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Portage Health Foundation collaborates to help community

Photo provided by Portage Health Foundation Portage Health Foundation’s Executive Director Kevin Store helps a family get groceries in their car during a mobile food pantry in Houghton earlier this month.

Editor’s note: This story was written with the intention of running in our Heroes special section on Saturday, but was cut for space.

HANCOCK — When it comes to discussing people or groups who act heroically in a community, a group that seems to almost always be there, whether literally with their hands open, or figuratively with their pocketbook open, is the Portage Health Foundation (PHF). As Executive Director Kevin Store sees it, the role of the foundation is to help, because simply, “this is home.”

“The people in this community, it’s our friends, it’s our family, it’s our neighbors,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that where help is needed, and if there’s opportunities to address the deeper-seeded issues that are impacting our community from being a healthier, happier, more wholesome community, we’re just trying to do our part to try to do what’s right by our community.”

Store beams when discussing how hard the PHF is working to be a partner with the community as a whole.,” he said. “I think we’re doing good work.”

Store also stresses the fact that a big reason the PHF works as hard as it does for the community is that the members grew up here and feel a distinct passion for being here.

Photo provided by Portage Health Foundation Portage Health Foundation’s Executive Director Kevin Store helps prepare boxes groceries for families during a mobile food pantry in Houghton earlier this month.

“We’re all from here. I was born and raised in Ontonagon and I’ve been up in the Copper Country since 1998. Mike (Babcock) is from here. All of our staff members are all from this community. We’re just trying to do what’s right by our community.”

Doing what is right takes on many forms. In the aftermath of the Father’s Day flood of 2018, PHF created the Houghton County Relief Fund, a restricted fund that helped distribute relief and recovery efforts of the community after a nearly unprecedented weather event.

For Store and the PHF, it is just what they should be doing.

“Our core areas are social determinants of health,” he said. “We focus on economic stability, education, whole person health, and safe neighborhoods in a good, safe community.

“Those are areas that we’re focusing on, and we’ve had that broken down. Our strategic plan is pretty well developed over the next five years, and we’re just going to keep moving through these conversations and keep taking the steps that we’re taking.”

Photo provided by Portage Health Foundation Volunteers help a family in L’Anse during a mobile food pantry last week.

Store is very excited to see how the community is responding to the PHF’s community actions.

“This foundation is intended to serve the best needs of our community,” Store said. “Yes, we can’t do everything. We can’t serve all aspects as much as we would like.

“We’re still a growing foundation and every year we grow and we put more money back in. Every year we grow. We’ve grown our portfolio exponentially. We’re growing our other funder partners, and we’re getting more participation. We’re starting to see more community donors very organically get involved with our fundraising efforts and leaving requests for us because they see that the things that we are doing are meaningful, (and) are driven (by) the bigger issues of our education.”

As groups have stepped up to help fund relief efforts and educational efforts in the community, Store has seen a tremendous amount of drive in partner organizations, which helps expand what the foundation can help achieve.

“Our success here as a foundation is not possible unless our agency partners or community partners are successful,” said Store. “What we do is we take the time, and we invest ourselves with our community partners, to help break down these problems that exist and to have a good understanding of them. (Together, we) look at how the financial resources or human resources, equipment, or, in some case, physical resources, (that are) necessary to solve (those issues).”

As the world has suffered a setback on a scale much larger than the Father’s Day flood in the first half of 2020, the PHF has looked at ways to step up and help families whose livelihoods were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have held discussions with local schools about helping them reopen safely, helping teachers and administrators get the training and resources they need to do the best job they can in the safest way possible. While helping schools helps children, children also have families that might need help. PHF has found a way to step in and assist those families as well. Starting in mid-August, they helped bring mobile food pantries to the area. They held one at the Community Action Food Pantry in Houghton on Aug. 13, another in L’Anse at the Meadowbrook Arena on Aug. 20, and have one more planned for Aug. 27 at the Ontonagon Area Schools building.

Collaborating with Feeding America West Michigan, Community Action Food Pantry and Ontonagon Area Schools, PHF is able to distribute, on average, just under $100 of food per family. Store strongly believes that while that may not seem like much on paper, it can mean a lot to the family that is benefiting from the help.

“Everybody needs food,” he said. “There’s probably about $70-80 worth of food that was distributed to each family. (That) may not seem like a lot, but for a lot of folks, that’s a fairly big jump and that might be the difference between an elderly citizen getting their medication or double-using diabetic syringes for the month. It might make that difference.”

Store encourages members of PHF to get involved in the projects they help start or fund.

“I actually worked that line (during the distribution),” Store said. “I really enjoy being able to see the outcome of whatever we do. You’ll see our staff here often engaged with the different projects firsthand.”

Getting to see how people respond to the help they receive makes it all worthwhile for PHF.

“I wanted to make sure that we thank them for coming out and taking part in that program,” said Store. “We thanked them for taking, not advantage of, but utilizing that resource that we brought.

“If they don’t show up for it, that need will exist if they don’t, if people aren’t willing to, take that opportunity. That’s another part of the solution, or part of the success of that program. We had incredible community participation. I thank them for that. I am so glad that we had so many people show up.”

The PHF will host their third mobile food pantry Thursday in Ontonagon at Ontonagon Area Schools at 3:30 p.m. for those families interested in participating.

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