SMCAA in the News

United Way of Southwest Michigan Honors Community’s Resiliency with Annual “Celebration” Awards



For the second year, UWSM’s Celebration takes a different form. United Way has crafted another unique experience to acknowledge the generosity of donors and the impact made in the community in 2020.

“At the start of the pandemic last year, we used the motto “We were built for this” as a rallying cry—and our community proved it true. Southwest Michigan faced the worst and rose to the challenge—finding strength, giving each other hope, and creating change despite it all,” said Anna Murphy, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Michigan. “The work is far from over. But there’s no telling what we can do next if we continue to work together.” 

Prior to the pandemic, UWSM’s annual Celebration was a live event that included hundreds of guests from the community who gathered to recognize with awards the many organizations and individuals who helped make the previous year a success.

Last year, United Way showed its appreciation to award winners in creative contactless fashion with beautifully designed, hand-delivered “Celebration” packages—and that alternative continues this year. 

Award winners are encouraged to photograph or video themselves opening the package and upload them to social media, tagging UWSM and using the hashtag #uwsmcelebration so everyone in the community can see.

In lieu of receiving physical awards this year, winners decided to direct sponsorship funds to the Southwest Michigan Emergency Response Fund.

The 2020 Celebration can be viewed at



·      Excellence in Innovation - Benton Harbor Area Schools, Benton Harbor Charter School, Berrien Regional Education Service Agency, Berrien Springs Public Schools, Brandywine Community Schools, Bridgman Public Schools, Buchanan Community Schools, Coloma Community Schools, Countryside Academy, Eau Claire Public Schools, Lakeshore Public Schools, Mildred C. Wells Academy, New Buffalo Area Schools, Niles Community Schools, River School Sodus Township #5, River Valley School District, Riverside School, Hagar Township #6, St. Joseph Public Schools, Watervliet Public Schools, Cassopolis Public Schools, Dowagiac Union Schools, Edwardsburg Public Schools, Lewis Cass Intermediate School District, Marcellus Community Schools, Bangor Public Schools, Bloomingdale Public Schools, Covert Public Schools, Decatur Public Schools, Gobles Public Schools, Hartford Public Schools, Lawrence Public Schools, Lawton Community Schools, Mattawan Consolidated Schools, Paw Paw Public Schools, South Haven Public Schools, Van Buren Intermediate School District, Lake Michigan College, Southwestern Michigan College

·      Excellence in Impact - Berrien County Health Department, Van Buren/Cass District Health Department

·      Excellence in Collaboration - Berrien Community Foundation

·      Impact Cabinet Choice - Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan, Feeding America West Michigan



·      Best Campaign Growth - Area Agency on Aging, Region IV, Dowagiac Union Schools, PACE of Southwest Michigan, Vail Rubber Works Inc., Michigan Gas Utilities, Pepsi Beverages Company, Ausco Products, Inc.

·      Best Community Leadership - Berrien County Cancer Services, Inc., Cass District Library, Materials Resources, Niles Precision Company, Inc., Tyler Automotive, Competitive Edge, Martin’s Super Market - Stevensville, Gast Manufacturing, Inc., 1ST Source Bank

·      Best Year-Round Partnership - Horizon Bank, K & M Machine Fabricating Inc., Wolverine Pipe Line Co., Kinexus Group, Mid-West Family Southwest Michigan, Lake Michigan College


·      Large Corporate Champion of the Year - Honor Credit Union, American Electric Power Company, Inc.

·      Medium Corporate Champion of the Year - Cassopolis Public Schools, United Parcel Service

·      Small Corporate Champion of the Year - Wolverine Mutual Insurance Company

·      Employee Campaign Chair - Large Business - Cathy Cowles - Western Diversified Plastics, Jill Tooman - Western Diversified Plastics, Sue Prudden - Western Diversified Plastics, Shirley Smith-Torp, Palisades Power Plant, Michael Caskey-Mol-Son, LLC

·      Employee Campaign Chair - Medium Business - Courtney Driscoll - Gateway Services

·      Employee Campaign Chair - Small Business -  David Ravitch - Ravitron

·      David J. Weichhand Award - Whirlpool Corporation

·      Inspired Giving Award - Bronson Healthcare

·      Live United Award - Meijer, Michigan Association of United Ways

·      Whirlpool Community Commitment Award - United Federal Credit Union

UWSM extends its deepest thanks to: Presenting sponsor – Indiana Michigan Power, an AEP Company; Major sponsors –

