By Sue Moore
A shared vision and a doable mission spurred South County Community Services (SCCS) and Generous Hands, Inc. (GHI) to move into one location at 606 Spruce Street, just north of the Historical Village and the Farmers’ Market. The two nonprofit emergency assistance organizations will continue their respective core missions while looking for shared opportunities to increase economies of scale, maximize collaboration and improve access to families who need a little help. No matter what door a person enters, they have immediate access to additional services, if warranted.
The agencies’ executive directors, Sheri Louis of Generous Hands and Danna Downing at SCCS, agreed that 606 Spruce Street is a good place to start when trying to find solutions to life’s many challenges. “We care, we have devoted and capable staff and volunteers,” said Downing. “Together, we hope to build a stronger community, by not duplicating services and finding new ways of enriching family life” added Louis.
Generous Hands was formed in 2004 with its core organizing group coming from Lakeland Reformed Church, headed by Paula Schriemer. “She has been the backbone of this organization, moving us forward without any reservation about this combination,” Louis said.
South County Community Services has been in operation for over 40 years and serves families who struggle to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, utilities, transportation and medical care. The South County service area includes the townships of Brady, Climax, Pavilion, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft and Wakeshma. Approximately 33 percent of that population either live in poverty or have difficulty meeting basic needs on a predictable basis. SCCS is a United Way agency with 40-50 percent of its budget covered by United Way funding, with the balance coming from local funding sources. SCCS hosts a social services specialist from the Department of Health and Human Services, a veteran’s services navigator, staff from the Women, Infants and Children program, a foot clinic, and a free legal clinic. Drew Johnson is the current emergency assistance coordinator and Diane Durian serves as the senior outreach coordinator.
Founders of GHI recognized the need for hungry Vicksburg schoolchildren to receive weekend food. The Friday Pack program now provides packs for 400 Vicksburg students, as well as 100 students from surrounding communities, with weekend kid-friendly food. Their program serves students from the elementary schools, middle school, high school and the Pathways program. Students can choose to have the backpacks placed in their lockers at school or they can pick them up at the Generous Hands office.
In addition, each Vicksburg family receives a weekly voucher to purchase milk, bread, eggs, fruits and vegetables from the Family Fare store. Over the summer, coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables at the Vicksburg Farmer’s Market, across the street from GH’s new Spruce Street location, are also provided. Vicksburg students receive hygiene kits 2-3 times per year. GHI is funded primarily through local donations of money and food. “Community volunteers are at the heart of all these efforts. They stock the shelves. They pack and distribute the Friday Packs every week, under the efficient direction of Sheri Louis,“ said Paula Schriemer.
The two agencies have worked together on several annual projects, including the Backpack Bonanza, which provides Vicksburg children with new school backpacks and school supplies each August. For the past two years, they have worked with the Kalamazoo-based nonprofit First Day Shoe Fund to supply elementary-aged Backpack Bonanza students with a new pair of athletic shoes. They also partner for an annual family picnic and have just begun working to address holiday needs and opportunities.
The move to the new facility occurred over the summer, with GHI arriving in June and SCCS following in July. Again, community volunteers stepped up to facilitate this process: Gary Hallam and his crew from Eimo and SCCS board member Larry Forsyth were instrumental in accomplishing this task smoothly.
According to Downing, “Both boards were stretching to achieve this joint effort, but they hung in there through every little fork in the road with outstanding support from the Vicksburg Foundation. Our mission is to support and assist our families to take care of unmet needs in the most inclusive and cost-effective manner possible.” Louis said.
“It’s been a little scary at times, but we kept our focus on our goals and had dedicated support from our boards and strong leadership from our two presidents, Jan Modderman, (GHI) and Jackie Skinner (SCCS). “The group of planners brought significant wisdom and respect to the table so that the group could feel safe and yet creative,” added Downing.
Contact information for each agency remains the same and fundraising efforts are to be implemented independently for each agency. GHI will be offering its ever-popular Fall Extravaganza and SCCS will continue its membership program and Tree of Life fundraising activities for the holiday season.