Father’s love lives on with $100,000 gift

Family Pathways is the recipient

When people enter Family Pathways’ Cambridge Food Pantry they can’t help but notice a plaque with a picture of a young woman and her beloved horse. On one occasion, the child of a food pantry client was heard asking her mother, “Mommy, who is that pretty lady with the horse?”

That pretty lady is Elizabeth Ann Bilotta who tragically passed away on Oct. 3, 2008 at the young age of 31. The plaque hangs in recognition of a very generous donation her father, Robert P. Billotta Sr., made to the food pantry in 2010 in her memory.

Elizabeth resided in Cambridge and was employed with Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming. She had a deep love for animals, especially horses. King, her golden palomino, was too old to show so as an accomplished equestrian Liz showed horses for others and received over 100 ribbons. Animals just seemed to instinctively respond to her, sensing her caring.

But Liz was also known for caring about the people in her community. So for her father, giving a $24,000 gift to the food pantry in her memory seemed like the perfect tribute. He not only wanted to honor Liz’s legacy of kindness towards her neighbors by donating to help struggling families, but he also wanted to inspire others to make memorial gifts and thereby turn their tragedy to a triumph for good.

Bilotta understands the tragedy of losing a child all too well, having also lost his son some years prior to losing Liz. Robert Patrick Jr. passed away on June 11, 1994 at the young age of 23. Rob, who had a passion for flying and weather, attended the University of North Dakota and majored in aviation and meteorology.

According to his father, he was born to fly, and graduated with honors in 1992. Upon receiving his degree he was certified as a private and commercial pilot as well as an instructor and began flying for Weather Modification. Rob’s job was to fly into severe storms and seed the clouds to prevent hail from damaging the farmers’ crops.

These two young people had so much to offer, this father decided to memoralize his love for his children by generously helping others. This year, Bilotta is continuing his family legacy of kindness by making a $100,000 gift to Family Pathways’ food pantries, youth service and senior services.

Fifty thousand is designated as a legacy gift to establish Family Pathways’ first named endowment fund in tribute to Elizabeth Ann Bilotta and Robert Patrick Bilotta Jr. The additional $50,000 will go to the programs of Family Pathways as “matching fund challenges” in 2012.

Rich Smith the Executive Director of the organization said, “This is the single largest gift Family Pathways has received from an individual. While we are saddened by the losses this father has experienced, we are so impressed with how he has chosen to deal with his tragedies. With the rising number of families seeking assistance from our programs, these funds will go a long way to help us keep pace with our communities’ needs. We are truly honored by the trust he has placed in us by choosing our organization as the beneficiary of his extreme generosity, and we are elated knowing all the opportunities for good these funds will make possible. Not to mention the fact, his is a gift that keeps on giving.”

Bilotta said, “This is a good organization that helps so many local people. I expect that this $100,000 gift will create a buzz, and that is good. It is my hope that buzz will bring more awareness regarding the work Family Pathways does, and that it will inspire others to list Family Pathways in their wills and to make tribute gifts so more people will be helped. I feel good that this “seed” money will initiate their endowment fund because I know the principal will be kept in perpetuity.  Just like my son seeded the clouds to help the farmers in North Dakota, I am seeding this organization to help families in Minnesota.”

Family Pathways has been serving local communities for 34 years as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, offering quality services including food pantries, youth services and senior services. Food pantries and food shelves are located in Forest Lake, North Branch, Lindstom, Cambridge, Hinckley, Sandstone, Onamia, and a food partnership in Mora in east central Minnesota.

Additionally, Family Pathways has food shelves in St. Croix Falls and Frederic, WI. By year’s end, a record 1.7 million pounds of food and personal care items were distributed at over 20,889 family visits. Besides help providing for clients basic needs, food pantry staff and volunteers offer advocacy services to help stabilize families by identifying other resources available to them.

The Youth Services Department works in 10 school districts making a positive impact on area teens. Through Circle of Friends, Kids First and Teen Centers, the next generation is learning how beneficial it is to become involved with the community. Circle of Friends connects special needs teens with teen “peer buddy” volunteers while Kids First offers 1:1 adult mentoring for at-risk youth. The Teen Centers located in Forest Lake, Stacy, Princeton and Mora offer a safe haven for kids to study or participate in planned activities and skill-building opportunities.

The Senior Services Department focuses on Companionship, Social Respite, and Advocacy. Volunteer companionship can mean a much needed lifeline for an isolated senior trying to remain living independently. Social Respite gives those experiencing early to mid-stage memory loss a safe setting while allowing the caregiver a few hours reprieve. Through advocacy, elderly seniors and their families develop a plan to help maintain their independence.

Family Pathways operates 10 Thrift Stores that provide 70 percent of the organization’s income as well as promoting ecological awareness through recycling. Monetary, food and product donations to the organization are fully tax-deductible and the organization meets all standards as outlined by the Minnesota Charities Review Council. Ninety four percent of donors’ dollars goes to the programs. Whether you are in need of the services of Family Pathways or are inspired to give a tribute gift of your own, please call Family Pathways Central Office in Cambridge at 763-552-7184 (toll-free a 877-321-7100) or visit www.familypathways.org. Donations of any amount will help Family Pathways meet the needs of the communities it serves.