The seeds of the ideas for Raising Rochester (pun intended) had laid quietly but restlessly for many months in the fertile soil of my mind. Proof to anyone who knows me that I am, indeed, full of …..manureJ. As a pediatrician with a strong focus on preventive health and patient education, the goals of Raising Rochester related to those areas started coming together earlier and more easily. And personally and professionally, I have always been focused on helping those in need.
My church, First Congregational United Church of Christ (FCC) in Rochester was founded in 1827, before Michigan was even a state and has been dedicated to the community ever since. FCC started a neighborhood food pantry of non-perishable items during the turbulent times of 1967, in a Harry Potter-esque closet under the staircase, distributing food to those in need. The main engine driving the Food Pantry’s formation and success for decades was Gail Kemler, still alive and kicking hard in her mid-90s. Many years later, the Food Pantry became associated with the Rochester Area Neighborhood House to help identify those in need and coordinate distributions. In the 1990s, the Food Pantry began offering different perishable products, in great part due to the work of Jim Purdom and the Rochester firefighters Goodfellows paper sales.
In 2001, a memorial gift from Hazel Powers began the brainstorming for expansion of FCC that ultimately included a large, dedicated space to house the growing mission of the Food Pantry and to provide a large community meeting area. In 2008, that dream came true as the new spaces were opened, thanks to the proceeds from the sale of Cliffview, the Rochester retirement housing development organized, built, and run by long-time FCC members, Dick and Leona Huizenga.
In 2011, FCC began to address the main nutritional area lacking in Food Pantry donations when, under the direction of Ella Steele of FCC, a Food Pantry Garden was begun to provide fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs. I began volunteering in the garden sometime in that first year. The garden was able to expand in 2012 to serve ever more people. In a garden meeting in the early summer of 2012, however, a conversation about further expansion came to a grinding halt when we learned that there was no easy way to continue expanding the garden on FCC property.
Well, that was exactly the challenge I needed, the last piece of the puzzle. And the rest is history, right? No, not even close, but hopefully the start of history in the making. It will take time and significant resources to bring all of these ideas to fruition but the possibilities and the need is so great that now is the time to start. The rest of this document addresses the goals, focus areas, benefits, scenarios, opportunities, and possibilities of Raising Rochester, whose growth, I believe, will be breathtaking…but only with your help!