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One Man’s Passion Feeds Those in Need in South County

twelve baskets line
Twelve Basket’s volunteers line up at the end of the day near the empty shelves. They are from left to right: Julie Peake, Lisa Purdiman, Romana Czuk, Phil Czuk, Twelve Baskets founder Mike Hartwigsen, Jim Jackson, Carl Wespinter, Andrea and Art Kidney.

By Sue Moore

A new food pantry has opened to serve people in Portage, Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and Three Rivers.

Twelve Baskets, 10332 Portage Road, just south of Lake Center School, opened in June, serving 18 families and 69 people their first week. A few months later in October, they served 87 families comprising 327 individuals. The pantry is open on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Twelve Baskets was started by Mike Hartwigsen as a ministry of Lake Center Bible Church where he is a member. About six months ago, he started the ball rolling for the project and eventually they found a foreclosed building on Portage Road which they were able to lease for only $500 a month which includes utilities, taxes, and insurance because the owner believes in the cause, Hartwigsen said.

Church volunteers gutted the building, cleaned and painted it and installed handicap accessible bathrooms. Office furniture and carpeting were donated. Shelves for the food products were donated by Burroughs Corporation. More than 12 refrigerators and freezers were donated to store eggs, meat, and frozen fruits and vegetables.

Donations of money and food have come from over 30 area grocery stores, corporations, and individuals.

Drivers go out to Meijer, Harding’s, WalMart, and Panera, every second and fourth Thursdays, bringing back the inventory to place on the shelves. By 2:30 on the following Saturday, the shelves are nearly bare, Hartwigsen said.

When customers come to Twelve Baskets, it’s much like going to a regular grocery store, except they must present a driver’s license or Michigan ID to obtain a shopping cart, and then a volunteer guides them through the pantry.

Twelve Baskets isn’t Hartwigsen’s first venture into food pantries. Six years ago, he started one in Mattawan when he was employed in the village at a credit union. He has lived in Vicksburg on Long Lake for over 20 years, with his neighbors noting how compassionate he was about helping people. From his experiences there, he saw that people tend to run out of food about the second week of the month and again the fourth week before their paycheck comes or their Bridge cards are reloaded. That’s why Twelve Baskets is open on the second and fourth Saturdays.

Hartwigsen is passionate about helping to provide food to those in need, maintaining there is no food shortage in America. The problem is lack of organization, distribution and commitment.

He knows he can’t change the root causes of poverty, but he hopes to give people back their self-respect while removing their feelings of failure and defeatism.

He believes the solution is the community working together to accomplish this dream.

“I want to bring a business approach to beating the hunger problem, and God willing, the church and I will make it happen,” he said.

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