What could have been just another outing in Hillsdale, Mich., that is only 18 miles from Posey Lake, turned out to be a rewarding experience in more ways than one.
Saturdays are always busy at the fairgrounds. Fair week in Hillsdale is always a big one because it is the last fair of the season in this region. But, every week, in good weather, there’s a flea market where you can even buy a baby goat if you have a pickup to haul it home. Into fall, you can also buy fresh from the farm produce from the people who grew it.
But on this particular Saturday it was none of the above. My destination was the Merchants Building at the fairgrounds, where nothing was being bought or sold, and everything was being given away.
It is the sixth year that the Hillsdale Ministerial Association sponsored Loaves and Fishes. Representative groups of the 22 churches involved lined the large auditorium at tables that were stacked high with the products being given to needy families.
Taking their lead from Luke 9 when Jesus fed 5,000 with two loaves of bread and five fish the church members gave food and basic necessities to more than 300 families.
There was a line for free haircuts and the Gideons distributed Bibles.
Each church group was responsible for specific products, be it underwear, toilet paper, or toothpaste. To those basics, add other dental products, diapers, shampoo, soap, stockings, backpacks, and other school supplies.
Each church also contributes money for the food that is given. The Rev. Mark Elliott, pastor of the Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene, gets the food from the South Central Michigan Food Bank in Battle Creek. The night before Loaves and Fishes, the pallets of food were broken down and divided into 325 boxes by about 50 church volunteers.
This year the food totaled 4,795 pounds, said Pastor Elliott, who is chairman of the event.
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Families also appreciated the large display of discarded sofas, tables, and other furniture they could have. One area was reserved for children so that their parents could visit the several church stations for products. The children were entertained with games, face painting, and balloons.
There is no income requirement for families to receive the products and the food, but it is essential that each member of the family have an I.D.
“We also like the recipients to be residents of Hillsdale County and we encourage older people to come,” he said.
Pastor Elliott welcomes calls from other church groups that might be interested in organizing a similar project. His telephone is 517-437-3487.
I kept thinking while looking at the furniture and all the stuff that was being given away to the grateful families that I wish I had donated something to such a good cause.
Believe it or not, I did get my chance that day in a different way and in a totally unexpected gesture.
In downtown Hillsdale, I decided to skip my usual stop at Gelzer’s, my favorite furniture-gift shop, for fear of seeing something I couldn’t live without. I had made the same decision about Maggie’s, the fashion store in the same block that I happen to know is having a dynamite sale now.
So I turned into an alley to get over to M-99 to head home. About half way through the alley I spotted a sign Palace Café. Café denotes food and I still hadn’t had breakfast. I parked, found my way through the back door and kitchen, and into the Palace that was packed with people. The 25 booths were filled and only one stool at the long counter was open, so I took it.
A boy to my left was eating a colossal pancake, and the man on my right was clinging to an empty cup and there were two Bibles to his right on the counter.
The man and I exchanged “good mornings.”
At the suggestion of Lucas, a counter server, who said the Palace was known for big flapjacks I ordered one with sausage, and coffee.
While waiting for my food I asked the man if he had eaten, or wasn’t he hungry?
That’s when he said, “I am homeless.”
He explained that it wouldn’t have been right for him to go to Loaves and Fishes because he had no place to keep the things he would receive.
“I sleep on a park bench,” he said.
It doesn’t get much easier to pay it forward than it did that Saturday at the Palace. We ate our pancakes and sausage together. I returned home thinking I had helped someone in need, maybe not as much as the church people did, but it made me feel good.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.