roject Healthy Community food pantry
Northwest Detroit residents pick up supplies from a Project Healthy Community food pantry. (Photo: Karen Rubenfire)

To combat COVID-19, the nonprofit is raising money for new programs, including an expanded food and hygiene pantry and an “SOS” fund.

Project Healthy Community (PHC), a nonprofit organization focused on aiding community wellness and education efforts in Northwest Detroit, is expanding food and hygiene product distribution to families and senior citizens in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Over the next three months, the organization aims to raise $250,000 for their COVID relief efforts, according to a letter from PHC’s president and CEO Dr. Melvyn Rubenfire 

Karen Rubenfire, PHC’s COO and Melvyn Rubenfire’s daughter, told the Jewish News that the group has already raised $135,000, thanks to grants, major donations and smaller individual gifts. 

PHC plans to allocate around $72,000 to purchasing supplies for a home and personal hygiene pantry made available to families in Northwest Detroit.  

 “People don’t just need food in order to be healthy,” Karen Rubenfire said. “You need to have cleaning products for your home, hygiene products for yourself, things like that.”  

$40,000 will go toward an “SOS” fund that PHC has set up in coordination with four of their partner schools to help Northwest Detroit families over at least the four months.  

Families can apply for SOS stipends monthly, and PHC has already received about 22 applications for funds, Karen Rubenfire said.  

“The goal is to extend this beyond the four months,” she said. It’s not going away that quickly, and there’s such urgency.”  

PHC also intends to devote $138,000 of their target amount to providing food to seniors and families in Northwest Detroit who aren’t currently covered by the organization. PHC partners with Gleaners Community Food Bank and Forgotten Harvest to run a food pantry in the area, and has worked with Gleaners to expand their reach since the pandemic started.  

The organization is also working to maintain and expand their Family Wellness Center and in-home health behavior courses, which aim to address disparities in preventative care in the community.  

PHC was inspired by Temple Israel’s Rabbi Joshua Bennett in 2012, when he gave a Yom Kippur sermon about the importance of community service work. Shortly after that speech, Melvyn Rubenfire, a Temple Israel member, established the nonprofit, along with his late wife Diane and their daughter Karen. Many of PHC’s programs are run out of the Northwest Activities Center, a former Jewish Community Center in Northwest Detroit.  

When the novel coronavirus came to Michigan two months ago, the Rubenfires and their colleagues at PHC knew they wanted to help the community they’ve been working in for the past eight years.  

“Back in March when this all first started… we knew we had to do something quickly and that would be as impactful as the rest of the stuff that we do,” Karen Rubenfire said. “The focus was around emergent needs and this addition to making our food pantry much more sustainable and impactful for the families.”  

Detroit residents have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. With high rates of poverty and poor access to healthcare, Detroit’s Black and Brown communities have found themselves particularly vulnerable to the virus.    

PHC has worked with community members in Northwest Detroit to identify what residents need during these challenging times.  

“We’ve tailored all of our programs around the community’s ask, so to speak, filling those gaps. 

This was another opportunity,” she said. We wanted to be that vehicle to provide those resources.

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