Archived Story

Plenty of hands always ready to help

Published 10:18am Monday, October 5, 2009

Twenty-five year volunteer and board president, Ruth Newton of Cassopolis and Mary Tompi, Helping Hands of Cass County coordinator, stop a moment to recall the past 25 years of the thrift store and food pantry at 130 S. Broadway in Cassopolis. Wednesday, Oct. 7, the organization will be represented at a volunteer fair in Niles at Lake Michgan College's Bertrand Crossing. (Daily Star photo/MARCIA STEFFENS)
Twenty-five year volunteer and board president, Ruth Newton of Cassopolis and Mary Tompi, Helping Hands of Cass County coordinator, stop a moment to recall the past 25 years of the thrift store and food pantry at 130 S. Broadway in Cassopolis. Wednesday, Oct. 7, the organization will be represented at a volunteer fair in Niles at Lake Michgan College's Bertrand Crossing. (Daily Star photo/MARCIA STEFFENS)

By MARCIA STEFFENS
Niles Daily Star

CASSOPOLIS – It seems fitting there has always been a “Mary” to help the people of Cass County with their needs.

In the 25 years of Helping Hands of Cass County, two very special women have been at the helm of an organization which seeks to ease the burden of their neighbors.

Mary McFarland helped establish and operate Helping Hands, which distributes food and clothes to the needy and operates a thrift store.

“People still come in and ask for Mary,” said another Mary, Mary Tompi, of Sister Lakes, who has been the coordinator since McFarland retired at the end of 2004.
Tompi, a former volunteer, stepped down from the board of directors to run the organization.

“It is where my heart is,” she said, adding it is a “stressful job.”

It is also the answer to the question, “What do I want to do with my life?”

“I grew up believing in stewardship,” she said.

The organization partners with other groups in the community to help those with their needs, such as Michigan Works! and the AARP.

“The Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan has brought us some of the greatest volunteers,” she added.

This October, Tompi will be spreading the word of the hard work the volunteers do to keep the food pantry filled and make sure holidays are a little better for those having a hard time in a hard economy.

Tompi will be bringing a booth to one of the Volunteer Center’s volunteer fairs at the Bertrand Crossing Campus in Niles on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Another way she is getting out the message and also possibly bring in some revenue, Tompi said if by setting up a booth at the Antiques on the Bluff, Sunday, Oct. 4, in St. Joseph.

“The money raised will go toward (Christmas) baskets,” she said.

“Sales are down, but donations have increased,” Tompi said. “They know their neighbors are needing help.

“A lot of the people who live in Cass County worked in the RV industry,” she explained.
Many of the people who come to Helping Hands fall between the cracks.

“It breaks my heart … they have kids … and are desperate. It makes my job hard,” she admitted, “but we have only so much money too.”

If the agency where they sought help was based on their former income, they might not qualify, but they still can’t pay their utilities, she added, especially since most have increased. A small grant from FEMA helps in this area.

“Christmas we will be doing food baskets … it’s geared toward families. Dollar General gives a van load of toys every years,” she added.

She also appreciates all her volunteers, to keep the store organized and donations sorted.
“It takes a community to run it,” she said.

Halloween always draws new customers into the store at 130 S. Broadway in Cassopolis. Along with a display of decorations, the store has racks of used costumes, all at a fraction of retail prices.

Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31 is also the date of the open house to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Helping Hands, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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