Empire Emergency Fund holds Summer Solstice celebration


From staff reports

The Empire Area Community Emergency Fund has gone into overdrive. Instead of the usual Sunday afternoon concert at a local venue, organizers Gerry Shiffman and Chris Skellenger have planned a day-long Summer Solstice Celebration for this Sunday, June 23, from noon until 9 p.m. at Empire’s Johnson Park. Two stages will feature continuous live music performed by 29 talented local musicians who have volunteered to support this effort.

The Summer Solstice Celebration will honor the memory of recording studio artist Jan Walling. Performers will include northern Michigan household names Song of the Lakes, Jim Crockett with New Third Coast, Louann Lechler and Jim Hawley, Robin Lee Berry with Glenn Wolff, and Kirby with Fred Ball. Hot new acts including Black Elliot and the Robinson Affair, and the Accidentals will also perform. Food vendors will be on hand, as well as non-alcoholic beverages for sale and t-shirts featuring Empire artist Tim Lewis’ original work.

The Empire Area Community Emergency Fund is a relief initiative conceived by local musician Chris Skellenger, founder of Buckets of Rain, which has built urban gardens and irrigation systems from Detroit, to Guatemala to Lesotho. His vision was to deliver aid to community members that have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, while preserving their right to privacy and protecting their anonymity. Skellenger teamed with Shiffman to launch the Emergency Fund and monthly benefit concerts.

The concerts are typically held from 4-6 p.m. on the final Sunday of the month at various venues in Empire or Glen Arbor. Concerts are always free to attend, and performers graciously donate their time and talent. The advertising and posters are donated by Jack Gyr, who owns Field Crafts and Book Wear. A bucket is passed during the event, and freewill donations are collected from the audience to support the relief effort.

The first Emergency Fund concert, at the Empire Village Inn on April 29, 2012, collected $445. Since then the program has blossomed. At the one-year anniversary concert on April 28, 2013, $1,100 was raised in two hours. The most recent concert, on May 26, honored community member Joah Dye, who passed away after a two-year battle with melanoma. The “Pickin’ On Joah” event raised an astonishing $3,019 in two hours. All told, the Emergency Fund concerts have raised over $10,000 in just 13 months, to help local individuals or families in need.

Financial assistance is made on a one-time basis through the payment of a known expense such as a medical, housing or utility bill. Requests for assistance are made by an independent person known as a “nominator”, on behalf of the individual or family, whose identity remains publicly anonymous. A nomination form must be filled out by the nominator and submitted to The Empire Area Community Emergency Fund Committee along with an outstanding bill such as a medical, housing or utility bill waiting to be paid. The Emergency Fund is administered by the Empire Area Community Center and sponsored by Buckets of Rain.