Eric Fee owns a couple of funeral homes in Darke County. He grew up a pastor’s son, and his family has always done “things like this”, meaning philanthropic work and helping the community his whole life.
“It’s kind of been ingrained in me to extend a hand,” Eric said. “I couldn’t do it myself, it's pretty much a wonderful community involvement.”
His family has been putting on Christmas dinner since the late 70s.
Q: Bring us back to the Christmas dinner and then walk us through what you’ve done, all your philanthropic campaigns.
A: The Fee’s Christmas dinner was started in 1978 or 79, Eric said. His father noticed that many were going without, or had no one to spend Christmas with.
Around 500 to 600 people gather in Darke County every year.
“The support around here is amazing. You ask and they want to know what they can do to help”.
Eric’s father is slowly retiring, and in response, community businesses have taken over the Christmas dinner, donating time, money and resources to continue to make the dinner possible.
Eric has also been involved in the Blessing Boxes you may have seen around Darke County. There are currently three Blessing Boxes. Anyone can leave supplies as they are able and take from the box as needed. The campaign was launched around eight months to a year ago, Eric said. “I tell you what, it's never been empty. I go out there and there’s people putting a hundred dollars worth of groceries in there.”
Eric has also put great efforts into helping those affected by the tornadoes in Gatlinburg. The community filled a 53-foot semi trailer. “Top to bottom, front to back, we barely got the doors shut.”
Eric helped provide water to those helping with, and those who had been affected by, the Dayton tornadoes as well.
“Just showed them some Darke County love, some community love.”
“That brings us to the tornadoes in Nashville.”
Eric worked to then provide supplies to this community, but admits he thought the community might be tired of his requests. He got a hold of a 6 x 8 trailer. He recalls, “ If I could just get that filled with some water and supply, that’d be great.”
Within an hour, it was full.
Eric then got a 6 x 17 foot trailer.
It was filled within the day.
“As much as I ask of this community, they’re still giving and giving and giving and giving.”
The community came together to then fill a 53-foot trailer full of supplies.
After the first trip down to Nashville, Eric and the community were no longer able to make additional trips back with the outbreak of COVID-19.
They then decided to use the supplies to help Darke County.
Supplies were, and still are, going to help those isolated in their homes, the elderly and the disabled.
Eric says a lot of the time, the people they’re trying to help are scared.
“These people don’t even want to come to the door. So a lot of times, we just set it at the door and walk away, ring the doorbell.”
Eric believed they had enough supplies to last a week. He then put the campaign on social media.
“It just blew up again. Everyone wanted to donate money. It was just amazing to see that.”
Four pallets of meat were donated by Landes Fresh Meat. “Big, huge pallets," Eric said.
Wayne Hospital and United Way have also contributed. Eric estimates they have enough supplies to continue for another month.
They’ve been delivering pizza to health care workers, those on the frontlines, with the help of Bohndox Concessions.
“It shows that when we want to, we can come together, join together, no matter what our political views, or religious views -- or anything. We’re coming together to love this community.”
Q: Tell us about Loure and Jeremy Bohn.
A: “ I tell you what, they’re such a blessing,” Eric said. “They have big hearts. I can’t say enough about them.”
It was Eric's family and the Bohn's that started this journey of giving.
Loure owns Suds in a Bucket Cleaning Service and her husband, Jeremy owns Bohndox Concessions and operates a few food trucks.
The two have been working 12 hours a day, and Loure takes calls from those shut in their homes -- and she’s due to have a baby in three weeks.
Q: How many people are you visiting and what are you delivering?
A: Eric said they’ve served several hundred people, but haven’t really been keeping track with how busy they’ve all been.
The boxes they deliver have meat, eggs, bread, cleaning and hygiene supplies, canned food and even fresh fruits.
Eric put out the word that they were in need of boxes to deliver supplies.
"Lewisburg Container said, hey we have some boxes for you. It ended up being like a thousand boxes."
Eric then put out the word that they needed eggs.
“And people were delivering eggs, which is great. And then here we go, we hear a truck pull up, and there were 900-something dozen eggs. And they said if you need more, just let us know. We’ll deliver them.”
Eric said they’ll have a limitless supply due to the generosity of Cal Mane.
Brookdale in Greenville has been making hot meals on Friday, and a group of people pick them up and deliver them.
“It’s everyone pulling together, it’s been amazing to see -- I don’t want to miss anybody,” Eric said.
Q: You have a strong presence on social media, do you think that’s helped your campaigns?
A: “I just want to get the word out, and next thing I know I look down and there’s been 22,000 views.”
Those who help spread the word play a vital role. Those who pray help as well, Eric says.
Q: What can we expect of you in 2020?
A: Two years ago First Responder Day was started.
“It’s just a full day of thanking them for what they do.”
Expect this celebration again this year, Eric said. There’s concerts, snacks and dances with the kids.
The Christmas dinner will be in full swing as well.
Eric says forming this group into a nonprofit is also in the future.
“We have hundreds of volunteers at our hands that would just jump right in.”
Q: How can people help?
A: Prayer, Eric says, and getting the word out. Keep an eye out on your neighbors and those who may be unable to leave their home.
“I truthfully believe with all my heart that on the other side of this, we are going to be so much better. Our community is going to get on the other side of this healthier, spiritually and emotionally. We’re going to see what this community is all about. I believe on the other side of this we’re going to be so much stronger as a community.”
Click the button below to donate to the Darke County community's endeavors.
As we work to keep distance and spend more time at home, small and local businesses are certain to be negatively effected.
Without the patronage of the community, sales will be lower for many restaurants, book stores, bars, retail stores, gyms & studios and other service providers — for some, the pandemic could mean permanent closure.
The National Federation of Independent Business reported around 44% of small business owners to be somewhat or very concerned about the negative impacts COVID-19 may have on them.
So how can we support local and small businesses while practicing social distancing?
1. Order take out or have food delivered.
Although Governor DeWine has mandated the closure of all bars and restaurants, take out and delivery is permitted.
Instead of regularly visiting your large, nearby grocery chain for the essentials, have dinner delivered to your home — or pick up take out (it’ll be a nice little trip out of the house, too).
Many meals can be frozen and warmed later.
2. Buy a gift card and save it for a later date.
You might not want, or have the option to go to a yoga class, the salon or your neighborhood boutique.
But, you can support small businesses now by purchasing a gift card to use another day.
You’ll not only be helping business owners in your community, but doing something kind for yourself as well.
3. Order online.
One-third of all American small business plan to begin, or have began, providing their products online this year.
If businesses in your area participate in e-commerce, now is the perfect time to have something to delivered to your home.
Again, this can’t entirely be considered an act of philanthropy -- who doesn’t love receiving something in the mail?
It's important to shop local, now more than ever.
What did we forget? How are you supporting a small or local business during the pandemic?
Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.