Family-friendly Hope Center Macomb to close

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Fraser— With no job, no income and a special-needs son to care for, Velina Moskwa struggles to make ends meet.

Food stamps, she said, aren’t enough to cover the price of groceries.

But for the past three years, Moskwa said Hope Center Macomb in Fraser has eased the burden of putting meals on the table.

“We rely heavily on this,” said Moskwa, as she filled up a grocery basket with loaves of bread and cereal. “It helped us a lot with food because sometimes we didn’t know where we were getting food from.”

The center may have done its job too well.

Organizers say they can no longer afford to sustain the center’s growth and its large facility on Groesbeck Highway.

The one-stop shop that offers food, hair cuts, a cup of coffee and serves 25,000 families a year said it will close its doors Nov. 1.

And the looming closure is forcing area food pantry directors to step up and provide families with other options in Macomb County.

Linda Azar, program manager for the Macomb Food Program, said she provides food twice a month for more than 50 pantries in the county.

Azar said she will help direct families at Hope Center Macomb to other pantries in their neighborhood.

The center is among the largest food pantry operations in the area, Azar said.

Other options in Macomb County include St. Paul of Tarsus Catholic Church in Clinton Township , the Salvation Army in Warren, Metropolitan Church of the Nazarene in Roseville and Mount Calvary Family Community Center in south Warren.

“It takes time but we usually take care of our own in Macomb County,” Azar said. “I think we will be able to revert them to other organizations and agencies and be able to make sure that people are not going hungry.”

But Macomb County families likely won’t find another pantry that mirrors Hope Center.

The center’s organizers say they pride themselves on treating clients with dignity by allowing them to shop for items with carts in a large grocery store-like room, get their hair done at the salon and enjoy a freshly-made latte in the cafe.

Steve Gibson, executive director of Hope Center Macomb, said it’s been difficult to find funding for the pantry as it competes with other agencies for the same financial pot.

It costs about $547,000 a year to run Hope Center Macomb, which includes staff salaries, building costs, supplies, insurance and other expenses.

Hope Center Macomb opened in 2010 and offers a food pantry— with non-perishables, frozen foods and fresh produce — and a hair salon and coffee shop for clients. The facility also provides chaplain services, legal aid, veterans services and health care referrals.

The goal, Gibson said, was to create a one-stop shop that met the needs of clients.

“Our job was to get (clients) from crisis to stability,” Gibson said.

Gibson said he had been looking for a smaller placeand found a building on 12 Mile in Roseville. But the board of directors voted to permanently close Hope Center Macomb. The facility will accept its last clients Oct. 28.

“The financial pressures of this large building have become too much for us to manage,” Gibson said.

The center has depended on Community Development Block Grant funds, local grants, partnerships and donors.

Other agencies, such as those that target childhood education and health, are becoming a priority for funding sources, Gibson said.

“The reality of it is, we have so many (nonprofit) agencies ... that the very same dollar I’m looking at is the very same dollar that’s fighting leukemia,” Gibson said. “It’s the very same dollar that’s fighting homelessness. It’s not that there is a pool of money just for food.”

The center added the hair salon and coffee shop in the past two years with the goal of improving the experience for clients who often can’t afford those luxuries, Gibson said.

Directors also created a marketplace environment where people can push grocery carts around the pantry and select their own foods.

“When you try to go gangbusters right out the gate, you lose sight of your mission,” Azar said. “Eventually, it catches up to you.”

Azar said it’s not uncommon for food pantries to close because many of them run into staffing and funding shortages.

She recommends that pantries utilize federally-funded programs such as the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.

In Macomb County, 12.3 percent of the population is living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Feeding America Network estimated that 122,030 people in Macomb County experience food insecurity.

Gibson said 42 percent of his clients are single moms.

Janet Skowranski of Eastpointe said she depends on Hope Center Macomb for her family of four. She works in retail and hasn’t had a raise in several years, she said.

“We have weeks where we are really low and we don’t have hardly anything and I can get stuff here that’s frozen and cook it,” Skowranski said. “They have been so generous here.”

Volunteers at the center say they are hoping someone steps up and saves it from closing.

“It would be such a mistake (to close it),” said Cindy Peck, of Grosse Pointe Woods. “All of us are praying for a miracle.”

Twitter: @NicquelTerry