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Posted on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Washtenaw County relief agencies: All-time high demand for services 'becoming the new normal'

By Katrease Stafford


James Wright Sr. a volunteer at the Hope Clinic in Ypsilanti filled bags with turkeys that were given out to families in need for Thanksgiving.

Courtney Sacco I

Washtenaw County charity organizations are reporting an increase in need for affordable housing, food, medical care and everyday necessities, with one official saying the record demand is "becoming the new normal" amid a difficult economy.

Hope Clinic and SOS Community Services are two Ypsilanti based organizations that aim to help fill that need.

Hope Clinic was founded 30 years ago by Dr. Dan Heffernan and offers a range of services to families and individuals such as medical and dental care, food assistance, access to basic necessities and even a place to do laundry for free.

Hope sees families who come from all over southeastern Michigan to obtain services.

In 2011, Hope Clinic provided 6,800 medical and 4,500 dental visits, filled $2.6 million worth of prescriptions, served 5,113 hot meals and gave out 12,466 bags of groceries to people in need.

Executive Director Catherine Robinson said she expects those numbers to increase this year. For every dollar Hope Clinic spends, five dollars of service are delivered.

"In the first nine months of the year, we provided 4,182 dental visits," Robinson said. "We will exceed 5,000 by the end of the year. We had a record-breaking month in October. We provided over 800 medical visits and 503 dental visits."

Since the nonprofit is seeing an increase in individuals and families seeking medical and dental assistance, the need for volunteer medical professionals has increased as well. Hope is currently recruiting more dentists and doctors.

Last year, the clinic moved all four of its locations into its current building at 518 Harriet St. in Ypsilanti.

"We moved so we could all be under one umbrella," Robinson said. "We built a larger building to address more of the need. We had about 3,500 square feet and added about over 10,000 square feet."

Robinson said the expansion also allowed the clinic to have a much larger space for the food pantry.


Stephanie Paraian of Westland gets dental work done at Ypsilanti's Hope Clinic.

Tom Perkins | For

The number of volunteers at the clinic have grown significantly as well.

"In a given month, we'll have 500 and in a year, more than 1,000," she said.

Robinson attributes the growth in volunteers and need to the economic downturn and the slow recovery.

"I think that as people are aware of the need, people want to help and do what they can," she said. "Our economy has gone through such a difficult time and all of us know someone who is struggling and it's hit close to home."

SOS Community Services, at 101 S. Huron St. in Ypsilanti, began in 1970 and was founded by students and faculty at Eastern Michigan University. The organization has since grown and focuses largely on preventing and ending family homelessness within Washtenaw County.

SOS has also seen a substantial increase in need, according to community relations and volunteer resources supervisor Chelsea Brown.

"Last calendar year the SOS emergency food program served 7,390 people and 39 percent were actually children and we responded to 11,845 requests for food," Brown said. "These numbers represent nearly a 100 percent increase of the number of people and transactions from 2010. And we expect to serve even more this year."

Brown said SOS has received a number of inquiries from individuals who are no longer receiving any sort of financial assistance from the state.

"People who were previously getting financial assistance may not be getting it so they're seeking out other services."

These people typically seek help preventing eviction and finding shelter and transportation.

"More than 1,800 households requested assistance so far this year compared to about 1,600 last year," Brown said. "We are seeing growth in that area."

Both Brown and Robinson said their organizations wouldn't be able to provide the food services they do if it weren't for a key partnership with Food Gatherers — especially since requests for food assistance are increasing.


Paige Labourdette of Ypsilanti and Moses Campbell of Ann Arbor pack food at SOS Community Services.

File photo

"The numbers are high as far as those who are trying to access the pantries," Brown said.

Mary Schlitt, director of development and marketing for Food Gatherers, said she too has seen growth in the amount of food assistance needed.

Food Gatherers provides food to more than 150 community partners and organizations. In 2011, the organization distributed 5.6 million pounds of food to those 150 partners.

"From 2006 to 2010, we went up 138 percent," Schlitt said. "What's happened is we’ve remained steady."

Schlitt said Food Gatherers is in the process of doing its next hunger study, which they do every four years. She expects the numbers to be about the same as before.

"Right now we’re at this all-time high and we’re staying there," she said. "It's becoming the new normal."

Last year, Food Gatherers had an unprecedented year with 106,616 plates being served in its community kitchen with the help of 1,500 volunteers, Schlitt said.

"We’ve definitely been surprised at the community kitchen where we had unprecedented amounts of people show up," she said. "We see more people towards the end of the months and have been left scratching heads as to why we’re seeing a peak."

Mary Jo Callan, community development director for the Washtenaw County Community and Economic Development office, said the need isn't concentrated in one area within the county, but is instead widespread.

"I see these organizations who are really mission-oriented and exist solely to make life a little bit better for people in need as essential to the fabric of our community," Callan said.

