Volunteer Ophelia Hatten works at the Twelfth Street Food Pantry. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Does anybody out there have a spare pallet jack?
As much as I’d like to find one, I should confess that I didn’t even know what a pallet jack was until I met the kind souls at the Twelfth Street Food Pantry in Detroit.
That was last month, during The Detroit News’ annual Helping Hands holiday campaign, when I spent a spitefully cold day watching dozens of volunteers make sure 400 hungry families could get by for another week or two.
The volunteers from Twelfth Street routinely handle tons of canned goods, produce and frozen items. A pallet jack — a hydraulic tool, typically priced between $300 and $1,200 — would be hugely helpful.
They had hoped to receive one from some Good Pallet Jack Samaritan after their story was told in print. It hasn’t happened yet, but those who followed Helping Hands should be heartened to know that blessings were easy to find.
LA SED won’t have to worry about its electric bill for awhile. The Bottomless Toy Chest has 75 new volunteers. Families were adopted for the holidays at First Step, where a $400 check arrived the very next day after a young mom named Laura told her story of an abusive husband and a new start.
At the Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan, meanwhile, executive director Robert Boyle learned that his mother was paying attention.
“Why,” she asked, “did they take a picture of you with that double chin?”
Since Helping Hands began in 1987, Detroit News readers have helped hundreds of families enjoy brighter Decembers.
For 2013, we shifted the focus from individuals, focusing instead on some worthy organizations and the people they help. When times are tough, after all, few can stretch a dollar bill farther than a skillful nonprofit.
Organizations benefit in '13
The charities we profiled ranged from A (ARC Services of Macomb) to V (Vista Maria). Or even all the way to Z, if you count the Zumba classes for the 80-year-olds at LA SED’s senior center.
“You’re always humbled when people think of you,” says Mary Carmen Munoz, LA SED’s manager. Her organization helps with almost everything imaginable in Southwest Detroit, and it received at least $3,000 in contributions from readers.
“That pays the electric bill for a couple of months,” she says. “It means a lot to us, a small nonprofit that tries to do a lot with the assets we have.”
It’ll take time for some organizations to judge the impact of Helping Hands. With the Furniture Bank, for instance, you can’t leap up at a given moment and donate a sofa; you either have a spare, or you don’t.
But “it helps just to get the word out,” Boyle says. “People automatically think of food, shelter and clothing as basic needs. They don’t think of having a bed to sleep on or a table to share a meal.”
And for the record, most people thought his chin looked fine.
The Bottomless Toy Chest brings toys, games and craft projects to patients on pediatric cancer wards.
Appropriately for someone who has delivered countless Nerf balls, founder Mickey Guisewite says her group received “a huge bounce” from Helping Hands.
Some 75 new people have volunteered or say they plan to, she says. Others donated toys or sent checks — “probably a couple thousand dollars.”
“For us, it was the magical Christmas story that every charity dreams of,” she says. “And that makes it better for the patients.”
Helping Hands to still help
In a perfect world, someone would have also given her a spare pallet jack to pass along.
Since that didn’t happen, the Twelfth Street Food Pantry will just keep plugging along, feeding its hungry neighbors and hoping for a lift.
If you can help, let me know. Meantime, our thanks to all who reached out to Helping Hands.
Happy New Year — and we’ll be back in touch come December.