By guest author Amber Ballard
In April, 2016, FireKeepers Casino Hotel and its owners, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi purchased and took possession of the historic Fire Station No. 4 located near downtown Battle Creek, Michigan, with the goal of revitalizing the building and turning it into a restaurant, bakery, and, most importantly, a much needed food pantry to help those less fortunate.
A first of its kind, non-profit hands-on investment by a casino operator, The Fire Hub’s concept was the vision of Michael McFarlen, Vice President of Food and Beverage at FireKeepers Casino Hotel and 2016 Volunteer of the Year for the state of Michigan. The most important goal of The Fire Hub is to give back to the community. The project was designed to accomplish this goal via multiple programs.
First, the rear section of the building houses The Kendall Street Pantry, an agent of the South Michigan Food Bank, distributing food from shelves to those less fortunate. Second, was the creation of a fund to support local charities, with 80% of all restaurant profits and an allocation of 50 cents from every restaurant check providing the monies. The remaining 20% of profits are reinvested in the historic property. Last was another original concept, to secure land on the tribe’s Pine Creek Indian Reservation to grow organic produce with the goal of providing no-cost salad bars for area schools.
The Fire Hub opened its doors to the public on April 19, 2017, after nearly one year of construction. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was on hand for the occasion. The opening ceremony also featured a Tribal Drum song, speeches and building reveal, with featured guests including Snyder, Battle Creek Mayor, Dave Walters, NHBP Tribal Council Chairperson, Jamie Stuck, FireKeepers Executive Chef and Fire Hub Principal, Michael McFarlen, and Food Bank of South Central Michigan Executive Director, Patty Parker.
“The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi is honored to lead this amazing community initiative,” stated NHBP Tribal Council Chair, Jamie Stuck. “Supporting the local community has always been a priority for us, The Fire Hub is a successful collaboration of the tribe’s community focus, Chef McFarlen’s vision and the dedicated efforts of the Battle Creek community.”
Since opening, The Fire Hub has continued to make incredible strides to meet the needs of the Battle Creek community. The Kendall Street Pantry has compiled some amazing stats. Volunteers have distributed nearly 300,000 pounds of food to more than 25,000 people. The pantry typically served an average of 85 families at each weekly distribution prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, distribution sizes have more than doubled. The pantry provides a dignified experience for those in need to receive assistance. Rather than waiting in line to receive a pre-packaged case of food, clients can enter the pantry once per month and select their food from the shelves.
The gardens on the reservation have been equally as successful in their purpose, creating an impact and improving young lives. For the 2019 – 2020 school year alone, The Fire Hub provided more than 68,000 pounds of fresh produce to 10 area schools and six daycares in the Battle Creek area. This year, the project is expanding its reach to include schools in Marshall and Albion.
“From the beginning, our goal has been to be a part of and help to improve our community, because it is the right thing to do,” stated Kathy George, FireKeepers CEO. “Utilizing all of our partners, as well as our amazing staff, our impact has been better than we could have ever imagined. And we take enormous pride in witnessing this process and look forward to it continuing in the future.”