A group of northern Michigan United Automobile Workers (UAW) retirees are quietly helping to fill area food banks across six northern Michigan counties. More than $50,000 has already been given to charities from the group of some 90 members.
Many of the dollars donated were raised via traditional efforts like bake sales and raffles to erect a new Chums Corner building in 1992; when the building was eventually sold in 2008, it reaped a $250,000 profit.
Soon the group deliberated about how and where to donate the funds. First college scholarships were established, and soon donations to local food pantries emerged as a better route.
"At one of our board meetings, someone came up with the idea of food banks,” says Bill Brown, chair of the UAW Retirees International Council of Northwest MI. “We were thinking about people in need, and what is an immediate need? Food.”
Brown believes “as members of the group, we’re blessed to have more than most. We do it just to give. We’re blessed to have this because of our hard work and organizational skills. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the American thing to do; it’s a good, neighborly thing to do."
The retirees have partnered with charitable organizations in each of their catchment counties -- K.A.I.R. from Kalkaska, Leelanau Christian Neighbors from Leelanau, B.A.C.N. from Benzie, and the Salvation Army in Grand Traverse, Wexford, and Manistee.
The donations are typically $1,000 each, made to coincide with holidays like Easter and Christmas, though sometimes the group takes strategic advantage to get the charity even more dollars. Brown recently rescheduled the group’s donation to coincide with Meijer’s “Simply Give” program, which allowed shoppers to add $10 to their bill, which then is matched by Meijer and donated to the local Salvation Army. The result tripled the proceeds to the charity.
“If we can finesse what we can for our neighbors in need, it works out for everyone,” says Brown.
Money was also given to help during the Flint water crisis, and emergency funding was allocated following a devastating 2015 Glen Arbor storm.
Ruth Blick, director of community resource development for the Salvation Army in Traverse City, says it’s “amazing what the UAW retirees do because, as a group, that’s what they chose to do. This is money they’ve been putting into their group for a very long time. There are so many things they can do for themselves -- they choose to give back to their communities.”
Brown adds, “We’re salt of the earth people… I think we’re going to keep donating and donating until the money is gone.”