1st Source Bank, Gast, Kinexus, Spectrum Health, Whirlpool

Observing 39 Years of Community Action Service to Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren 



On August 20, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, effectively creating a variety of programs to take arms in his “War of Poverty.” This Act established the Community Action Network to help American families and communities overcome obstacles to poverty. Over 1000 agencies across the country are working every day to create opportunities and transform the lives of their neighbors making communities stronger and helping families across the US thrive. This year Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA) commemorates 39 years helping families throughout Southwest Michigan.


SMCAA was established in 1982 to wage war on poverty in Cass and Van Buren Counties by promoting self-sufficiency for those of limited income, ensuring that all residents are able to live in dignity, implementing innovative and cost-effective programs to improve the lives and living conditions of the impoverished, providing support and instruction for everyone in need of assistance, and being a major voice of reason in establishing welfare system reforms. In 1992, Berrien County was officially added to its service delivery area. Since then, SMCAA has continued to help people and change lives throughout the tri-county region.


“The month of May is ‘Community Action Month’, and SMCAA takes this time to honor and celebrate the impact Community Action has in the lives of families and communities across the country,” said SMCAA’s Executive Director, Kim Smith Oldham. “Community Action agencies are successful every day in helping families achieve economic security. Given that the needs of each family and community are unique, Community Action is able to use a range of resources and programs to meet local needs in creative and impactful ways.”


Community Action agencies serve 99% of all American counties with life-changing services to help individuals and families achieve financial stability. The past year was no exception, even given the global pandemic outbreak. Operations Manager, Ashley Slack, commented, “In 2020 alone, SMCAA served 4,956 individuals and 3,293 households across Southwest Michigan with immediately needed services such as rent assistance, utility assistance, shelter and food, and also long-term solutions like homebuyer and financial education, emergency housing repairs, and energy-saving weatherization within homes.” In addition, the Agency offered monthly food product giveaways which has provided over 74,000 families with food since March 2020.


Despite experiencing budget cuts, shrinking resources, and increased demands for services during these challenging economic times, SMCAA has been remarkably successful assisting the low-income families and individuals of Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties to achieve and maintain economic security. As Kim Smith Oldham attests, “Our staff is committed to the community we serve because it is right, it is wise, and, in our hearts and minds, we truly believe it is possible to conquer poverty. We are Community Action Strong.”

Read the original press release HERE.

2020 Non-Profit Excellence Award Winner -- SMCAA



Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency was one of 17 businesses and individuals recognized by the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber and the Cornerstone Alliance yesterday during a celebration of local businesses and business professionals. Last year proved how important nonprofits are to their communities, and SMCAA is both humbled and honored to receive the 2020 Non-Profit Excellence Award.

In 2020, SMCAA serviced 54,634 households with food and personnel hygiene products from April through December. We assisted over 424 households in avoiding evictions, provided 2,047 bed nights at our Decatur homeless shelter, and distributed 16,936 masks to the vulnerable populations in the tri-county area. We were able to do all of this through the dedication of our amazingly hardworking staff and commitment from community residents who offered over 7,200 volunteer hours at our warehouse in order to help others and change lives.

To the community we love, SMCAA says thank you for this recognition. We at SMCAA are dedicated to empowering diverse people in need and supporting their journey towards economic security. With your continued support, we remain Community Action strong!

Read the original press release HERE.

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I&M Helps SMCAA Address Hunger Needs



BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – The Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA) is proud to announce a donation of more than $8,000 from Indiana Michigan Power (I&M).

The money will help The SMCAA address hunger issues in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties. Last year, our organization served more than 22,000 families and this donation will help further extend our helping hand in the Southwest Michigan community.

“As our agency pushes forward during this trying and unprecedented time, we are both humbled and honored for I&M’s continued support of Community Action. Their donation has been critical to the work we continue to do for the residents of Southwest Michigan,” said Kim Smith Oldham, Executive Director, Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency. “As more and more individuals face challenges due to this pandemic, SMCAA is able to battle at the frontline in large part to their assistance and we want to express our great gratitude.”

