A Helping Hand in Ellsworth

by Miriam March 21, 2022

by Miriam Owsley, Strategic Communications Manager


The phrase “Good Samaritan” is derived from the biblical parable of the same name. In modern culture, the label is often given to those who lend a helping hand to a stranger in need, especially when the helpers must shoulder the burden of those less fortunate. 

Mary Peterson is a helper. When she witnessed that her neighbors in Ellsworth, MI didn’t know when or where their next meal would come from, she felt frustrated by the lack of services and resources available nearby. Inspired by her faith, she felt it was her burden to help her neighbors and for the next ten years Mary provided food out of her garage and van to food-insecure families. From its humble beginnings, Mary’s mission was formalized in 2000 when Good Samaritan Family Services was officially established as a nonprofit organization. 

Good Samaritan Family Services Produce.jpgToday, Good Samaritan’s work has expanded from a food pantry to also providing emergency relief and family support services, supported financially in part by their clothing and furniture resale store. The food pantry remains central to the organization’s mission and serves over 2000 clients each month with healthy options including fresh fruits and vegetables donated by local farmers. Recognizing that their clients needed more than food assistance, the organization expanded services to include a Moms and Tots program, which provides baby essentials and life skills classes to support and build resilience among young moms. 

Volunteers began to witness a trend: often, the mothers that sought assistance from Good Samaritan did not have the support of a husband or boyfriend, and these men weren’t involving themselves in their children’s lives. That’s where Stacy Nelson comes in. He’s the executive director of Good Samaritan Family Services. He answered the call when the organization was looking for someone to lead His House, a new program focusing on providing support to men of all stages of life. Through support groups, life skills classes, and other activities, His House encourages fathers to be engaged with their children and families. “His House programming has helped us close the circle as far as being able to help the whole family,” said Nelson. 

Good Samaritan’s Family Center building in Ellsworth has been expanded over the years to accommodate the organization’s growth. Despite having more space for children to play and families to gather and participate in classes, a major barrier to accessing their services remained. “We rely on volunteers, and they are such generous and wonderful people. However, our volunteers tend to be older people, who may be unsteady on their feet,” said Nelson. The gravel parking lot created challenges for older volunteers and clients with mobility issues, who had trouble navigating the often muddy or icy conditions. “Our building has a wheelchair ramp, but actually getting to the ramp can be frustrating and incredibly difficult for people in a wheelchair or moms with a stroller because of the condition of the lot.” JN on asphalt.jpg

“It’s amazing how little it takes to create a challenge for people with mobility issues. People in wheelchairs face these challenges numerous times every day. We want to create an environment that is accessible and inclusive,” said Nelson. With the support of a $21,500 Assets for Thriving Communities grant from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, Good Samaritan Family Services was able to pave the parking lot of their Family Center in Ellsworth, MI. “This grant helps complete our Family Center.”

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