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Resources and Lifelines for Families Struggling with Poverty in Southeast Michigan

Local organizations in metro Detroit provide emergency assistance and pathways to hope for the area's poor parents and their children

Joy Pote of Clarkston says Christmas would not have been possible for her three children if it hadn't been for the help of God's Helping Hands in Rochester Hills. The organization provides food, clothing and emergency assistance to those in need. God's Helping Hands recently came to Pote's aid again with a pair of shoes for her 11-year-old son at the beginning of the school year. And the organization has provided food to Pote and her family on more than one occasion to help her between Bridge Cards.

It's among several nonprofit groups in southeast Michigan that are stepping up to strengthen the safety net for the region's poorest, most-vulnerable families.

God's Helping Hands in Rochester Hills

Lisa Cain began God's Helping Hands in 1998, organizing clothing drives in the community. Later, the organization added food to the mix. In 2000, it attained its own building. Now, God's Helping Hands is part of the Gleaner's Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan network and Forgotten Harvest.

"There are times when families come in for help, and the children will be behaving very badly," says Cain, whose own struggles prompted her to begin God's Helping Hands. "It takes a few minutes to realize that they are starving. We'll find out that they haven't eaten yet that day, and it's already noon. Their parents are trying to stretch their dollars and food further, meaning that often, the family has to skip a meal.

"Other times, families will come in with screaming babies. They have no formula. We'll make up a bottle immediately and give them formula if we have it."

Over the past few years as Michigan's economy took a turn for the worse, Cain and volunteers at God's Helping Hands began to observe families who had previously volunteered at the organization come in for food and clothing assistance themselves.

"Nowadays we see a lot of people who are underemployed," she says. "They may have found a job but are not making enough to make ends meet. The face of those coming in for help keeps changing. A lot of people who have never had to ask for help before come in. They apologize."

For more on God's Helping Hands of Michigan, call 248-852-7400.

Lighthouse of Oakland County PATH

Seventeen years old, single, homeless and pregnant, Christina Sanders of Pontiac applied for the Lighthouse of Oakland County's PATH program in 2001 in a desperate attempt to improve circumstances for herself, her 3-year-old son and the baby on the way. Sanders was accepted – and so began a two-year program to self-sufficiency.

As part of PATH, Sanders lived in transitional housing with up to 65 other homeless women and their children. She benefited from the program's empowerment programs and life skills training.

Upon completion of the program, PATH helped Sanders line up her first apartment and later her own house.

Now working and going to school, Sanders is committed to making a better life for her and her children.

"Through PATH, I realized I can do this," she says. "I have a family advocate who cared. She has been there since my first day."

For more information on the Lighthouse PATH program, call 248-920-6000.

South Oakland Shelter (SOS)

Treasure Moore of Redford and her three children were without a roof over their heads when they left the abusive home they had known in August. The South Oakland Shelter (SOS) became a place for them to rest their heads at the end of each day as Moore formulated a plan to move her family forward.

The shelter rotates among 67 partner congregations each week. These include churches, synagogues and other organizations that open their doors to provide a warm, dry and safe environment for area homeless.

Homeless men, women and families can stay in the rotating shelter for up to 90 days while taking advantage of the organization's case management, job placement, budget management and housing assistance services. Lodging, meals and transportation provide the foundation for homeless men and women to work on stabilizing their situations.

For more on the South Oakland Shelter, call 248-809-3773.

Baldwin Center in the Pontiac Community

Since 1981, Pontiac's Baldwin Center has been providing meals, clothing, hygiene products and food to struggling individuals and families in the community.

The center's afterschool and summer programs for youth provide a safe environment for kids to do homework, play and exercise while their parents work. The center serves hundreds of warm meals to community members each week and serves approximately 100 people a day from its clothing closet.

"Baldwin Center's mission is to feed, clothe, educate and empower," says Alex Plum, the organization's associate director for programs. "All of our services are related to that mission."

A mostly volunteer-run organization, Baldwin Center serves two populations, notes Plum. Those consist of individuals with a physical, life-sustaining need for food or clothes and individuals with a spiritual need to help others.

For more information on the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, call 248-332-6101.

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