By C.J. Carnacchio
Oxford Leader Editor
There’s no place like home and later this year, Oxford-Orion FISH could have a new one thanks to the generosity of Addison Township resident Dan Davis.
Last year, Davis, owner of Royal Roofing in Orion Township, purchased the building at 1060 S. Lapeer Rd., which formerly housed Tool Sport & Sign Co.
He’s planning to lease the 5,000-square-foot space to FISH, so the local nonprofit can use it to house its pantry and offices, and conduct its other charitable programs such as its annual school backpack drive.
Davis told this reporter he’s planning to donate the money to FISH to completely cover the cost of the lease, which includes utilities, maintenance and property taxes. His intention is to pay for everything, so the new facility doesn’t cost FISH anything.
“It feels good to give,” he said.
And that’s not all.
Davis said he’s paying for all of the necessary improvements (i.e. lighting, flooring, walls, shelving, restrooms, etc.) to transform the building into a functional space that meets all of FISH’s needs.
“We demo’d everything inside, so it’s gutted out right now,” Davis said. “We’re making it (into) a mini-supermarket. It will be move-in ready for them.”
“We’re hoping to have them in there by next Christmas,” Davis noted.
“It’s a wonderful gift. Just a marvelous gift. We’ll really relish it,” said FISH President Laurene Baldwin. “It totally surprised us when this offer came up. Dan has been just ever so gracious to us. I thank God every day for what he’s done for us.”
But it’s not a done deal at this point.
FISH’s board of directors must still review the lease agreement and vote on Davis’ offer, something it’s expected to do at its 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 11 meeting. The meeting will be held at Lake Orion United Methodist Church, located at 140 E. Flint St.
Since 1973, FISH has been providing free emergency groceries to families, individuals and senior citizens, who are living on low or fixed incomes, or who have fallen on hard times due to job loss, illness and other personal crises. FISH serves the residents of Oxford, Orion and Addison townships and their respective villages, along with a small portion of Oakland Township.
The new space would be a big step up from FISH’s current pantry, located at 487 First St. in Thomas, a little, unincorporated village located in the northern part of Oxford Township near the Lapeer County line.
FISH has been operating out of this small, former community hall since 2005 when the Thomas United Methodist Church sold the building, constructed in 1949, to the organization for the token sum of $1.
Since then, the hall has served FISH very well, but it does have some drawbacks.
For one thing, FISH’s storage and office space is located in the basement and there is no elevator or dumbwaiter, only stairs.
This means when food items need to be moved from the basement to the main floor, where the pantry space is located, they have to be hauled up the stairs, which, according to Baldwin, is “a lot of backbreaking work.”
“Our volunteers are getting older and we just say, ‘Ugh!’” she said.
Having office space in the basement sometimes makes it difficult for FISH volunteers to meet with and interview clients in private. “We have clients that can’t do stairs,” Baldwin said.
Davis’ building would solve these problems because all of the space is located on a single, spacious floor.
The new building also offers more room for displaying and storing food items than FISH’s current 1,800-square-foot home.
“It’s a lot bigger facility,” Davis said.
“It’s a building that would give us more than a 50 percent increase in our food pantry shopping area,” wrote the FISH board in a Jan. 8 letter to its volunteers and supporters.
FISH’s current home is not centrally located in terms of the communities it serves and it’s definitely off the beaten path being east of M-24 in the heart of a small residential area with dirt streets.
“They’ve had a lot of complaints that they’re too far out of town,” Davis said.
“It’s a struggle for some of our clients to venture out there,” said Baldwin, who noted it’s often difficult for new clients to find Thomas.
Being located right on M-24, just south of Drahner Rd., Davis’ building is expected to be much more user-friendly for FISH clients as it’s accessible from a busy state highway and located much closer to Orion Township.
It’s expected to dramatically increase FISH’s visibility and exposure in the community, which will hopefully attract more donors and more people in need of assistance.
“People will see us as they go by,” Baldwin said. “I think FISH will truly see a big difference.”
“People will know it’s there,” Davis said.
As for the fate of FISH’s current home in Thomas, Baldwin said if the lease with Davis is approved by the board, they’re hoping it can be utilized by another volunteer-run organization that serves the community. “We would love to pay it forward,” she said.
Davis is no newcomer when it comes to supporting FISH. “We’ve been sponsoring FISH for probably 15 years,” he said.
It started with Davis conducting annual food drives. He stepped it up in 2011 by giving FISH plenty of space to grow fresh vegetables for its clients on the 40-acre piece of land he owns off Lakeville Rd. in Addison.
Davis also raises cattle and donates the beef to FISH. He’s been doing that for about 10 years and estimated he’s supplied about 10,000 pounds of fresh meat.
“Two or three times a year, beef comes in and it’s all cut up and packaged,” Baldwin said. “The clients love it. It’s all USDA approved.”
When asked why he’s so supportive of FISH, Davis replied, “Everybody’s got to eat. That’s what I’ve said from Day One.”
He believes FISH is “run well” and he likes the fact that “everything (they collect) goes back to the people.”
FISH is a 100-percent, volunteer-run organization. Nobody receives a paycheck.
FISH is extremely grateful to Davis for everything he’s done and continues to do to help accomplish its mission of neighbors helping neighbors.
“Dan has truly been a wonderful donor throughout the years and he continues to surprise us with his wonderful heart,” Baldwin said. “He really has a big heart and we’re so blessed that he chooses to share it with FISH.”
It’s not just FISH that’s benefited from his generosity. Last year, he created two scholarships, a minimum of $1,000 each, for graduating OHS seniors pursuing vocational paths.
In 2015, Davis agreed to donate all of the materials and labor to put a roof on the new Addison Township Hall in Lakeville.
Davis has been successful in business and he wants to share it with the community and those less fortunate. When he purchased Royal Roofing in 1983, the company had just five employees. Today, it has 185. Royal Roofing does 150 to 200 commercial and industrial roofing jobs (no residential) annually, including work for the Big Three automotive companies.