The sudden shuttering in March of his restaurants Trattoria Stella and The Franklin due to the COVID-19 shutdown left Chef Myles Anton without people to feed. But only for a moment.

Anton quickly stepped up to volunteer at Goodwill Northern Michigan, coming in daily to work “when people were still afraid,” says Goodwill Communications Director Deb Lake. “He’s got a really big heart. He didn’t want anyone to know, he just wanted to help.”

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What many local residents don’t realize is that Goodwill Northern Michigan, in addition to working to end homelessness, has a food rescue program that is unique in Goodwill Industries International. The nonprofit serves as the coordinating hub for more than 70 partners and nonprofits to receive soon-to-expire food and process donations from farms, stores and restaurants to make sure that food makes it back out to feed the region’s hungry and homeless.

As part of its mission to help meet the basic needs of people in the community, Goodwill prepares and serves 6,000 meals a week, including delivery for seniors and students, and meals at their own Goodwill Inn. As need spiked in the spring, the staff worked furiously to keep up with demand and battled burnout—which is where Anton became an inspiration and helped the team change up what they do.

“For one, he is used to dealing with weird food,” Lake says. “At Trattoria Stella, everything is seasonal, local, farm to table; they butcher their own meat and use every part, nose to tail. And because we never know what kind of food we’re going to get, he helped us figure out creative ways to use our donations.” One thing that thrilled Food Service Manager Christine Luce was that Anton, a James Beard Best Chef semifinalist for years running, spent days creating and freezing different soup stocks for them to use in future recipes.

But more important, Anton’s involvement helped “bring a lot of sunlight” to the work the staff and volunteers do, Lake says.

Because 60 percent of their funding comes from the revenue of the 19 Goodwill stores in the region, the pandemic and subsequent store closures created a sudden loss. But there have been silver linings, like the partnership with Anton.

Photo by Gary Howe

Other relationships have been created or strengthened; for example, when places like the library closed, it left many homeless residents without somewhere to safely go during the day. Partnering with Safe Harbor, Goodwill was able to create a temporary day shelter for residents to escape the elements.

The need for services increased for those experiencing unsheltered homelessness, and Goodwill stepped up to offer much-needed education about the virus. “We took them PPE, we did health screening with homeless folks to identify who was high risk and got them housing in hotels using funding so they could be protected … there has been so much need for us to fill,” Lake says.

Donations helped Goodwill fill their funding gap this year, and Lake says the organization wants to build on and strengthen the improvements and expansions of services that have been created this year. “We want to provide essential services to meet basic needs in our community; we can do it more and better now,” she says. “The way we see it, challenges are also opportunities.”