On May 10th 2012 Gerry Shiffman introduced Chris Skellenger to the Empire Area Community Center. Chris is a local area horticulturist, musician and humanitarian who founded Buckets of Rain. Buckets of Rain was formed in 2006 pioneering a gravity fed drip irrigation system to help impoverished communities to feed themselves in Africa and South America. Since 2012 this group’s attention turned stateside by perfecting urban gardening in struggling communities of Michigan, specifically in Detroit and Highland Park. Chris also had a vision to have a means of delivering aid to people in our local community that had fallen upon hard times, through no fault of their own, while at the same time, preserving their right to maintain their dignity and privacy.
Chris, through Buckets of Rain, developed the concept of the Emergency Fund, but they needed a vehicle to support and administer this program. Chris presented his vision to EACC and asked them to be that vehicle. The Empire Area Community Center agreed to administer the Emergency Fund. Gerry Shiffman became the Emergency Fund Chairperson, and committed his full support to developing and implementing the program. Karen Baja and Jim Sills joined Gerry as committee members.
The first concert had already been held on April 29th 2012 in Empire at the Village Inn. This first concert generated $445 in donations. A checking account was opened on August 27th 2012 with the $445 from this first concert and $1,503.65 from the May, June, and July concerts.
Since that first year, a minimum of eleven concerts have been held each year. Two particularly memorable concerts were held in 2013. One was held on May 26th on Front Street outside the Empire Town Hall. This concert was called Pickin On Joah. This concert was held in memory of a loved longtime resident, Joah Dye. $3019 in donations were generated that day. A second all day concert was held at Johnson Park in Empire on June 23rd. This concert, called The Summer Solstice Celebration of Music and Community, was held in memory of cherished music sound engineer, Jan Waling. This free event featured 29 area musicians who donated their time and talent to support this fundraising effort. The donations collected at this concert totaled $6540.
The donations from these monthly concerts along with the generous donations from people who just wanted to contribute have made the vision of a few a reality for many.
From 2012 to 2015, many wonderful musicians, concert venue owners, concert producers, graphic designers, visionaries, and community volunteers have donated countless hours to the success of this Emergency Fund and the Fund raising efforts. No one person has donated more of his time and efforts more generously and effectively than Gerry Shiffman. Gerry resigned from his position as chairperson of the Empire Area Emergency Fund on December 20th 2015.
On January 14th 2016 Lanny Sterling and Norm Wheeler were appointed as the Emergency Fund Raising Event coordinators and Cindy Blakeslee was appointed as the new Emergency Fund chairperson. Jim Sills and David Taghon joined Cindy as Emergency Fund committee members. Eleven successful concerts were performed in 2016 bringing in additional dollars to help people in our community. Under the coordination of Inie Hacker, the 2016 Annual Auction brought in a total of $4,100 in auction sales.
2020 Started out as a very good and promising year. In January we had a successful concert at Broomstack Kitchen and Taphouse featuring Blind Dog Hank. In February we had another successful concert at Lake Ann Brewery in Lake Ann. In March cases of Covid 19 started increasing at alarming rates. We made the decision to cancel all concerts for the remainder of the year. In June we did have an On Line Concert on our Facebook page, featuring Dennis Palmer. During this time of Covid and complete Lockdown our donors were extremely generous, giving us $22,436.92 in donations. We spent all but $781.45 of the donations money to pay bills for people in our community who needed a helping hand. It was wonderful to realize that even in this terrible time of lockdown, illness, and hardship, our donors were so generous and thoughtful of people who were less fortunate.
2021 Had everyone hopeful that life could return to normal. Unfortunately Covid 19 and its variants just wouldn’t relent. Large gatherings were still a risk, so we went almost the entire year without any concerts. By October we felt safe enough to have an open air concert. The concert was held in a tent with heaters at Lake Ann Brewery featuring the band Good Boy. Despite the fact that this was our only concert all year, donations continued to arrive almost daily. Donations amounted to $35,715. We were able to help 17 families who just needed that little helping hand to help return them to sustainability, especially during this trying time.
EACC and the Emergency Fund are grateful to all who are making this possible and especially grateful to the creators and sponsors of this fund, Buckets of Rain, and EACC will continue to administer the Empire Area Community Emergency Fund.