Public invited to help others in need
When Ric’s Food Center planned opening their doors three years ago, they knew there would be extra product—produce, deli and more—that would go unsold yet still be perfectly good. The family-owned company looked around Rockford for a deserving charity and found Lean on Me Outreach.
“We give them about $1,000 worth a day,” said Ric’s Store Director Dave Brickner.
Brickner said the store’s dedication to offering fresh, perfectly presented items from baked goods, produce and deli—and even the products on the shelf that shoppers might not think of as having expiration dates, such as cereal, pastas and canned goods—mean there is good food and non-food items as well to be donated to Lean on Me.
Brickner said Ric’s is inviting the public to give if they are able during a food/product drive on Saturday, Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A Lean on Me truck will be at the Ric’s Food Center, 6769 Belding Road, open for donations.
“We do this at all our Ric’s stores,” Brickner said of the company.
Being actively involved in the community in which each of the five stores is located is a philosophy that is particularly evident at the Rockford Ric’s. The store sponsors the Rockford High School Athlete of the Week each week in The Rockford Squire and stepped up in this year’s Community Expo, offering free food samples. A Taste of Ric’s—coming up soon on December 4 at the store—is a big event with free food samples from dozens of vendors and live entertainment, all free to the public.
Brickner said the store donates not just food, but product the store decides not to sell. When the store switched brands of non-food product, it was decided not to keep the old brand on the shelves with the new, and all that product—shampoo, toothbrushes, diapers and more—went to Lean on Me.
Lean on Me director Lisa Shaffer said the facility, the outreach ministry of Resurrection Life Church, is unique among charities in that it does not require people to prove need in order to receive aid. Located at 11555 Edgerton Avenue, Lean on Me offers food box and other
product pick-up three days a week, no questions asked. She said the organization has about 100 volunteers, and Ric’s donations are greatly appreciated.
“They have supported us from day one,” she stated. Shaffer said she does not begrudge other charities their need to qualify recipient of aid and understands that is necessary under some requirements, but at Lean on Me they offer help to one and all. This can make a big difference to someone who is struggling, but may be embarrassed about financial difficulties. One business owner in downtown Rockford received help from Lean on Me and said he is forever grateful to the organization.
“I am a huge Lean on Me fan, because there are no requirements other than asking for help to receive help,” he said. “There are Rockford residents who need help and can go anonymously without being judged. There are plenty of business people who are struggling not only with their businesses, right here in Rockford, but also personally and are too embarrassed to ask for help. If people put aside their pride and ego and asked for help, [even temporary] Lean on Me is right there for them. I have seen lives changed by what they have done and do with people right here in the community. As a business owner, I look for people in need and direct them there. Whatever happened to people just helping people unconditionally? Lean on Me is still the biggest secret right here in Rockford. What they provide could be the determining factor of whether a child goes to school without a coat or a family sleeps on the floor without a mattress, but maybe most importantly they provide hope that someone cares for them whom they have never met.”
Shaffer said the help Lean on Me provides is a blessing to many, but the real story behind the scenes is what happens to those who step up and provide assistance.
“There is always need, that’s a given. I could talk about that, but that’s all you ever hear when you hear about pantries,” she said. “We have a staff of 100 volunteers and it has changed their lives.”
Shaffer said many of the volunteers are people who once came to the outreach for help, and when their financial circumstances turned around, became dedicated to the cause for others. “It changes them. They become part of something bigger than themselves,” she said. Shaffer said volunteers talk to the clients who come in, hear their stories, and realize it is not all about themselves but helping others.
“Food is the way we do it,” Shaffer said.
She noted that the outreach helps in ways other than food, and works to put people together, making connections. She said local businesses help, such as Bell Furniture, who keeps Lean on Me cards on hand and mentions the organization when customers purchase items, refrigerators, freezers or couches.
“If someone has an appliance or furniture item they are getting rid of, we have a list of people looking for that item,” she explained. “We don’t take larger furniture or appliances here, but we hook up people who have an item with people who need one.”
With help from local businesses like Ric’s, Lean on Me gives out 1,500 to 1,600 food boxes a week and last year gave out over 20,000.
“What Ric’s donates is huge because we don’t have to buy it,” Shaffer said, noting that many organizations that collect food for pantries have to sell the food to them. Although prices are pennies on the dollar, it is nonetheless money out the door. She said in addition to the donations, many shoppers at Ric’s are in the habit of donating their bottle returns to the charity. “That pays for gas for our trucks,” Shaffer said.
“What is nice about Ric’s is it isn’t part of a big corporation. A lot of the big stores have a corporate policy to not donate,” Shaffer noted.
The drive will be at Ric’s Saturday, Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., just in time for Thanksgiving-themed donations, but is not limited to food. Shaffer pointed out that other needs are often overlooked. People need toilet paper, toothpaste, blankets and other items that are easily taken for granted.
She noted that a woman called Lean on Me because she had just had new tires put on her car. “A person we knew desperately needed new tires. These weren’t new, but weren’t bad at all.”
Donations are all tax deductible as well. Lean on Me accepts donations Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. For larger items, call the outreach at (616) 866-3999. Assistance is provided three days a week, Monday from 5 to 8 p.m., and Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
“They are a pretty terrific organization,” Brickner said of Lean on Me. “They are really grateful for anything they get.”