A father’s love continues with a $100,000 gift: Family Pathways is the recipient

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People entering Family Pathways’ Cambridge Food Pantry can’t help but notice a picture of a young woman and her horse. On one occasion, a child was heard asking her mother, “Mommy, who is that pretty lady with the horse?”

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

Elizabeth lived 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 it seemed like a perfect tribute when her father gave a $24,000 gift to the food pantry in her memory.

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 tragedies to a triumph for good.

Son Robert seeded clouds, his father's donation will be seed for the food pantry.

Bilotta understands the tragedy of losing a child all too well, having also lost his son, Robert Patrick Jr., on June 11, 1994 at the age of 23. Rob, having 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. 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.

Knowing his two young children had so much to offer, and  despite his loss, their father decided to celebrate his love for them by 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.

This picture of Elizabeth and her horse King hangs in the Cambridge Family Pathways food pantry. Photos supplied

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, executive director of Family Pathways, said, “This is the single largest gift Family Pathways has received from an individual. While we are saddened by the losses Robert 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 my $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 I am giving “seed” money to 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 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.

Family Pathways has food shelves in St. Croix Falls and Frederic, Wis. By year’s end, a record 1.7 million pounds of food and personal care items were distributed at over 20,889 family visits.

The Youth Services Department works in 10 school districts. 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 to 1 adult mentoring for at-risk youth.

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.

Senior Services focus 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.

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.

If you are in need of Family Pathways services 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.

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