That's basically the reason why I do it."

"If we don't get it donated, we hunt around for sales in every store we can," Klersy said. "I personally pick up eggs every week from Bueche's Food World and milk every week from Cook's Farm Dairy. They give us a discount towards eggs and milk for the pantry."

"There's not a lot of pantries that have fresh food coming in and give the clients an opportunity to shop for themselves," Fuller noted.

But the pantry is more than just food. It also provides FISH clients with household supplies and personal hygiene products such as shampoo, laundry detergent, toilet paper, garbage bags, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, etc.

"A lot of people, when they think of a food pantry, they just think we need potatoes and peas and corn and beans," Klersy said. "We're trying to give them everything they need to run their house. Think about everything you need in your house and we keep it there."

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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