The donation, with approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), is related to changes in cost associated with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). The TCJA took effect in December 2017 and resulted in the lowering of customer bills to reflect the impact of lower federal corporate income tax rates. After I&M customer bills reflected the impact of lower corporate income tax rates, I&M donated remaining funds to the SMCAA.

“The Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency facilitates change, provides hope and makes our communities a better place to live. All those goals align with our vision at I&M,” said Gina Kostoff, Energy Efficiency Residential Liaison Manager. “I&M is dedicated to improving the lives of our communities and customers, and this donation ensures our neighbors have food for their families.”

The donation will go into The SMCAA’s Food Giveaway’s program which addresses the need of food during this crisis.

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ABOUT SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY: SMCAA is a private, non-profit Community Action Agency- part of a state and national network. SMCAA brings together federal and state grants funds as well as dollars from local, private and public sources. These resources are then directed into programs which aid the low income and otherwise disadvantaged throughout the age spectrum, from preschoolers to the elderly of southwestern Michigan. The funds include dollars which are targeted at very specific problems, as well as dollars which are more flexible in nature. SMCAA has the following services: Senior and Family commodity food programs, Food Pantry, emergency utility and rental assistance, Family Homeless Shelter in Van Buren County, Homebuyer Education Workshops, Weatherization program and the Michigan Mask up program.

ABOUT INDIANA MICHIGAN POWER: Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) is headquartered in Fort Wayne, and its approximately 2,100 employees serve more than 599,000 customers. More than two-thirds of its energy delivered in 2019 was emission-free. I&M has at its availability various sources of generation including 2,278 MW of nuclear generation in Michigan, 450 MW of purchased wind generation from Indiana, more than 22 MW of hydro generation in both states and approximately 15 MW of large-scale solar generation in both states. The company’s generation portfolio also includes 2,620 MW of coal-fueled generation in Indiana.

American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, is focused on building a smarter energy infrastructure and delivering new technologies and custom energy solutions to our customers. AEP’s approximately 17,400 employees operate and maintain the nation’s largest electricity transmission system and more than 221,000 miles of distribution lines to efficiently deliver safe, reliable power to nearly 5.5 million regulated customers in 11 states. AEP also is one of the nation’s largest electricity producers with more than 30,000 megawatts of diverse generating capacity, including approximately 5,300 megawatts of renewable energy. AEP’s family of companies includes utilities AEP Ohio, AEP Texas, Appalachian Power (in Virginia and West Virginia), AEP Appalachian Power (in Tennessee), Indiana Michigan Power, Kentucky Power, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and Southwestern Electric Power Company (in Arkansas, Louisiana, east Texas and the Texas Panhandle). AEP also owns AEP Energy, AEP Energy Partners, AEP OnSite Partners, and AEP Renewables, which provide innovative competitive energy solutions nationwide. For more information, visit

SMCAA, First Presbyterian Church Partner to Help 50 Families In Need



NILES — On Friday, a group of volunteers bundled up in winter jackets and hats made a list and checked it twice.

The volunteers were assisting with the First Presbyterian Church of Niles partnership with Southwest Community Action Agency to distribute holiday food share boxes to those in need who had pre-registered with the agency.

Tammy Stanton, community service coordinator for the SMCAA, works in the partnership with the partnership to extend the services from SMCAA from north county to help residents in Niles. Friday’s distribution was hosted at the church, where the distribution included 28-pound food boxes, as well frozen turkeys, for the holiday food share program.

“We’ve done this for years and years up in Benton Harbor, in partnership with companies like Whirlpool,” Stanton said. “We had extended it down here last year.”

During the program’s first year in Niles, Stanton said the program served 25 families. This year, it has doubled to taking on 50 for the same food assistance program.

“It’s wonderful to be able to give back to the community,” Stanton said. “It’s nice that we also have everybody volunteering here from the church.”

While Stanton does not have an official office with the SMCAA in Niles, she has an office inside the church where she begins processing phone calls and forms a couple of days a week.

“There’s a real need in Niles,” Stanton said. “It’s inconvenient to drive up to north county. If you’re working, you don’t necessarily have an extra three hours to get in the car and drive up there and take care of business during business hours, even if you do have the money to drive.”

Stanton said the SMCAA partnered with the church where she now has an office in Niles. Being on the ground, however, means she sees exactly how much need for assistance there is in the area.

