“I want to help people. I think food is a basic right for everyone,” says Russell Estill, Lighthouse’s new Director of Food Programs. “I don’t think people should have to make choices as far as food is concerned.”
Estill joined the Lighthouse team in January after serving more than 15 years in the non-profit sector. He oversees all food operations, including the emergency warehouse in Pontiac and Lighthouse’s two satellite food centers in Pontiac and Clarkston.
Prior to Lighthouse, Russell was Assistant Manager of the Focus: HOPE Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a federally funded food program that provides food to seniors. During his time at Focus: HOPE, Russell volunteered to deliver food during the holiday season. That’s when he saw first-hand the difficult choices some seniors were forced to make.
“One story is I was going to a senior’s place. When we got there, it was warm because the gas burners were on, but no lights. They couldn’t pay the electric bill,” he recalls. “There are so many seniors going through so many issues: can I afford my medication, or can I have food? The need for our program, what Lighthouse is doing, is so important.”
The Lighthouse team has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Oakland County families needing food assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation. Lighthouse is working hard to support as many families as possible.
Recently, Lighthouse moved its emergency food warehouse to a 22,000-square-foot facility in Pontiac, a more efficient and cost-effective location to better serve the community. The building, located at 120 E. Columbia Avenue, is a former Gleaners Community Food Bank warehouse. In a three-year, renewable agreement, Gleaners is providing Lighthouse a no-cost lease of the facility, while Lighthouse assumes operating costs and maintenance.
Other efforts include a Saturday food pantry that provides food to close to 200 people. Lighthouse also partners to deliver food to more than 400 people taking part in the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). But Russell knows even more people are hungry (including children and families) – and he wants to help.
“[Understanding the critical need in our community] inspires me to look for other ways to address food insecurity and find new recipients,” Russell says. “People are experiencing these types of issues daily and a lot of us don’t even know. What can we do to make sure they have food and receive it in a dignified and respectful manner?”
To learn more about Lighthouse’s programs, or to donate or volunteer, visit lighthousemi.org.