By George Jaksa
Special to The Catholic Times
FLINT — For years, the North End Women’s Life Center housed in the former St. Luke School relied on 21 chest freezers to store food to be given away mainly to inner-city single women and their children.
Now, thanks to donations totaling more than $35,000 and a thousand hours of donated service, the center has a new walk-in freezer and accompanying cooler to preserve food and make distribution easier for volunteers.
“The chest freezers were not very efficient,” said Sr. Judy Blake, C.S.J., co-director of the facility that has been providing a wide range of services for almost two decades.
About 10 men from nearby St. John Vianney Parish’s St. Joseph’s Workers assembled the freezer and cooler, along with shelving in each unit after the center’s 14-member board of directors successfully raised almost all of the $40,000 needed to buy the equipment.
The freezer, which has been in use for about three weeks, was blessed and dedicated by Fr. Tom Firestone at a free ice cream social at the facility, 3115 Lawndale Ave., known as St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, after the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, June 3, at St. John Vianney Church. St. John Vianney is the home parish of the former St. Luke and St. Agnes parishes after a merger in 2008.
Also dedicated was a new sewing room at the center named for long-time volunteer Teresa Schaffer, who died recently after a 17-year battle with cancer.
Eight women work in the sewing room making scrubs, hospital gowns and adult garment protectors for area hospitals, medical centers and doctors.
Doug Fisher, a St. Joseph Worker, knew there was a freezer problem when he started volunteering at the center about two years ago.
“I started working at the food pantry and saw that it wasn’t very efficient,” said Fisher, who also serves on the center’s board of directors.
The fund drive resulted in the new 15-by-22-foot freezer that preserves meat and other refrigerated food obtained from the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
Accompanying it is a 12-by-15-foot cooler that will store perishable food, particularly donations from the Flint Farmers’ Market.
“Before the cooler we had to set the donations from the Farmers’ Market on a table,” said Sr. Blake. “Vegetables don’t last that long.”
Donations came from varied sources, led by a $17,500 contribution from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. United Auto Workers Region 1C donated $5,000, the local division of Our Lady of Limerick sent a check for $3,800, the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. John Vianney Church gave $2,500, Flint Knights of Columbus Council 695 added $500 and St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor, where Fr. Firestone previously served, contributed $2,800.
Those contributions and others have left the fund drive only $3,800 short of its goal, Fisher said. He is confident that donations will meet the goal.
The food distribution program reflects a combined effort from the merged parishes, now housed at the former St. Luke’s center, which offers a three-year program of life changes, personal growth, development opportunities and other chances to improve one’s life for single mothers and grandmothers.
Center leaders said they hope many people who haven’t visited the center would take advantage of the June 3 celebration to tour the facility and get a first-hand view of its projects and programs.