HELPING HANDS … Giving a High Five became a fun way to thank people who have helped others, during the past year. These two pages of High Five to Thrive were colored by Montpelier students Alyssa and Grace, and given to Community Hospitals of Williams County CEO Chad Tinkel. (PHOTO BY REBECCA MILLER, STAFF)
By: Rebecca Miller
Throughout the history of America, citizens have risen up during times of crisis to help each other make it through. This past year has been another example of that happening all across the country.
Here in the Northwest corner of the great state of Ohio, the villages and cities of Fulton and Williams counties have experienced this in a great measure. Residents reached out to each other from the very beginning, in March 2020, to find out if there was anything they could do to help each other.
“I am going to the grocery store today, do you need anything?” “Hey, we know you are alone and were wondering if you are ok.” “I just called today to see if you need someone to chat with.” These and many other such comments were made all year long, as many stepped up to think about others and not just themselves.
During phone interviews with leadership in all of the towns of these two counties, it became clear that this past year, a hard one in many ways, was a great year for bringing people together in new or greater ways.
Food pantries in Montpelier, Archbold, Delta, Metamora, and other towns were blessed by the generosity that poured in to help them meet the needs of those who found themselves heading for a food pantry.
“The generosity of the village residents was incredible as many donated money and food staples to the food pantry,” Delta Village Administrator Brad Peebles shared, adding, “Open Door Delta has had a huge response of donations of money for utility and rental assistance, some medical and even gas for those who needed it.”
“The community really rallied around the Food Pantry and they were able to do once a week instead of once a month,” Pastor Ben Harris of House of Prayer said of Montpelier.
The Edon Food Pantry was so busy they also increased their open hours and the village office let people know that it was available. Archbold Mayor Brad Grime stated that “people are being very generous.” The village of West Unity purchased a great deal of food at local businesses, Dollar General and Jacoby’s Meats, to stock the shelves of the Food Pantry and all of the churches helped as well.
Mayor Don Leu said they could hardly keep up with all the food put in the trunks of the two cars kept in the village office parking lot, needing to empty it twice a day for a couple months.
Besides the food pantries, some of the schools have served meals throughout the year, especially helping families over the summer with lunches that could be picked up to help their families make it. In Pioneer the village asked people who wished to help others, to donate money to North Central Schools and the Pioneer Ministerial Association as those two entities could best distribute to meet the needs.
The school fed thousands of meals over the summer months with money donated by the residents. In Montpelier, the school extended funding to purchase food for lunches, and volunteers served the lunches at three different locations throughout last summer, to make it easier for families to get them. “Hilltop School dispersed food twice a week to families in need, with money provided by donations from the townspeople,” Mayor Don Leu shared.
Some of the villages that provide water, sewer or electric services to their citizens found themselves taking in donations from residents who would stop by the village office and leave money to pay for the bills of residents who could not cover their bills.
Edgerton had such an outpouring of generosity that the Village Council voted to approve a connection with NOCAC (Northwest Ohio Community Action Coalition) “to implement a Program to assist Low Income Edgerton Utilities Customers with their basic needs.” Village Administrator Dawn Fitzcharles explained that as there have been people stopping by the office to give utility donations, a preliminary agreement was made with NOCAC, called the Edgerton Cares Fund.
It will be administered through NOCAC for households that are up to 225% of federal poverty guidelines. They have also made forms that can be picked and filled out so that donors can send the money straight to NOCAC. Other villages, Stryker, West Unity, Lyons, to name a few, have also experienced donations being dropped off to help other residents.
“Pioneer gave everyone in the village free utilities for April, May and June of 2020, free water and sewer and $100 of their electric,” Mayor Ed Kidston said. He sent out a letter asking those who did not need it, to donate money to the school or Ministerial Association so they could assist others with rent or other needs.
“The community all pulled together,” Kidston said, “and it was really heart warming to see.” In Blakeslee and Metamora, the villages provided masks, sanitizer and wipes for anyone who needed them.
All of the villages followed the direction of the CDC to not charge late fees or do cut offs for a certain number of months. The village offices offered to help local businesses fill out all the forms needed to apply for government assistance to keep their business open.
The industries stepped up as well. In West Unity, one business donated around $7500, and another a large sum, to the food pantry. Pioneer industries stayed open and running, paying their employees, even though they had no where to ship their product.
Stryker had a business that chose to move into town, which helps the village and the new employees. Other villages mentioned how the businesses donated assistance to the residents in a number of other creative ways.
Shopping locally became even more important during this past year as in some cases it kept them from closing their doors. Metamora residents ordered Take-out more than usual at the local restaurant Country Charm.
People left coupons on the wall at JJ Winns in Holiday City so that others who might not be able to afford a meal, can eat out. In Montpelier, $2500 received from United Way was used to purchase, all locally, lunches, gift cards and items to fill fifty baskets which were given to every nurse at Evergreen Healthcare Center.
Director of Utilities for the Bryan Board of Public Affairs, Nathan Gardner, shared at their March 2, 2021 meeting, “on July 7, 2020, the Board authorized temporary modifications to the Bryan Good Neighbors Utility Fund guidelines, to assist Bryan families affected by impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic.”
Since that time, the board voted three times to extend the temporary provisions, with the most recent being until April 30, 2021. This was possible, “Due to the exceptional generosity of the Bryan donors over the last six months,” Gardner said at the March 2, 2021 meeting.
The mental health of residents was a concern as well and many of the villages made sure everyone was doing ok. Encouragement through FaceBook was given every week or two, in Pioneer, to call the widows and those living alone or isolated.
West Unity started an official Call-in which was done by their chaplain Dee Custar, spending phone time and alerting the mayor, or police chief, of immediate desires of those on the call list.
Masks by the thousands were lovingly made and donated to those who needed them. Mission Montpelier spent a couple days cleaning up the downtown, some residents and the trail.
Whether it was calling, shopping or doing things that would normally be done by out of town family members who could no longer come to help, Williams and Fulton county residents jumped in to help each other out.
Some of the ideas that surfaced were very creative such as the Baskets for Evergreen Health care Center, and the Easter Egg Hunt in Pioneer which was so successful and so much fun that they are going to do it again this year.
“It was an amazing response to a hard situation,” Pioneer Mayor Ed Kidston; “It has been good to see the people of Stryker all wanting to help anyone they can,” Food Pantry treasurer Lisa Waidelich; “People that hardly had anything themselves were donation to others,” West Unity Mayor Don Leu; “The village did all they could to give businesses and families a heads up for what was available,” Lyons Village Administrator Tanya Lumbrezer; “We are all working together,” Delta Village Administrator Brad Peebles – just a few quotes from the leaders in northwest Ohio, concerning this past year.
Churches, Boy Scouts and many other benevolent groups have joined the effort in doing whatever was possible to help everyone survive and come out on the other side of this crisis, not only ok, but together through it all.
Keep it up! Just like we often hear that the Christmas spirit should go all year, the great effort to help get through hard times should never stop. Keep on reaching out and making it more about others than yourself.
Rebecca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org