St. Clair business that employs people with special needs celebrates new storefront with fundraiser

What started as an activity in the classroom has since blossomed into a business. And were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Simply Silverware would be celebrating the grand opening of its new St. Clair storefront later this month.

Jennifer Gildenpfennig teaches at the Macomb Intermediate School District. The St. Clair native started Simply Silverware for her classroom of students with special needs in 2013.

Gildenpfennig would eventually spin Simply Silverware off into its own business in 2017.

Her employees are adults with special needs, a group made up of people that are legally blind or have cognitive impairments, autism, or Down syndrome.

They roll plastic silverware for events like graduation parties and wedding showers. They also offer gift wrapping services and assemble party favors.

"Unfortunately, the special needs population has a hard time getting employed," Gildenpfennig says.

"Too many people don’t want to spend the time it takes to find out what works for these employees."

After spending the first few years operating Simply Silverware from her home, Gildenpfennig signed a lease for a St. Clair storefront and workshop this past March. A grand opening celebration was scheduled for Friday, May 29.

And then COVID-19 forced its cancellation.

Rather than let the coronavirus ruin her celebration, Gildenpfennig has instead used the opportunity to launch an online fundraiser.

Half the proceeds from Gildenpfennig’s gift basket raffle will go toward Sheila LaCroix, a St. Clair business owner diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Sheila and her sister Shelly own Drifters Restaurant and LaCroix's Riverside Pub.

While it’s not exactly what she planned, Gildenpfennig has been able to turn her cancelled grand opening party into something positive. And maybe once the coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses ease, she can celebrate her new storefront, too.

"We’re starting to get orders here and there for parties, people are setting up their tables six feet apart. We’re trying to keep things going," Gildenpfennig says.

"Our biggest time is the summer. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be our best year. But I hope that changes when things are lifted."

Simply Silverware is located at 2062 Fred Moore Hwy. in St. Clair.

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