I recently connected with Todd Lipa, executive director of CARES, a nonprofit next door to Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan. Todd shared his story of how he began his work with CARES, what that work means to him, and where he and his staff hope for CARES to go in the future. We are incredibly lucky to work next to such a dedicated group, that has been and will continue to help the community with the leadership of Mr. Lipa. Read more below to learn about this organization, and the work they do in Farmington Hills!
How did you come to your work at CARES and how long have you been working there?
“In 1995, I became the Youth and Family Services Director for the City of Farmington Hills. Over the years, we had families using the food pantry housed in the former Catholic Church of St. Alexander’s in Farmington Hills. When I heard it was closing in December of 2014, myself and others knew we had to do something to keep this much-needed resource available to the families of our communities. At the time, the church was serving between 125 to 150 families.
The team we put together made an offer to the Archdiocese to purchase the entire 10.5 acres and the three buildings on the property. It took until July of 2017 for the Archdiocese to accept our offer.
From the very beginning in 2014, I know we had to save this property and all it gave to the community. As a young man, this was the church I grew up in. It was the church that at times supported my own family when times were tough.”
What does CARES primarily do?
“I remember when we first started to develop CARES in Farmington Hills, and the families would come in and wait to receive their food for their family. It was a “come in and get a box of food pantry” in the beginning. By September of 2018, we had decided to change to a self-serve pantry. The grocery pantry and our guests picking their own food was a game changer for our families.
After switching to our self-serve style pantry, our number of families grew to 400-plus families monthly during COVID-19. Unfortunately, we have had to change to a drive-through distribution, and we saw our number of families grow to over 500-plus families a month. With job loss, businesses closed for weeks at a time and families falling on hard times, I was honored to have CARES up and ready to serve our hungry neighbors.”
What do you find most meaningful about working with CARES?
“What inspired in the beginning is what still inspires today, and that is knowing that we can be there for an individual or family that may have fallen on hard times. We never truly know when life could make a turn that we might not be prepared for. I would hope that if life turned upside down for me someone would be there to lift me up.
I am excited and encouraged to breathe life into CARES in Farmington Hills every day. The people I work with, the guests we are blessed to serve and those that we will serve in the future are a part of our human family. It is an amazing inspiration every day we can encourage and breathe life into those we come across if we are willing to do so. Kindness Compassion and Caring is the gift that is so easy to share.”
How has COVID impacted the work you have done?
“I will never forget March 13, 2020. Life as we knew it changed for each one of us – from our youngest to our oldest. At CARES in Farmington Hills, we witnessed things I never thought we would see in my lifetime.
In March of 2020 many plans for CARES changed and new plans started so we could be ready to serve close to 800 families and those families that would join CARES. Over the next months we would begin to serve upwards of 1200 families through our distributions and special food drive through with our partners. We are now serving over 500 per month.
The negative that we all witnessed was how many families were hit by this pandemic and how life changed for all of us almost overnight.
Out of a negative you always need to work to find the positives, and we did just that at CARES. Food vender’s from all over Metro Detroit made food donations to us. Thousands of pounds of food came to us, refrigeration and freezer trucks loaded with food were dropped off, produce suppliers donated goods, and individuals, companies, community organizations, faith groups, and businesses large and small made contributions to support families.
It was and has been an amazing experience to see just how great people truly are. As people we need each other, it is times like we have all had to live through that should remind us what is important in life.
Covid-19 impacted so many people in so many ways. I have not spoken with anyone that was not impacted in some way. We still are serving many families at CARES, and we do not think that will change much in the next months. All of us will be ready to make changes as needed as we go forward.
The future changed quickly because it needed to. CARES now has the first Food Market open to the public based in the same building as a free pantry. We are also the first to open the market with a focus on those that hold a government issued Bridge Card. Our Bridge Card guests receive a discount on their purchased items and can also earn give away items they cannot buy with their card. The real beauty of our market is all the proceeds go right back into our nonprofit to support our free pantry.”
What are you most excited for in the future of CARES?
“We all believe that the future will be bright for CARES in Farmington. We still believe that our “Campus of Hope” will grow and be a vital piece to our communities. It is due to the amazing partners we have on our campus. Rebuilding Together Southeast Michigan is one of them. Having them as a partner allows us to send individuals and families across our campus to receive the support they may need. ANOTHER Day RESOUCE is another wonderful partner. They go out to the streets and give from their hearts what people need. It all starts here on the campus where their offices are. We have gone from one recovery program on our property to now having three. We feel this will grow as it becomes safer to do so. Other partners that we look forward to welcoming back when it is safe are WIC (Women Infants and Children), our Veterans from Oakland and Wayne Counties that are here to answer important questions and our veterans and their families.
We also have plans on expanding our Campus of Hope to soon include a couple offices that will support families when they come in need of services outside of food. We are working with a partner on a Health Clinic, a gym so our local communities can have a place to enjoy indoors, a community/education center is on the plan to support CARES in holding meetings and education programs, a walking track is in the making so we have a safe place for everyone to walk, a couple new gardens will be coming this spring and our baseball field is being refurbished later this spring / early summer.
We look forward to being a Campus of Hope to all. As I have learned myself over the past for years as I have been blessed to be the Executive Director of CARES in Farmington Hills, it’s not only those that may need a little support at times that appreciate CARES, but many others do also. I have witnessed donors, volunteers, community members, neighbors, large and small businesses and many others loving and enjoying our campus. It truly is becoming a place of hope where everyone is made to feel welcome no matter the reason you walk on to our amazing 10.5 acres. ”
If you would like to learn more about and connect with CARES in Farmington Hills, find there website and phone number here: