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'If it weren't for OCEF, I don't know what we would do'

From left, Beth Bordner, an OCEF volunteer, watches as Amy Leinenger fills out an application for holiday assistance while holding her son, Jacob, 10 months. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
October 27, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- Amy Leinenger's daughter's 12th birthday was Tuesday, but due to financial hardship, the single mom had to tell her pre-teen that she couldn't afford to buy her a gift.

"I feel so bad," said Leinenger. "I told her we can have cake... As a parent, it feels really horrible when you're not able to give to your kids."

The mother of four, (she also has a 13-year-old, 10-year-old and 10-month-old, Jacob), is grateful for the Ortonville Community Emergency Fund. On Tuesday, Leinenger was at St. Anne Catholic Church, registering to receive assistance for Thanksgiving and Christmas from OCEF, the non-profit organization that helps families in need in the Brandon School District.

"If it weren't for OCEF, I don't know what we would do," said Leinenger, who is currently unemployed. Before she became pregnant with Jacob, she worked as a caregiver for the developmentally disabled, but her hours were reduced to 10 per week. Now Leinenger has moved in with her mother, who has been sick for the past two years, to help care for her. Although the OCEF food pantry is open year-round, Leinenger says she likes to leave it for others who are in need. At the holidays, though, it's a real blessing for her and her children.

Leinenger's family will be one of many that receives assistance from OCEF this holiday season. To be able to help families in need, OCEF relies on the generosity of the community and is currently seeking volunteers and donations for the Thanksgiving distribution.

OCEF Pantry Director Gwen Koss said she sent 254 letters out to both current OCEF clients and those who have used OCEF services in the past year. She is expecting more than 200 families to sign up for holiday distribution.

Koss, who became pantry director in June, said the number of people needing help with food, but also utility bills, keeps increasing.

"We have families who have gone without gas all summer, but now they are coming in for assistance because they know they'll need help heating their homes," said Koss, who noted that many families are no longer receiving their unemployment benefits. "Yesterday, I had a young couple in their 30s come in. They've both lost their jobs and have no food. They are willing and able and searching for work."

To help families in need this holiday season, Koss said donations of the following items are needed: cake mix and frosting; canned fruit; cereal; cranberry sauce; evaporated milk; Jell-O/pudding; peanut butter; jelly; gravy/broth; pasta; macaroni and cheese; stuffing mix; muffin/quick bread mix; canned soup; tuna; corn; green beans; other canned vegetables; toilet paper; and paper towels. Also requested are $15 Bueche's gift cards, which can be used to purchase meat and other fresh items.

Donations can be dropped off at Bueche's Food World, 400 N. Ortonville Road, at local businesses or schools with collection boxes, or at local churches, including St. Anne Church, 825 S. Ortonville Road.

"The community is so generous and it is overwhelming to me when I see so many people reach out," said Koss. "They hear we have a need and then here they are with their arms full of groceries or their trunk full of food. We have a red collection box outside and there are mornings we come in and it's loaded with fresh vegetables, diapers and dog food. I just smile. It's always a pleasant surprise."

Karyn Milligan, OCEF volunteer coordinator, is also seeking help for the food sort, planned for 1-4 p.m., Nov. 21, as well as food packing and distribution on Nov. 22.

"The heart of OCEF is the volunteers," said Milligan. "Last Thanksgiving and Christmas, it took 375 volunteers to bring this to fruition. It's exciting to watch from beginning to end how it all comes together from giving hearts. Anyone who can donate even just a half-hour of their time, please call us."

Details: Gwen Koss at 248-627-3965, ext. 103, or Karyn Milligan at 248-245-4553, or e-mail at

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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