25 Years and $25 Million of Caring

25 Years and $25 Million of Caring

Father Fred celebrates its silver anniversary

By Ariana Hendrix

For 25 years, thousands have been touched by one priest's simple idea: Nuture hope when all seems hopeless.

From its humble beginnings at Dill's Olde Towne Saloon, the Father Fred Foundation has extended the equivalent of $25 million in hope to those struggling to keep food on the table, the lights on, or even a roof over their heads.

"We really pride ourselves on staying true to the mission of providing those basic human needs," says Rosemary Hagan, executive director of the non-denominational charity foundation.

The Father Fred Foundation was started by Father Edwin Frederick, who served as chaplain to the Traverse City State Hospital for 31 years. When the hospital closed in 1989, Father Fred recognized that many of its residents would likely be facing poverty. He and five other founders began meeting at Dill's on a weekly basis to decide how best to help those in need, and, after being given a $50,000 capital investment donation, launched the charity organization that same year.

"The momentum caught the community's attention," says Hagan. "Nowadays there are so many nonprofits, but back 25 years ago, not so many. People knew that their dollars could go immediately to work, and we've stayed true to that."

Father Fred originally expected to serve around 30 to 40 people a day. Starting in a tiny office on 14th Street, the organization quickly grew thanks to donations by local businesses and volunteers. Less than a year later the foundation moved to a larger space on Griffin Street.

"We were standing in the Foundation’s lobby in the early days, surrounded by 30 or so people patiently waiting to see him," said Dan Dingeman, one of the organization's founders. "As Father Fred and I were concluding our conversation, he said to me, 'You know, we just need to listen, care, and share. We just have to keep that in mind.' We did. These words became our guiding principal and still lead us."

Father Fred died in 2000 at the age of 74; however, his mission to "listen, care, and share," has remained the cornerstone vision of the organization. Today, the Father Fred Foundation is located in an expansive space on Hastings Street and receives between 90 and 200 families per day.

Father Fred's food pantry, the largest in the area, offers fresh and local produce in an grocery store atmosphere that strives to treat guests with dignity and respect. Needy families are allowed to "shop" for donated food, clothes, and household goods. Dingeman says that over the past 25 years, the foundation has shared the equivalent of about $25,000,000 worth of food, clothing and financial support to those in need.

For volunteers and staff, working for the foundation provides daily reminders of the important work started by Father Fred. Communications Manager Joan O'Neill says a memorable time for her came at Christmas, when a family arrived looking for gifts for their children after Toys for Tots had ended. Right before the family left, someone pulled in to make a last-minute donation of toys.

"The toys even worked out age-wise for the children of the family," says O'Neill. "We call them 'Father Fred moments.' It happens all the time, and it's amazing."

Hagan and O'Neill say that the Foundation's next big events will be the return of the Canstruction competition, followed by the annual Frostbite Food Drive, both in February.

Plans are still in the works for specific events to recognize the foundation's 25th anniversary, but staff members say they plan to honor Father Fred, the legacy founders, and the multi-generations of donors and volunteers.

"What's made us last is the continuity, that daily commitment of everyone here towards the good, and the simplicity of our mission," says Hagan. "Those are the things that still resonate."