Charitable Union – Serving the Battle Creek Area for 125 Years
Walking into the door of Charitable Union Gift Shop at 85 Calhoun Street in Battle Creek may be a bit of a surprise. Looking beyond the very professionally displayed gift shop, one would not expect to see the hustle and bustle of quilters and crafters busily practicing their art form at the distant end of the room. However, there is a daily flurry of volunteer activity taking place within the walls of the oldest continually operating charitable organization in Battle Creek. In fact, this may be the oldest charitable organization within the entire state.
At the very heart of Charitable Union are the more than 1,000 volunteers that gave over 48,000 hours of time last year enabling this non-profit organization to reach out to literally thousands in need. From the quilters and crafters to the clothing and merchandise sorters to the intake personnel to those involved with fund raising, the list of responsibilities is seemingly endless for these dedicated volunteers. These individuals come from all walks of life and various ages, some in their 90’s and still freely giving of their time on a regular basis. These are definitely devoted and enthusiastic workers that facilitate the success of this charity. To organize this expansive operation of mostly volunteer workers are two very capable, exceptional, and compassionate women, Patti Staib, Executive Director and Laura Daugherty, Assistant Executive Director/Fund Development. Staib came to Charitable Union ten years ago. Having a background working with various non-profit groups within the community, she brought with her a wealth of community connections and a solid understanding of what makes a non-profit organization thrive. Seven years ago Daugherty came into the picture. Coming from the business sector, she began as a volunteer, was then added as a part-time staff member, which led to her full time status as Assistant Executive Director and Fund Development coordinator. In the course of conversation, it is very evident the role these women fulfill is not simply a job, it’s a calling. It is a calling to a specific people within the Battle Creek community.
According to Staib, “In 2011 there were 11,343 individuals served by Charitable Union. These individuals received a total of 431,351 items that have a total estimated value of $4.2 million.” All these items are from community donations of clothing, shoes, coats, and basic household goods. Staib continued, “The demand for services has almost doubled since 2004, a reflection of Michigan’s extremely difficult economic environment.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the last 10 years, poverty in Calhoun County has surged dramatically, from 10.9% in 2000 to 17% in 2011. That means today at least 23,144 people in Calhoun County are living in poverty, with one-fourth of them being children. To put that in perspective, if that many people were lined up shoulder to shoulder with no space in between, the line would stretch 7.4 miles. The average per capita income of clients at Charitable Union is approximately $6,500 per year. The median family income in Calhoun County is now 22.1% less than the nation as a whole. According to Staib, “We have gone from helping about 50 families per day to now helping around 150 families per day. Many of our donors have now become our clients. But, we also are fortunate enough to see many of our clients eventually become donors.” Staib continues, “According to the most recent TCC Report, 50% of the babies born in Battle Creek are Medicaid cases. Charitable Union becomes a resource for those families.”
The mission of Charitable Union is “to provide clothing, bedding and small household items, at no cost, to support families in need and to advocate with them for their independence and self-sufficiency.” This was the founding principle of the organization dating back to its origin in 1887 when several ladies of social responsibility sponsored a Grand Charity Ball raising a surprising $232.75 which launched an effort that has spanned 125 years. From all appearances, the same committed determination and compassion that originally fueled the collective mission to care for the financially deficient within the Battle Creek community in the late nineteenth century also drives the current leadership of this quality organization today. They are committed to providing, through the generous donations of the community, clothing, bedding, and household items free of charge to thousands of children and adults each year throughout the greater Battle Creek community and to treat those in need with dignity and respect.
The bulk of the funding for the organization comes from the United Way (33%), grants (22%), and the Charitable Union Gift Shop (13%). The remaining portion of the funding comes from their Annual Campaign. The goal for the 2012 Campaign is $150,000. This places a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of Daugherty as the coordinator for Fund Development. Funds received are used for clothing and necessities for everyone in the entire family from new born infants to adults re-entering the work force. Today’s challenging economy not only affects the clients of Charitable Union, but it also affects those who desire to donate to such a worthy cause. With multiple charitable organizations vying for the same donation resources within the community, coupled with the financial difficulties those donation resources may also be experiencing themselves, the fund raising and donation process becomes challenging to say the least. However, there are many within the Battle Creek community who generously support the ongoing efforts of this worthy cause. According to Daugherty, “One of the reasons our donors give to us is that they know we give clothing and other necessary items to our clients free of charge. Our donors like knowing that what they contribute will go directly to someone in our community that has a need.”
