Hope with a side of grace: The important work of Midland’s Open Door

“Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.” – Barack Obama

With hope in mind, Midland’s Open Door feeds an average of 65 people per day from the organization’s soup kitchen, which has grown in recent years by more than 1,000 meals per month.

A volunteer serves up lunch in Open Door’s soup kitchen.

Renee Pettinger, Open Door’s Executive Director attributes that growth to the strong sense of community that the organization has cultivated over the years. In 2019, Open Door is on track to serve 50,000 meals in total.

“Often we get people who return regularly to help out, because the organization has made such a significant impact in helping them get back on their feet,” says Pettinger. “It’s important for them to both remain connected to that community and help someone else out in their time of need.”

Renee Pettinger, Open Door’s Executive Director.

Open Door serves Midland, Clare, Isabella and Gladwin counties year-round, and also takes in those in need from Bay County nine months out of the year, if able. With a staff of 19, the organization helps to house, counsel, aid, feed and support those who have fallen on hard times.  

The soup kitchen is run mainly off of volunteer efforts alone, sometimes taking on multiple shifts of people each day. Work teams, families and other groups regularly donate their time to help Open Door serve the community.

Local bakery bread available for those in need.

One of those community members is Donice Hannegan, SIS Instrument Data Coordinator and Michigan PRIDE Resource Group Leader with Corteva Agriscience and active volunteer with Midland’s Open Door. Hannegan has volunteered with the organization for about a year and a half now, and tries to help out in some way at least once a month.

“We try to make it in as often as we can to volunteer, often in the kitchen,” says Hannegan. “But our teams at Corteva have helped the organization in several ways, leading several holiday donation efforts, recently championing the construction of the Open Door River Trail and hosting several ongoing donation drives.”

Donice Hannegan, SIS Instrument Data Coordinator and Michigan PRIDE Resource Group Leader with Corteva Agriscience and active volunteer with Midland’s Open Door.

Just this past October, to help with the River Trail, volunteers from Corteva kicked off construction of the first portion of the trail that will eventually stretch over 850 feet long and allow residents at Open Door’s women’s and children’s shelter to enjoy increased access to nature.

“We truly enjoy the opportunity to give back to the community through our work with Open Door,” says Hannegan. “With a large caring base of volunteer help, we have built a very healthy and positive relationship with Open Door and we look forward to continuing to serve the community for years to come.”

The meals are something that help people in the community bridge a gap in their lives. For Trina Ryal, the soup kitchen is something she can count on for making ends meet after losing hours at work.

For Trina Ryal, the soup kitchen is something she can count on for making ends meet.

“I can come here and get help during times of need, because I don’t get food stamps,” says Ryal. “It’s nice, because we are like a little family here and I appreciate this place, because I’d be going hungry otherwise.”

In addition to the soup kitchen, Open Door runs both a men’s shelter and a shelter for women and children, housing 23 and 22 residents respectively and a clothing ministry where people can come and pick out items they need at any given time, whether that is a coat, clothing, socks and more.

Open Door’s clothing ministry aims to provide men, women and children with daily essentials.

The organization also runs a program called Bridge of Hope to help those who need assistance get their life back on track. The goal of the program is to get participants stably housed as quickly as possible. That may mean helping members with rent assistance, relational capital or education assistance. The Bridge of Hope program is based off of a national model for helping people and families become self-sufficient, with stable housing, strong relationships, continuing education and other constructive support factors and runs for two years.

For Chrissy Smith, the time with Open Door and the Bridge of Hope program has come full circle. After staying in the women’s shelter and joining the Bridge of Hope in 2017, Smith recently graduated from the program, bought a house and started a new job with Open Door as a community life advisor, helping respond to and aid those in times of need.

Open Door serves on average about 65 people a day.

The community is so tight-knit that past guests usually stick around, often to volunteering to help cook meals or serve guests.

The interest to remain involved and help others hits home for Nicole Anderson, who has volunteered as part of the community at Open Door for about three and a half years after staying for a short time as a resident, after a transition and move from Chicago.

Nicole Anderson, previous Open Door resident turned volunteer.

“You basically have to swallow your pride to come into a place like this,” says Anderson. “They are really good about opening their arms here, they have a good Christian program to connect to, and Renee is like the mother hen of the whole facility.”

“They are doing something really special here at Open Door, so you get to see the transformation of people who come in as they get back on their feet,” says Anderson. “Some who come in have been neglected, and here, they treat you like you are someone – you get comfort and respect. With that level of care, people tend to open up.”

The soup kitchen is run almost entirely off of volunteer efforts.

A past Open Door resident turned volunteer, Anderson describes his deep connection to the organization as one that helped him see the good in people.

“Now, everyone knows me here, and I’m around if new people need someone to talk to,” says Anderson. “I tend to do a bit of everything, from helping out with the coffee or the clothing ministry and helping out on weekends. They tell me when and where they need me, and I’d do anything to help these guys out because they changed my life.”

For Anderson, the inspiration to be of service comes from the sense of community he has always felt at Open Door.

Open Door’s clothing offering is set up to make the experience as much like shopping as possible.

“The conversation we have as a tight-knit community here is phenomenal,” says Anderson. “And being a part of that community has helped me not to judge people or their circumstances.”

The holiday time is especially important for the organization, as the donations Open Door receives in the months of November and December often sustain them throughout the year for daily care items provided to residents. The easiest way to connect with Open Door to help with donation needs is on social media as well as their current wish list, always listed on the website.

Donations help move toward the eventual goal to move to a new facility, one that is able to better house residents and serve their needs. Often times, the current facility presents challenges that can be difficult to work around, such as safely housing residents who are in different stages of recovery from drug or alcohol use.

In 2019, Open Door is on track to serve more than 50,000 meals to those in need.

You will see more about Open Door around the community this season, as the recent photo exhibit featured at the recent Dine on the Doors event will be traveling around the region for the next month, making appearances at Live Oak Coffeehouse, Grove Tea Lounge, Cultivate in the Midland Mall and Iron Grind in Auburn.

It’s easy to see the impact the organization has on the community.

Asked about his biggest takeaway from his experiences at Open Door, Anderson simply says:

“There is always hope for someone.”

For more information on how you can help Open Door, see their website at https://www.midlandopendoor.org. If you or someone you know needs help or shelter, call (989) 835-2291 and ask to speak to a community life advisor.

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Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.