“We can’t handle the applications,” Stanton said. “I’m already backlogged two weeks at a time.”

While years past have been busy, Stanton said this year has been exceptional.

She still drives up to Benton Harbor three Thursdays a month to finish paperwork, but said the stacks have only seemed to grow this year.

SMCAA helps connect residents with food assistance, energy assistance in the form of disconnect preventions, housing assistance in eviction prevention, as well as weatherization with home issues occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation assistance and helping navigate the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, for applying for state emergency relief, co-pay assistance and resolving issues.

Due to SMCAA being so busy, Stanton processes intakes and applications for the aid they can provide, including the food boxes distributed on Friday.

The agency has partnered with local area agencies to help connect residents to other wraparound services to keep people fed and clothed through the year, as well.

To seek services with SMCAA in the Niles area, residents may contact through the agency’s website,, or by contacting Stanton at (269) 635-3636 to get set up in the application process.

Holiday Food Sharing Program Comes as Need is on the Rise



"There is a Great Need Right Now."



SMCAA Teams Up with Local Farms to Increase Food Distribution



I&M Contributes $25,000 to Energy Assistance Program



BENTON HARBOR — In an effort to help Michiganders who are having difficulty playing their electric bill, Indiana Michigan Power is providing $25,000 to the Michigan Energy Share Program.

Michigan customers can apply at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, based in Benton Harbor, by calling 925-9077. The agency also administers the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among other programs that provide assistance to customers.

“Indiana Michigan Power understands that many of our Michigan customers are experiencing significant financial hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic, and I&M is committed to helping our valued customers throughout these uncertain times,” said Toby Thomas, I&M president and chief operating officer, in a news release.

To qualify for the Energy Share Program, customers must have a past-due bill and meet certain income guidelines.

While some energy assistance programs set income eligibility at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the Michigan Energy Share Program will have an eligibility of up to 250 percent through the end of the year.

A family of four may qualify if they earn below $65,500 per year, or $5,458 per month. The maximum grant to a family is $350.

“We understand that some customers who have never sought assistance from social service agencies may be in a position where they will have difficulty paying their bill,” Thomas said. “We encourage eligible customers to contact the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency to see if they qualify for this assistance from I&M.”

SMCAA Names New Exec to the Helm



The rare journey all the way from the front desk to the executive suite is a rewarding one for those who accomplish the feat, and now a 23-year veteran employee of the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency has garnered a promotion to the very top of the organization years after beginning at the front desk.

It’s another in the remarkable story of dedication shown by Kim Smith Oldham at the agency considering she started with the team at SMCAA all the way back in 1997 as the organization’s receptionist.

The Southwest Community Action Agency has announced today the promotion of Oldham as their new Executive Director. She has been with SMCAA for more than 23 years, having most recently served as the Operations Director with oversight for all agency staff, offices and operations since 2016.

Minnie Warren, Board President at SMCAA says, “I am so pleased to see Kim as our new Executive Director,” and adds, “She has been a dedicated and committed employee for more than two decades, with a true passion for the community we serve. Kim has been instrumental in the recent development of numerous agency policies and procedures, including our new vision, mission and strategic plan. With her proven history of going above and beyond, I’m confident we are in good hands with her in this role.”

Oldham has completed numerous trainings and certifications during her tenure with SMCAA, most recently the Certified Community Action Professional and the National Executive Director Boot Camp. She began with the agency as a receptionist in 1997 and served in multiple roles of increasing responsibility and scope.

For her part, Kim says, “I’ve been fortunate to be able to serve in several capacities with SMCAA over the last 20+ years,” and adds, “I am truly honored to work to advance our mission to empower diverse people in need and supporting their journey towards economic security. I’m very excited for what lies ahead.”

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency manages programs to promote the health, education and welfare of low-income individuals and families in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties. Those programs include

  • Monthly commodity surplus food program for seniors

  • Quarterly temporary food assistance program

  • Food pantries

  • Utility assistance

  • Rental assistance

  • Rental education

  • Housing rehab programs

  • Weatherization

  • Homeless shelter

  • Homebuyer education

  • Additional programs

**Press Release originally published on Moody on the Market

Oldham Takes Over as SMCAA Executive Director