By BOB SHRALUKA
Mary Jo Toole wants you to know everything is going well at Operation Help these days — "blessed" is the word she uses — but please don't take that to mean you can quit helping. No one wants to go back to where the local food bank was in the latter days of 2010, when the place had to close for a couple of days due to a lack of food on its shelves.
That was when this newspaper ran a story about the plight of the food bank, and when, as usual, the good folks of Decatur and Adams County responded — in a huge way!
"Oh, we're getting along a lot better," the short lady with the big smile said earlier this week. "Putting that story in the newspaper was the best thing we ever did. People and organizations and businesses have really responded; exploded. How long will it continue, I'm not sure. But we sure hope it will. Praise the Lord, we have really been blessed."
That's when Mary Jo offers up the caution sign: "The only thing is, I don't want anyone to think we're doing so well that they can stop (helping). Let's just hope it keeps going."
The food bank has had its ups and down over its 27 or so years, but late in 2010 was one of the worst "downs." So have the recent weeks been some of the best times?
"For donations, yes; best ever," replied Mary Jo. "Before we would get donations mostly from corporations, maybe once a year or so (from each). But now we are also seeing so many small businesses helping out. Like the hair salons; they've been doing different things for us and it's really helped.
"And the kids at the school. The student council (at Bellmont) made us their project for the year. We've already picked up a big check from them and Jeannie Smith (at BHS) said they're planning to do something in the spring, when they have the next play.
"So, yes, we have been blessed. That one day we had so much coming in I about buckled," she laughed.
Launched in 1983
The Operation Help food bank was launched in late 1983, Toole said, and although it was never intended to be permanent, 27 years later it's still in operation.
"It got started with the RV industry having a big layoff," she recalled. "It was supposed to be a temporary thing, but it stayed and has grown."
Mary Jo has been associated with Op Help almost from the start. "My sister, Rita Setser, was on the board. When she left in 1985, she gave it (the position) to me. And I've been here ever since," Toole explained.
She says the "pay is pretty small," but now and again Mary Jo and husband Gerald will get to sample something which has been donated. Like bison meat.
Bison? "Yeh, from the government. That's where being in this location (the Adams County Service Complex) has helped us. We're close to the Purdue Extension Office and they help out. When we got the bison meat, no one knew what to do with it (how to prepare it). So we asked them at the extension office and they provided us with information."
While the recession technically may be over, the tough times go on, with Mary Jo Toole and others like her doing their best to compensate. Meanwhile, she remains somewhat awed by the way the public responded when the story about the plight of the food bank emerged.
She was thankful for the story, but "I really didn't need my picture in it," laughed the energetic lady. "However, if you will make a donation, go ahead and bring your camera."
Take a bow, city workers
A round of applause, please, for the City of Decatur employees.
They haven't had a pay raise in a couple of years, they've lost their city-sponsored Christmas party, and no doubt worked with some failing equipment. But they've done a damn fine job of getting things done and done right — while at the same time saving taxpayers' money.
It was announced at this week's city council meeting that the various city departments have not spent a total of $614,000 they had in their budgets for 2010.
That's even $133,000 better than the savings provided by city employees the previous year.
The $614,000 reverts to the general fund for 2011 and will help ease to a degree the ongoing financial burdens this city — like others across the nation — must deal with.
Good show, folks. Take a bow!