- Associated Press - Monday, June 2, 2014

GRAND BLANC, Mich. (AP) - They may live in one of the wealthiest school districts in the county but volunteers with a longtime local food bank say that doesn’t mean that there are not people in the Grand Blanc area who don’t need help.

“People just think we don’t. And Flint, of course, has a huge need, but people also just don’t think Grand Blanc does,” said Val Bennett, a retired elementary teacher who volunteers with FISH of Grand Blanc.

Now in its 40th year, FISH provides food, clothing and other services to needy people who live in the Grand Blanc School District, according to The Flint Journal ( https://bit.ly/1nPYVVY ).

Thirty percent of the district’s students receive free and reduced lunch - that’s up from 1 percent from 2013, according to the district.

The need in Grand Blanc has also grown tremendously.

In 1978, the first year FISH held its Christmas baskets program it helped 30 families - a number that was considered a lot at that time.

This past December, the organization served 234 families, and had to refer another 17 families to another agency. But that number doesn’t even top the 316 families it helped in 2011.

It was after the 2011 Christmas season that FISH added to its criteria that the families must be on food stamps - an addition to the already in place criteria that consisted of living within the school district boundaries and receiving free/reduced lunch.

FISH helps a variety of Grand Blanc residents - all in different situations. There are seniors, veterans, families, high school students who don’t have a home, people who are unemployed, and underemployed.

Donna Hedding, who has been a volunteer with FISH since 1975, said it is typically a loss of a job or medical/health reasons that throws people into a tailspin.

“All of us could be in that situation,” said FISH Chairwoman Carol Capell.

FISH volunteers credit its longstanding success to its “neighbors helping neighbors” approach, all-volunteer base and its partnership with the school district.

“So much of what we do as a church member, we’re sending it out of the area. And this is truly helping people in Grand Blanc,” Hedding said.

The group draws its name from the symbol that early Christians used to identify themselves.

Hedding said everything the group takes in through donations is given to those who are in need. There are no big payoffs for administrators, she said.

“No one in the FISH organization receives any pay and I think that’s why we stay as strong as we do, we’re all volunteers,” Hedding said.

Although FISH is a separate agency from the school district, the school has always been supportive of the nonprofit.

Throughout the year, school buildings and classrooms host various activities to collect food for the pantry. High school students volunteer to help put together Christmas baskets during the holiday season. And some of the programs, such as the Clothes Closet, are housed within school buildings.

“The community really, really does support FISH. I think because we have such a strong support from the schools, that’s why we get support from the community too,” Hedding said.

FISH has a small variety of programs available - a food pantry, Christmas baskets, a backpack program, clothes closet and most recently the addition of a new and gently-used shoe drive. It holds events to help collect donations, like its Feed the Bus event.

FISH also is always in need of more volunteers - especially younger bodies with more energy, Hedding said.

The group currently has about 30 members - many of them are retirees who have more time to spare. The group first started with 20 members who had signed the incorporation papers.

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Information from: The Flint Journal, https://www.mlive.com/flint

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