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‘THANK YOU’: Janzen House can drive raises funds

Three year-old Ian Aho carries cans to be sorted during a recent can drive. The proceeds of the drive have allowed Janzen House, which in cooperation with other agencies, provides transitional housing and shelter for low income and homeless individuals, to make much-needed upgrades to its kitchen area. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Rife)
Carleigh Aho, center, peers over a tub of cans to sort as her mother Pat Aho, along with fellow volunteers from left to right Tyr Dahlin, Cayden Dahlin, Tre Dahlin, Silas McNeally, Kasey McNeally, and Emerson McNeally sort and move returnables at a residence in Marquette for a recent Janzen House can drive that raised nearly $8,000. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Rife)

MARQUETTE — A “can do” attitude by Janzen House employees, residents and volunteers resulted in a “cool” result for the nonprofit organization.

The residence along Spring Street, which provides shelter to people who are at risk of homelessness, needed a new refrigerator. But it also needed a way to pay for it. So, Janzen House assistant director Melissa Rife floated the idea of a bottle and can drive.

At first, the goal was small, as the facility just needed a reliable appliance to store the “amazing donations” of perishable food it receives from the community, Rife said.

“At first, it was one of those $400 to $600 refrigerators that you would have in your home kitchen,” she said. “And then it was shared so many times on Facebook that then we were going to go for the freezerless refrigerator, which was about $1,000.”

It was only after the local media covered the effort that the response became “enormous.”

That’s when the goal became the double-wide commercial refrigerator with glass doors, which cost around $3,200.

All told, the drive raised $6,800 in cans and bottles and $1,090 in monetary donations for a total just shy of $8,000.

The extra money means the facility will get some much-needed renovations to the kitchen floor, Rife said.

“Then we will see what else needs t

o be done, but it will all stay toward the kitchen improvements,” she said.

The amount of support from the Marquette community and the number of individuals who participated was especially notable, Rife said.

“There were several other can drives prior to us announcing ours, so I was totally caught off guard with the response. We heard from so many people,” she said. “Some of them may not have been able to afford to donate, but with the bottle and can drive, more people were able to give.”

Rife went from personally picking up cans and bottles from front porches and driveways around the area to asking people to drop them off at Janzen House due to the sheer volume.

“After it went on TV-6 it was like a parade of individuals in front of the Janzen,” she said. “People dropping off cans. I actually sorted them at my home, but we had literally the entire basement at the Janzen was packed.”

Several volunteers were involved in the sorting process, which included identifying the distributor each can or bottle came from. This step was needed to allow each item to be bagged and returned to the appropriate place, she said.

The sorting was done outside of Rife’s house the first weekend, with two of her friends and their children. Rife said all parties involved followed social distancing protocols to make the process as safe as possible.

“We actually sorted $2,500 (worth of returnables) on just that Saturday and Sunday,” she said. “And by doing it outside, we were still able to do the social distancing by keeping the families together in areas.”

“I want to give a huge shout-out to those guys and their families who came up from downstate to help,” she said. “And also my kids and family for putting up with the process. My kids are 17, 7, 6, and 3 and they were all out there. My 3-year-old was even out there, gloved up.”

Rain forced the operation into Rife’s two-car garage for the final two weeks of the drive.

When room to store the returnables ran out, they started dispersing them to other area nonprofits.

“We let the individuals know that they could still drop them off and we would be forwarding them to another nonprofit agency within the community,” she said. “We were just making sure they knew where their donation would be going.”

Superior Housing Solutions received between $800 and $1,000 worth of forwarded returnables from the Janzen House collection efforts. Rife also delivered a van load and truckload to the Moosewood Nature Center for its “Cans for Critters” fundraising effort.

The distributors and grocery stores were also extremely helpful with the effort, she said.

“Mike LaVigne at Super One Foods and the staff there were extremely helpful,” Rife said. “When we first approached them about the can drive, I didn’t know it was going to be this successful, but they were great through the entire thing.”

She noted distributors like Imperial Beverage, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Pike Distributing and Griffin Beverage Co. were also key to the successful drive.

Rife said she would also be remiss if she did not thank the Janzen House residents, who fielded the donations daily during the drive.

“They were awesome about thanking people and about making sure they employed social distancing or wearing a mask when they approached someone,” she said, “or even just sorting through the (returnables to get the glass out) before we stored them. It would not have been possible without the residents manning the Janzen. It was huge.”

Throughout the process, Rife said she fielded hundreds of phone calls on her cell phone to coordinate the effort.

“I am not used to my phone ringing that much, but it was really awesome to talk to that many individuals,” Rife said. “Some of them just wanted to know what the Janzen House is or what our mission there is, and just hearing some of the positive feedback from the community as far as what we do. Several had stories that their brother used to stay there, or they knew someone who had stayed there.”

Finally, she noted the success of the effort is another “great example” of the Marquette community’s commitment to helping the Janzen.”

“I really want to thank them,” Rife said. “Without them none of this would be possible.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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