Battle Creek

Building community, raising funds for Battle Creek’s most vulnerable

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

The SHARE Center has been a fixture in Battle Creek since 1992, but there are still people who don’t know that it exists, says Robert Elchert, Executive Director of the drop-in and day shelter.
As Elchert begins his fifth year with the nonprofit, he says, “People don’t know we exist and some people know about us but they don’t know what we do. I think some of it might have to do with our location. We’re kind of tucked back on Dickman Road directly behind Lakeview Ford and you wouldn’t know we are there unless you were really looking for us.”
Still, there is a smaller community of people who are aware of the services and programs offered at the SHARE Center and Elchert says they know to refer those in need of support and assistance to the organization.
A movement is now underway to grow that smaller community and increase the visibility of the Center while also raising funds to cover the cost of providing free meals and services to a growing number of individuals who find themselves without the financial resources to adequately care for themselves.
Known as “Friends of the SHARE Center”, the initiative is pairing the talents of Battle Creek-based businesses Patman Droneography, owned by Patrick Bush, and Progressive Printing & Graphics, owned by Dan Egan, with Elchert and his staff of 11. Bush is providing his aerial photos of the city free of charge and PPG is absorbing the cost of turning the photos into poster-size prints which sell for $50 each. All proceeds from these sales go directly to the SHARE Center.
“We started doing some work for Robert two or three years ago and I got to know him and the organization and I said, ‘This is a place that’s really making an impact in our community and it’s not as well-known as it should be,” says Egan, co-chairperson of Friends of the SHARE Center. Along with Karmel Addis, PPG’s Graphic Designer, “I said, ‘Let’s start a group and raise awareness of the SHARE Center and promote it.”
If the opportunity presents itself, Egan takes some time to educate people who come into his shop about the work being done at the Center. He says 70 percent of those he speaks with aren’t aware of the organization.
“To me, that’s an identity problem,” he says.
Friends of the SHARE Center is a two-pronged approach to raise funds and encourage people to volunteer their time with the Center, Egan says. The group has about 60 members on its Facebook page.
“Raising awareness and funds is something we need to do as an organization,” Elchert says.
Through an annual budget of $600,000, breakfast, lunches, and dinners are provided to about 100 adults per day with meals prepared on-site and served in a cafeteria inside the Center. In addition, an average of about 60 of these individuals spend their days at the drop-in shelter where they can access mental health services, get identification cards, or do their laundry, among other services. In late January, two showers and a locker room will be available to those who don’t have other options.
Egan says what initially drew him in was the number of people being fed daily and the instant impact this was making.
“They’re on target to do 40,000 meals this year, but then when you dig deeper once a person is in there they have all of these other services to help them,” he says. “If you can take the stress off of someone so they don’t have to worry about when they will be able to eat or take a shower, they can succeed in other areas.”
Like so many leaders of nonprofits, Elchert dons many different hats to fulfill the mission of the organization. Grant writing, marketing, and public speaking are all within his purview.
“We are a small organization with very little overhead,” he says. “I am basically three departments by myself.”
“He’s got his hands full,” Egan says of Elchert.
Meeting a need through broadening community
Although the need for services provided at the SHARE Center typically increases during the winter and the holidays, Elchert says this year’s numbers began peaking during the summer. The closure of a shelter in Coldwater added to the client mix as well as the state of the economy and the expiration of COVID benefits.
The SHARE Center is an attractive alternative for many of these individuals because it’s not affiliated with any church or religion-based organization, although it does receive a lot of support from Battle Creek’s faith-based community.
“If you don’t identify as Christian or are part of the LGBTQ community, it’s not hard to understand why someone might not feel comfortable going to a place affiliated with a faith-based organization,” Elchert says.
These are among the conversations that must be had, Egan says.
A mailing several weeks ago to previous and potential donors and the drone posters complemented by the one-on-one interactions are the touchpoints, he says.

“That opens the door to educating people about the SHARE Center,” Elchert says.
Although PPG does some in-kind work for other organizations, Egan says the SHARE Center resonated with him because he could see the immediate impact of the work done there.
He says he hopes that others will take the time to be curious and see for themselves what goes on daily within the walls of that building behind Lakeview Ford. Rather than relying on one or two major funding sources, Friends of the SHARE Center is focused on building a donor base of smaller funders who get their mission and want to come alongside them.
“There’s only so many funding sources you can tap into,” Elchert says. “One of the things l love most about Battle Creek is that we have local business owners who want to support the community and people who need help. What PPG is doing, there are no words I can come up with to express my appreciation.”

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.