Charitable Union Gift Shop has become a jewel within the organization. While most people within the Battle Creek community may not know of its existence, it plays an increasing significant role in the funding of the charitable entity. The gift shop opened in 2003 to generate an additional revenue stream to help meet the growing needs of clients. The Gift Shop has had a significant increase in its success over the past three years which is easily attributable to Jenny Evans, the Gift Shop Manager. Evans, a retired Battle Creek Central High School teacher, began working with Charitable Union as a volunteer and eventually became a part time employee. When you meet Evans, you would think that her life career could have been in sales rather than teaching because she is a natural sales person. One can immediately discern her passion for her work and for the unique quality products filling the manicured displays in the store. She is very willing to proudly demonstrate the store merchandise, much of which is made by volunteers. Staib and Daugherty both credit Evans with the increased success of the store. “What used to be an annual income for the Gift Shop is now a monthly income”, according to Staib. Interestingly, most of the shoppers are those that also donate to Charitable Union. Evans states, “Often, when they drop off their donation, they visit the Gift Shop and make purchases.” She continues, “We want to become a destination shopping place. A lot of people don’t even realize we are here. One of our biggest challenges is getting the word out that we have a Gift Shop full of very nice items.” In addition to the numerous quality items made by volunteers, there are also donations of glassware and other decorative items that are not considered “necessary” items and, therefore, are not distributed directly to Charitable Union clients. Any non-necessary items are sold in the Gift Shop so the funds can be returned to the overall operating expenses of the organization to provide a greater benefit to their clients. Evans indicates, “On any given day we probably average about 20 shoppers per day. But, during our sale days it’s not unusual to see 100 people or more come in to shop.” In addition to Evans work schedule in the Gift Shop, she also volunteers over 1,000 hours a year, mainly making wool mittens that are sold in the store. The mittens are the number one seller in the Gift Shop with over 750 pairs being sold. Evans is also introducing a frequent shopper card and is continuously thinking of creative ways to increase Gift Shop revenues to support the ongoing work of the organization.
March 22nd will be the Grand Re-opening of the Gift Shop in celebration of the 125 Year Anniversary of Charitable Union. Staib, Daugherty, and Evans are looking forward to the Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting and other celebratory events commemorating this historical entity dedicated to the less fortunate within our community. There will also be a Volunteer Recognition Day on June 29th and the Gift Shop will be participating in the craft show at Cornwell’s Turkey Farm on March 17th.
Anyone wanting to make a financial donation to Charitable Union can contact Daugherty directly at 269.964.7234, extension 106 or you can donate online at www.charitableunion.org. Donations of clothing and other household items can be brought directly to the donation center in the back of the building at 85 Calhoun Street. In regard to donations, Daugherty warns, “Beware of the blue boxes. Someone has placed blue donation boxes in various places within the Battle Creek area. We believe they were placed there by someone from the Detroit area, but some of the boxes do not appear to be from non-profit organizations. We believe someone is collecting merchandise to sell for a profit. I would encourage people to donate their items to charities in our local community instead of using the blue donation boxes from outside our community.”
For additional information about Charitable Union or to become a volunteer you may contact Laura Daugherty at 269.964.7234, extension 106 or email her at email@example.com. You can also find information on their website at www.chartiable union.org and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/charunion?sk=wall. Or, just drop by the Charitable Union Gift Shop at 85 Calhoun Street in Battle Creek and meet Jenny Evans and her friendly staff while you peruse the quality merchandise knowing that your purchase will be going to help a local family in need. The store hours are Monday from 8 a.m.to 7 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the second Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.