Brethren woman celebrates birthday by giving back

MANISTEE — Most people spend their birthday celebrating with friends and opening gifts, but Sally Akers decided to celebrate hers in the company of a few close friends and complete strangers.

Inspiring others to give back to the community, Akers spent her birthday on Tuesday at Faith Covenant Church, volunteering to cook a dinner for families and individuals facing homelessness, through Love INC’s Safe Harbor program.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than helping others,” said Akers, of Brethren. “I would hope someone would step up and help if I ever needed it. We have been down on our luck before, where we had to ask for help. I know how important it is (to volunteer).”

As a “birthday gift” to those in the Safe Harbor program, Akers handed out gift bags to each guest, leaving some in tears.

Akers worked with the Little River Casino Resort to provide the gift bags to Safe Harbor families, which were filled with socks, snacks and hygienic products. Gift certificates to purchase food were donated by Family Fare, other food products were donated by Kaleva Meats and coats were provided by Sports Ink in Manistee.

“If you just ask, there are a lot of people who want to help but don’t know how to get involved,” said Akers. “We have to get the message out there; people are out there who are willing to help, but don’t know how to go about doing it.”

Akers worked hard in the kitchen for nearly two days preparing a meal for nearly 10 people, which included the volunteers who helped make it all happen.

“It can be quite time consuming, depending on what you make,” said Akers. “I like to find something different; I don’t want to make the same things as everyone else. When I left the dinner, we had a lot of food leftover, and (Safe Harbor) planned to reuse the rest of the food the next day.”

Colleen Sexton, along with her son Brandon, were among the volunteers who helped on Tuesday night. Sexton even took the time to make a cake for Akers to share with Safe Harbor guests and volunteers.

The meal on Tuesday boasted sandwiches, potato and macaroni salads, fruit jello, snacks like chips or pretzels, and beverages.

Similar to Akers, Sexton has volunteered for many years in the community, which inspired her to help Akers.

“Not many people would give up their birthday to do this,” said Sexton. “Most people, when they celebrate their birthday, are going to dinner with family and friends — it’s more about them. This was something where she gave up her day to help others, and I think that’s very respectful.

“It was a good turn out, and you could see that those in attendance were very appreciative.”

Lisa Clarke, Love INC’s Family Services director, said dinner is provided to Safe Harbor families and individuals each night, while breakfast is served in the mornings.

The rotating shelter program runs every night through the winter from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. at different locations, but the end of the season is nearing at the end of March.

“When a church or community is hosting Safe Harbor, then they provide food for our guests,” said Clarke. “We rotate between our partner churches and other locations.”

Although the end of season is swiftly approaching, Clarke said the program is desperately in need of volunteers to help check in Safe Harbor families, acting as gatekeepers and/or overnight staff. Without volunteers, she said, the program simply cannot operate.

“All they have to do is come into our office, fill out an application, and we’ll do a quick interview, background check and go over their duties with them,” said Clarke. “We need people that our willing to come stay the night or check people in. We have only one week left in the program.”

Clarke said volunteers like Akers help provide nightly meals for the shelter, that would not be possible otherwise.

“We feed them dinner every single night,” said Clarke. “We always need people who are willing to provide meals or donate to Safe Harbor.”

Volunteering for years in the community, Akers said her goal is to inspire others to get involved, whether its helping a local shelter or even donating to a cause. She said her plan is to volunteer to cook dinner again in the future.

“I am on oxygen, so I cannot do a lot; this way I can give back to the community by cooking meals,” said Akers. “I know quite a few people, that if I mention I am volunteering to do a dinner, are always ready to help out.”

Those interested in volunteering should contact Clarke at (231) 723-6613 or visit the new Love INC office located at 515 Michael St. in Manistee.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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