Reading, farming and food pantry groups set to receive $2M from Washtenaw County

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – An urban farm, a slew of food pantries and a literacy program aiming to build a home library inside every Ypsilanti home are all on the receiving end of a $2-million infusion to local nonprofits and grassroots groups coming from Washtenaw County .

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, county leaders gave preliminary approval to a third batch of funding from a new $8-million fund meant to boost community groups, especially those on the smaller end not accused of partnering with county government, as well as those serving the Ypsilanti-area 48197 and 48198 ZIP codes.

The money from the county Community Priority Fund in this round is focused on organizations providing direct aid to households still struggling through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as groups tackling educational disparities.

Among them is Our Community Reads, a group founded by Erickson Elementary School educators in 2020 with the simple act of recording community members reading a book, which has sparked a series of read-along videos.

Now the group is working to stock the shelves of every home across the Ypsilanti area, its Vice President Shanese Johnson told county commissioners during their Nov. 16 meeting. “If you can’t read, you can’t live,” Johnson said. “Our goal is also to keep kids safe.”

Also at the meeting was Ypsilanti Takunia “TC” Collins, a former professional chef who identified himself as one of three Black farmers in Washtenaw County. Collins’ organization, Willow Run Acres, teaches children and community members food cultivation from seed to sale, integrating history lessons through programs like planting Underground Railroad gardens.

“Learning about agriculture from the past is bringing it to the future,” Collins said at the meeting, describing his efforts to create community gardens accessible by people who use wheelchairs or have disabilities.

Commissioners voted unanimously to OK the funding for 21 Community Priority Fund organizations chosen by a community review body and approved by county administration, following similar votes for other funding categories earlier this year. The funding will likely come back for a second and final reading at the board’s Dec. 7 meeting.

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Officials noted religious groups receiving the support will have to use the money on secular activities.

According to a county memo on the program, the groups receiving funding in the latest round are:

Direct assistance to households

Women and Men Working for Change – $185,000

This Ypsilanti-based group was born as a group of friends who came together roughly five years ago and has now snowballed into a full 501(c)(3) nonprofit, said its founder Cherisa Allen at the county board meeting. It tackles a variety of issues, hosting an annual holiday dinner for area residents, sponsoring a domestic violence walk and fulfilling teachers’ classroom wish lists.

“Domestic violence is not just an in-home problem. Domestic violence affects the entire community, and I want that to be known,” Allen said.

Northfield’s Human Services – $111,000

This nonprofit runs a food pantry based in Whitmore Lake and intends to use the funding to keep up with increased demand and better equip its facility with shelving and utility carts for its storage and delivery operations, according to the county memo.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District – Trusted Advisors – $110,945

The Trusted Parent Advisor program is made up of seven community leaders who have spent five years empowering students’ families, WISD Parent Liaison and Community Engagement Specialist Colleen Klus told commissioners. The funding will help provide direct assistance and referrals to other services for families in Ypsilanti-area ZIP codes, serving 250 of them, according to the county.

“Children succeed and thrive when their caregivers succeed and thrive,” Klus said.

Ypsilanti Community Schools – Resiliency Center – $50,000

The Resiliency Center was created at YCS during the pandemic to offer material aid to families, like clothing, food and household items. It hopes to expand to include mental health support, job skills training and a community location for meetings, according to the county.

Bethesda Bible Church – $34,375

This Ypsilanti Township church operates a volunteer-led food pantry in partnership with Food Gatherers, distributing approximately 700,000 pounds of food since 2015 and feeding 125 people a month, according to the county memo.

Berea City of Hope – $13,500

The Berea City of Hope Church is based in Ypsilanti Township’s West Willow neighborhood, and the affiliated nonprofit receiving the funds provides a monthly food pantry, annual coat drive, holiday food baskets and seminars focused on financial assistance, housing and employment assistance, according to the county.

