Telegram - Serving Metropolitan Detroit Since 1944

By Renee Summers
Telegram Reporter 

Operation Refuge Provides Hope and Inspiration in Inkster


February 4, 2021

Young ladies participate in the summer Camp Inspire program

Some of the most effective non-profit organizations are those that remain in touch with the community they serve. Inkster's Operation Refuge is one such organization. The organization began as Mother's Pantry in 2006 in order to meet food insecurity needs in the neighborhood and operated out of the basement of Christ Temple City of Refuge Church. It later grew into Operation Refuge and established its non-profit status in 2008.

Jean Overman is the Executive Director of Operation Refuge and says she was one of the original founders of Mother's Pantry, which operates as a "client choice" food pantry, allowing clients to select their own food like in a grocery store. Mother's Pantry continues to accomplish its mission with generous donations from individuals, local businesses and organizations.

Although it has seen its share of struggles, Inkster is a small city and its members tend to look after one another. This explains Overman's initial desire to reach out and meet the needs she saw around her. "When you think about our high unemployment rate, when you think about the chronic poverty that's around here, it's a tough but resilient community," she says. Many families in Inkster are headed by single mothers, she further explains, adding that when the city still had a school district, most children relied on free and reduced cost lunches at school. "The one thing I love about our community is the fact that we collaborate, we partner, we work together in spite of, and we overcome so many obstacles that many other communities do not." However, Overman says what she finds most encouraging is the support the organization receives from those outside the city of Inkster. Donations from partners come from all over Wayne County and even Oakland County as well.

In addition to meeting basic needs, Operation Refuge teaches community responsibility with its programs designed for youth. Camp Inspire is a summer program for girls in 5th through 12th grade that puts the focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) concepts to get young minds interested in exploring those areas of study. Leaders in Training (LIT) helps young people ages 14 to 24 think about career options and partners with Michigan Works to provide young people the opportunity to learn about the world of work and finances through summer employment. Operation Refuge also provides scholarships to assist those youth who have performed well and wish to pursue further educational opportunities. So far, the organization has given out more than $40,000 in scholarships. Camp Inspire alums have found their way into nursing jobs and college programs involving neuroscience and engineering.

Operation Refuge's most recent undertaking has been to purchase a nearby property, a former barber shop, which it intends to transform into a STEM Café and intake center for the food pantry. The purchase was made possible with the help of generous community partners. Overman is optimistic about the new venture, saying, "With this new facility, it'll be everything STEM, including an outdoor environmental STEM lab, access to hot spots, computers for our neighbors and our community, and a private place to come in and do intake for Mother's Pantry." The additional space should be open this fall and will free up space at the food pantry which is now being used for intake to instead be used to store food and supplies, greatly expanding the pantry's capabilities. Work on the newly acquired facility is ongoing, and Overman says help from the community is needed.

"We need help, with donations of course, but with skilled trades or people that know how to do drywall or paint or just want to be a part of what we're building right in the neighborhood for the community," she adds.

Operation Refuge's Leaders in Training program enhanced the skills of several young men who built picnic tables for the organization.

Overman wants residents to be aware that they are welcome to join the community dialogue with Operation Refuge about the needs that exist and how they can best be met. "That's when it really works, when people really can see that they're getting their needs met and they're able to even help with it," she says.

If you have the skills of a do-it-yourselfer, Operation Refuge welcomes your home repair and maintenance skills as they work to refurbish their new café and intake facility. Mother's Pantry is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays and is located at 27717 Carlysle Street; an appointment for intake is required.

To find out more about the food pantry, other programs hosted by Operation Refuge, or to volunteer, go to or call 313-551-4043. Donations can be made via the website as well.


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