A few weeks ago, we here at MT received a call from one of our readers about a group of people doing good work on Detroit's east side. On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, we decided to head over to the Conant Gardens neighborhood to see what this good work was all about.
What we found was a building known locally as "the community center."
Pastor David Bradley, of Grace New Covenant Church, greeted us when we arrived with a friendly, warm smile. He brought us into the community center, bustling with the orderly activity of 20 volunteers all distributing boxes of food and clothing, serving people of all ages, races, cultures, and conditions in need. At the time of our visit, many were picking up food for families of five or more people.
Bradley introduced us to the Rev. Dr. Yvette Griffin, co-pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church and founder of Food for the Soul, the main activity of the community center. Before returning to his own mission of speaking with community members and helping them carry boxes of food to their cars or carts, he said to us, pointedly, that everyone here is helpful, and friendly, and that everyone who comes to the community center is treated with respect, and, most importantly by the tone of his voice, "dignity." He says the word with power — as if he knows that it carries with it a special strength. Indeed, it takes dignity to give, and to receive, with grace, and in a society like ours, "dignity" doesn't get the acknowledgment it deserves. Bradley manages to convey that message simply by saying the word.
And here at Food for the Soul, it's clear: everyone involved has dignity.
The Rev. Griffin offers us a seat next to her at the table, where she and Grace New Covenant's first lady, Cheryl, check in people seeking food. "We've been doing this since 2009," Griffin explains. "But the people didn't really start coming until 2011." She says she "didn't realize how much it was needed. Many of the people, they really didn't want to be recipients of food. They wanted to buy their own food."
And many, she says, have jobs and are working. Still, they serve about 300 families a week.
"At least that," Griffin tells us, "because we provide food to churches as well, so they can get it to their congregations, to their communities. So that's what the blessings are. It's a blessing for us. People from everywhere, not just this community. From Warren. Hamtramck. Highland Park. You name it. Brightmoor. Everywhere. We've gotten people from Farmington Hills. We've gotten people from Troy. All over."
Griffin explains that Survival Inc., the formal name of Food for the Soul, partners with Forgotten Harvest and I Am My Brother's Keeper to provide food to those in need. In addition, "we partner with any other agency that wants to partner with us," she says, pointing out with gratitude that after going without heat in the community center for two years, Randazzo just donated a furnace and water heater, which has already made a huge impact on their work.
Antoine Albert, 23, is a volunteer at Food for the Soul in addition to being a youth pastor at Grace New Covenant. He tells MT he loves "seeing the families coming together, and supplying them with what they need as far as clothes, food, someone to talk to, and just a helping hand, especially for the holidays. It's been such a blessing that this place has been here for such a long time. I'm trying to start one at my church so that I can be as much of a blessing as these people are to these families.
"I love coming down here to help," he continues. "Anything I can do to help, you know. I volunteer my time and the people are very nice here. Very pleasant attitudes. Positive vibes. No one goes hungry around here, you can bet that."
Griffin says that there are up to 22 churches they assist, though not every week. "We don't just give out food, we minister to people, we talk to them. That's what we do. Because they're hurting. People are hurting."
We ask what some of the biggest hurts of the community are. "It's all things," Griffin says. "Some are sick. They're coming on walkers. They're coming from the doctor's. They don't have lights. They don't have gas. A couple of homeless people. They're sick."
Griffin tells us about one homeless woman in particular, and that "no one knows why she's homeless now. Many have an address," she says, but "a lot of times, people don't want you to know what they're going through. Some have had strokes and heart problems. Some have diabetes or high blood pressure. Another thing we want to institute is share with them recipes about how to prepare food to fight the diseases that they have.
"This is what God has called us to do," she continues. "It's not just physical food. It's emotional. It's food to help people survive. And that's what Survival Inc. is all about.
"We're there for God's people, and we're doing what we can to help. We need like-minded people to help us do what God wants us to do." — mt
To learn more about Survival Inc. and Food for the Soul, you can reach out to Rev. Dr. Yvette Griffin at 18474 Binder, Detroit; 313-893-1386. The community center is located at 18459 Ryan Rd., Detroit.