Detroit Friendship House is located in Hamtramck Michigan, where, before the pandemic, 50.9% of its residents had incomes below the National Poverty Level. Post pandemic, I imagine that percentage will increase. We are primarily a food pantry and so, as you might suspect, 2020 has been like a roller coaster ride for us!
Once the Covid19 pandemic began, we immediately had to adjust our method for distributing food. We changed from being a client-choice pantry where our clients came into our facility and chose the foods they wanted, to a safer procedure. We packaged up our food and had our clients meet us on the sidewalk of our driveway to receive it. We also suspended our regular criteria which said our clients must prove they are low-income and that they live in Hamtramck. We were receiving so many phone calls from areas near and far, we realized we could not turn anyone away. In the beginning, our client numbers soared to 41% more than usual. Then, once unemployment started, our numbers slowly declined over the summer months. However, once unemployment ceased, our numbers increased again.
One event that helped tremendously was when our state-wide food pantry called Gleaners asked us to partner with them to bring a large-scale distribution to Hamtramck. This resulted in holding food distributions in the parking lot of Hamtramck’s only strip mall for 650 families every other week.
Once the cold weather started and the pandemic hadn’t abated (in fact got worse), we worried about bringing clients back into our facility. So, we hired an OSHA-certified company to evaluate our space and teach us how to open our facility safely. It was good information to learn, however it still did not assuage our safety concerns. So, we chose to try a drive-up system instead. Even though the streets in Hamtramck are very narrow, so far, the drive-up system has worked well. Throughout the 10 months of the pandemic, we still managed to distribute approximately 581,000 pounds of food to approximately 11,700 people.
Given all the ways our programs were affected by the pandemic, we were still able to conduct our Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day Meal Giveaway, along with our Santa Toy Shop where we distributed over 1,000 toys. And, we are very happy to announce that although we had to close our Women’s Empowerment Group for a while, we were able to modify it to an online program using Zoom meetings. Therefore, we are currently teaching citizenship classes and ESL classes to 17 women of Bengali, Arabic, and Polish nationalities.
As we look toward 2021, we are hoping to expand some of our programming to include working with community members who were hit the hardest due to the pandemic. We are not sure what that will look like yet, but we have faith that God will continue to lead us in the right direction. And, of course, we continue to lean on our American Baptist base as our north star!