Callan said the city of Ann Arbor has joined with community partners such as United Way to put about $7 million into the community to help fill the need for food and housing.

While Callan sees an increase in interested donors around the holidays, it tapers off during the rest of the year. Callan said it's important to note that need exists year-round.

"I encourage folks to remember this year round and not just around the holidays," Callan said. "If they have an impulse to help, please do. A dollar or an hour of time really makes a difference."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 5:56 p.m.

Before I did research on SOS Community Services for a school project. I never realized how much homelessness was over looked. The number of people that SOS helps each year rises, and that's such a good thing, that this program is gaining enough money to have the number rise. Every dollar that goes into SOS is used to help homeless people in the area. As I finished my project for SOS I'm glad I found out more about this organization, and I know how to help with their mission.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

Until doing the research project SOS Community Services and other food and housing organizations in Michigan, I never realized how much poverty affects our community. The number of people who are seeking assistance from SOS Community Services has more than doubled since last year, and that just blows my mind. It is really eye-opening to think that my acquaintances, classmates, and even friends may be part of the population requesting food, shelter, and other services from the charitable organizations in Washtenaw County, and I never knew about it. This fact makes me more inclined to want to help out--by donating, volunteering, and doing anything I can to aid the economy. Mary Jo Callan of Washtenaw County Community and Economic Development reminds us all that, though the holiday are a time of giving, people need help all year-round, and so we can't limit our donations to just the winter season.

L. C. Burgundy

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 10:33 p.m.

In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a record 47,102,780 individuals received food stamps as of August 2012: According to US. Census Bureau data, that figure exceeds the combined populations of: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Elections have consequences.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:52 a.m.

It is really a shame that the real truth is not told by our media which seems to have forgotten how to be honest, true reporters!


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

I imagine they will definitely see a drop in donors during this time of year until the "Bush tax cuts" issue is decided. I think many people/business owners hovering around the $250,000 mark are waiting to see how it all plays out before committing donations---but hopefully I'm wrong.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

Reading your words, I wonder if you understand that only income above $250,000 would get taxed at the higher rates (such as the marginal tax rates when Clinton was President). People or small businesses with income of $251,000. (for a couple) would only pay the higher, marginal tax rate on $1,000. of income. Businesses with earnings around $250,000. won't be affected much by an increase in tax rates that's only on income above $250,000. Everyone would continue to pay current income tax rates on all income of $250,000 or less for a couple or $200,000. or less for an individual.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

Not sure why you were marked down so much U.S.. It's human nature that people are generally going to take care of their own families before donating $$, but certainly donating time and skills are free, so there's that. Also, people do tend to donate around this time to make the cut-off for claiming donations on their taxes.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Anybody who's employed by somebody hovering around the $250,000 should also be very tight with their money. They might not still have a job after the top of the year.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Wait - what's with the Walmart bags? Did they donate food or something? That can't be, because I was told Walmart is evil.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:22 p.m.

And if you think a business is evil because it operates efficiently and doesn't throw money away, you're a progressive.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

If you think something can't donate to charity and be evil at the same time, you're not as smart as you look.

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

The 1st picture shows a man using Walmart bags.... Here's what Walmart's intentionally low wages are costing hard-working taxpayers like us: Walmart's intentionally low wages force hard-working employees to need approximately $420,000 per year, per store, totalling $2.66 BILLION annually in Food Stamps and other taxpayer assistance ... to survive. Walmart's intentionally low wages cost the country HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars in payroll tax deductions for Federal, State, and Local taxes. Walmart's intentionally low wages cost our communities the ability to hire and retain important public service workers like firefighters, police officers, maintenance workers, and teachers. Walmart's intentionally low wages cost our communities with their increased need for those same public services they are underfunding. Walmart's intentionally low wages and lack of covered benefits cost taxpayers over $1.02 BILLION a year in healthcare costs. Walmart's intentionally low wages cost taxpayers as much as $225 MILLION in free and reduced price lunches for school-age children. Walmart's intentionally low wages cost taxpayers over $780 MILLION in tax deductions for low-income families. And that's just some of the burden placed on taxpayers by Walmart's intentionally low wages.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:43 a.m.

Basic Bob...there is an Aldi's in Ann Arbor...corner of Maple and Miller streets. It is always busy...every time I have been there.

Ann English

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:23 a.m.

I wonder if more of the area farmers could pitch in? Tsai Grocery sells tofu cakes, 9 to each tub, from "Rosewood Farms," which are in Michigan. I haven't seen its price rise ($2.35) like food in big box stores. Just found out today they sell more varieties of silken tofu than the big box stores and Trader Joe's, for less money. I heard about this Taiwanese grocery store twelve years ago from another gym member, who was NOT from the Far East. They're probably doing as well as they are by depending on word of mouth; they do not advertise, at least in English.