Greater Faith Mission – $12,000

Also based in West Willow, the Greater Faith Mission partners with Food Gatherers to run food distribution, and the funds will help update kitchen facilities to improve service, the county memo states.

Emmanuel Lutheran Church – Clothes Closet – $9,000

The church’s Clothes Closet program, available weekly, hosts an annual Christmas giveaway, and the funding will help the Ypsilanti-based initiative increase its number of items, according to the county.

Beautiful Gate Food Pantry – $5,730

The food pantry at the Ypsilanti-based Beautiful Gate International Church lost two freezers, two refrigerators, a printer and an iPad used to sign clients up for food benefits during summer 2021 flooding. The funding will help meet the needs of the 250 people who use the pantry each week it is open, according to the county.

Jewish Family Services on behalf of Buenos Vecinos – $418,450

Buenos Vecinos, Spanish for “good neighbors,” serves Latino and Hispanic-identified people in Washtenaw County, with the majority in the Ypsilanti area. The funding will help connect the group with Spanish-speaking residents in need of food assistance and financial help, according to the county.

Eastern Michigan University – Swoop’s Food Pantry – $50,000

This student-led pantry offers free food and other items to the EMU community, and the funding will go to help support infrastructure and operational costs, including providing a budget for halal meats, specialty cooking products and non-diary and vegetarian options.

Addressing educational disparities

Washtenaw Community College Foundation – $231,680

The WCC Foundation supports students with scholarships and emergency support. It will develop a program teaching soft skills and employability at the Harriet Street Center in Ypsilanti, targeted at local youth. The program will offer information to teens on higher education pathways, including to historically Black colleges and universities, according to the county.

Family Learning Institute – $184,424.33

Low-income students in grades 2 through 5 in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas can receive free tutoring to catch up to grade level in reading via the Family Learning Institute. The funding will support a reading program helping students referred from Ypsilanti Community Schools, providing one-on-one instruction by trained volunteers each week, according to the county memo.

Willow Run Acres – $90,500

Collins’ organization began out of a science project growing potatoes with his daughter’s elementary school class. It has since expanded to encompass several teaching gardens and a community plot at an Ypsilanti Township park. The funding will help expand the group’s 13-week nutrition and agricultural education course for youth, including lessons on growing, harvesting and selling food, according to the county.

Hutan for World Health – $70,950

This nonprofit has implemented an adventure-based learning program, called Bob-a-loo, at preschools across southeast Michigan, resulting in increased levels of physical activity among children, the county memo states. The funding will help expand the effort to two new schools in the Ypsilanti area.

Children’s Literacy Network – $44,000

Founded by educators in 1991, the Ann Arbor-based Children’s Literacy Network works to close the achievement gaps in reading and provide books to low-income students. The funds will support its Read with Kids program, which in partnership with Washtenaw Promise will serve more than 630 Ypsilanti preK through 1st-graders.

Christian Love Fellowship – $39,655

POWER, Inc. is a nonprofit community development corporation affiliated with Christian Love Fellowship Ministries International, whose congregation is based in the MacArthur Boulevard area of ​​Superior Township. The funding will help establish a commercial kitchen for use with food distribution and fresh produce programs.

Books for Kids – $6,000

Books for Kids runs free book fairs in Ypsilanti public schools, and intends to use the funds to implement 10 of the events in one year.

Growing Hope – $166,790.67

Ypsilanti-based Growing Hope Urban Farm — a group that runs garden trainings, seedling distribution and youth events, among other initiatives — will use the county funding to run an agriculture and food justice training program for area youth, according to the county.

Hope Network Michigan Education Corps – $122,000

The Michigan Education Corps has worked with Ypsilanti students on reading and math since the 2019-2020 academic year, and the funding will allow it to expand, deploying more interventionists to address “unfinished learning” needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the county.

Our Community Reads – $44,000

The group distributing books and maintaining a read-along YouTube channel will use the funding for literacy and enrichment programs for youth of different ages, partnering with the Parkridge Community Center, WCC and other organizations.

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