Thanksgiving Mitzvah

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Grass roots charity wants to provide “1,000 turkeys … 10,000 smiles.”

Bill Birndorf Karen Sherbin
Higher Hopes is a Michigan nonprofit started this year by Bill Birndorf, CEO of his marketing firm, Apple Marketing Company, based in Commerce Township.This Thanksgiving, Higher Hopes will do more than stuff a turkey; it will provide complete meal kits for more than 1,000 underprivileged households in Detroit.

“The goal is to keep families together for the holiday,” Birndorf said.

The families will receive a 10-pound turkey, stuffing, assorted fruits and vegetables, drinks, cooking equipment, dinnerware and dessert. Support from established nonprofits, large corporations and caring individuals made Higher Hopes possible.

Originally, it started as a solo project, but soon grew into a seven-person task force: Birndorf, Karen Sherbin, Dr. Mel Rubenfire, David Lubin, Carolyn Gray, Warren Crockett and Carly Sugar.

In a JN story last summer, Birndorf shared his career journey as a merchandise broker and briefly discussed Higher Hopes. His business relationships proved very valuable for his nonprofit endeavor. A manufacturer Birndorf represents donated $20,000 to the cause. Pam Turkin, owner of Just Baked, read the JN story and contacted Birndorf to donate 14,400 gourmet cupcakes.

The families will receive a 10-pound turkey, stuffing, assorted fruits and vegetables, drinks, cooking equipment, dinnerware and dessert. Support from established nonprofits, large corporations and caring individuals made Higher Hopes possible.

Originally, it started as a solo project, but soon grew into a seven-person task force: Birndorf, Karen Sherbin, Dr. Mel Rubenfire, David Lubin, Carolyn Gray, Warren Crockett and Carly Sugar.

In a JN story last summer, Birndorf shared his career journey as a merchandise broker and briefly discussed Higher Hopes. His business relationships proved very valuable for his nonprofit endeavor. A manufacturer Birndorf represents donated $20,000 to the cause. Pam Turkin, owner of Just Baked, read the JN story and contacted Birndorf to donate 14,400 gourmet cupcakes.

Higher Hopes has grown tremendously in support and volunteers since the summer.

“We currently have 20 corporate donors,” Birndorf said. “Plus we raised $3,000 in the first two days on our GoFundMe.com page. We now have $9,000 from 72 donors.”

Birndorf’s wife, Holly, contacted Karen Sherbin, director of Project Healthy Community (PHC) in Detroit, knowing that Sherbin’s network could be of great help.

PHC was inspired by Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. PHC is a nonprofit focused on social missions for all ages in communities with needs. Its programs include a mobile pantry, adult educational classes and afterschool activities for elementary and high school students.

“Judaism demands that we reach out and proclaim justice in the world,” Bennett says. “To become active and socially help those in need is our responsibility.”

Sherbin said, “Within two years, we’ve established many connections with colleges and schools. PHC operates many programs for hundreds of families. This includes a mobile pantry providing 20,000 pounds of food monthly.”

The mobile pantry is stocked by Gleaners Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. This relationship with Gleaners helped Higher Hopes fill in its logistical gaps.

Birndorf and Sherbin met David Duey, mobile pantry coordinator, for a tour at Gleaners, which specializes in food storage, packaging and shipping — areas of major concern for Higher Hopes.

“We now had all the ingredients that were missing — we had a location for packaging and a way to transfer the packages to our four distributing centers in Detroit,” Birndorf said. “We purchased nearly $20,000 worth of food from Gleaners, too.”

Anne Schenk, Gleaners vice president of advancement, said, “Come holiday season we get many requests from charity organizations. We are happy to help our partner agencies, like Project Healthy Community, with aiding the families in Detroit.”

For family selections, Birndorf contacted Carolyn Gray, director at the Fisherman Ministry in Detroit, to find ideal families. She selected those who come from Head Start and the Great Start Readiness Program.

“Bill is a joy to work with,” Gray said. “I was very excited when I heard about the project. Getting a complete meal with cooking utensils and dessert is not common. Usually you would expect just a turkey. This meal may last a few days for some of these families.”

Birndorf refers to others who contributed significantly as “Higher Hope Heroes.”

“Thanksgiving night we will be feeding between 10,000-12,000 people,” Birndorf said. “That’s half the first-base section at Comerica Park.

“We started with a goal, an objective to reach; you think it’s going to run a straight line, but it doesn’t,” Birndorf added. “There are little curves and turns along the way. So, one thing leads to another, but we always moved forward and never took a step backward.”

Birndorf lives with his family in West Bloomfield and is a longtime member of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.

Regarding Thanksgiving aid within the Jewish community, another philanthropist, Nate Goldberg, founder of Equity Planning Group in West Bloomfield, and his family have been providing more than 100 Jewish Family Service clients with complete kosher Thanksgiving baskets since 1978.

Higher Hopes welcomes volunteers to participate with distribution on Monday, Nov. 24, from 2-5 p.m. For details or to become a “Higher Hopes Hero,” call Karen Sherbin at (248) 892-4585.

 

By Josh El’Chonen, JN Intern

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