L. C. Burgundy

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 10:40 p.m.

@ Bob We also have a Trader Joe's, which is also owned by Aldi's. Also, @ Homeland, your complaints seem to be about government policy as it pertains to entitlements. Wal-mart is responsive to said laws; they do not write them. Retail is just never going to be skilled labor. Sorry.

Angry Moderate

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

Oh please. Meijer and nearly every other store starts employees at minimum wage. You're complaining about government policy, not Wal-Mart's business practices.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 5 p.m.

Mike, you have outlined the problem very concisely and accurately.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

Walmart needs to pay low wages so we can afford to buy stuff. If they raise their wages someone else will move in and fill the void fo rlow cost goods. A BETTER SOLUTION WOULD BE TO GET GOVERNMENT TO QUIT CONSUMING MOST OF THE WEALTH OF THIS COUNTRY TO PAY FOR SOCIAL PROGRAMS. As businesses are created wages will go up due to supply and demand for labor, not articificially by forcing union wages upon employers who end up closing the doors like Hostess ding dongs. Many well intended liberals don't understand business and think all business owners are greedy. Some are, but human nature will never change. Most good business owners realize that to keep good people that they need to pay good wages. I hate to say this but people who work at places like Walmart really don't have much to bargain with or many skills to offer to get a higher wage. They then get agitiated by complainers and union organizers who want to force higher wages and benefits which ultimately ends up with more of them losing the low paying job they had. Businesses are not like the government who prints money out of thin air to pay it's bills and then raises taxes on the rest of us to create "revenue". Businesses have to create real revenue by selling products to consumers and pay their bills and wages from gross profits. Why isn't this stuff taught in high school?

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

What companies intentionally pay high wages? (Company that is, not government)


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

@ Basic Bob...we HAVE an Aldi' the corner of Dexter and Maple road....

Glen S.

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

When I saw the picture accompanying this article, I thought exactly the same thing: If companies like WalMart paid a living wage and provided reasonable benefits, including health insurance, to their employees, perhaps an all-time high demand for social services would not be the "new normal."

Basic Bob

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

Maybe we can get an Aldi.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

This is a vicious the government consumes more of the wealth of this country in spending programs, less is available to create jobs for those who need them and want them. Higher taxes and fess are required and those on the edge continue to fall into government assistancen while businesses hang onto their money due to the uncertainty. This country was not built on this model but is slowly being dismantled by it. So I agree this is becoming the new normal, only I think it is just the beginning as we continue to model ourselves after other failed socialist countries. This country was built on capitalism and entreprenuership not large government. Unfortuntely just the opposite is being taught in schools and universities and history is re-written leaving our much of our founding. The black community is being decimated and continues to follow leaders who blame others for their problems and ostracize other successful blacks instead of celebrating them, unless they are sports stars and rappers who follow the script.............


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 5:44 p.m.

This article isn't about government programs, it's about people donating their time, skills and money. Are trying to argue that people shouldn't be able to use their time, skills and money as they see fit?

Superior Twp voter

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

Well said, Mike.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

"as the government consumes more of the wealth of this country in spending programs, less is available to create jobs for those who need them and want them." It's not that simple. The record of the past 25 years shows that tax cuts have not triggered economic growth.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

The problem most of us have with letting the market work is that an unrestricted market doesn't create jobs, it creates wealth for a concentrated sector. You don't have to look any further back than the Gilded Age, when railroad and oil barons despoiled public wealth and people starved in the streets. That's your vaunted "capitalism and entrepreneurship" -- not a pretty sight.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

I have stories about people who've become homeless or otherwise destitute and would be completely ruined (or even dead) if not for relief agencies. So, yeah, I support those organizations because I know that not all poor people are lazy parasites - as some political factions would have us believe. But in the matter of dental and medical care (the two are the same: why make a false distinction?): it's clear that even fairly well off people can (and have been) ruined by (ever rising, disproportionate) cost of medical (dental) care. What is wrong with the statement: "Human life is so valuable that medical care is essential, regardless of the cost" - ?? If human life is "priceless" -why then do we put a price on it? Looks like a contradiction, to me. And lets stop using stupid terms like "quality medical care" -- medical care is either effective and affordable (accessible) or it's not. If a significant number of people can't afford effective medical care: then its effectiveness is moot. We're using sentiment and opinion to replace rational thought and analysis: the issue of medical care and its availability to the majority is a sign of that. We dig ourselves deeper into this quandary every year. Pretty soon - it's going to become a full blown national crisis and - the best case scenario is that we'll be forced to become rational in order to find a solution. But what if we don't?

Angry Moderate

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

Things have prices because resources are limited, and need to be allocated somehow. Food, medical care, houses, and clothes all have prices. It has nothing to do with whether they're important or not.

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:27 p.m.

Well said