Man serving up hope in thanks for charity he received
TILTON – About 15 years ago, Lane Baldwin and his then-wife found themselves struggling to put food on the table.
They had moved from northern Virginia to central Texas, where Baldwin hoped to continue working as a business consultant. But landing work wasn't as easy as he had hoped it would be.
"We thought we'd have to go back home," recalled Baldwin, 52, who now lives in Tilton and has remarried.
But just as the couple started discussing another move, they found two sacks of groceries on their front stoop. By the time they had gotten to the bottom of the bags two weeks later, Baldwin had signed several business deals.
"I've never forgotten that the kindness of strangers was what got us through that bad patch and allowed us to succeed," he said.
Now Baldwin and his wife, Glenda Ford-Baldwin, through an organization they started called Foodstock Charities, are returning the favor. Since January, Danville Foodstock – which is the local chapter – has put on a free meal each month in Tilton for families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet – or who simply want to come.
"We want to provide not only food but also hope to those in need," Baldwin said, adding the dinners will be held at the public use building at the Tilton Ballpark through the end of the year. "We also want to help strengthen the existing bonds in the community and perhaps create some new bonds and break down the barriers that separate us.
"So many of us look at people in need as somehow being lesser than," he continued. But "when a person sits down at a table with someone who's struggling due to the economy, and they look in that person's eyes, they realize that they're no different from them."
Since starting the dinner, the number of people they feed has grown from 27 in January to 171 in April, Baldwin said. That's partly due to adding home delivery to elderly and handicapped people in Tilton, Westville, Catlin, Oakwood, Danville, Bismarck and Henning.
Baldwin hopes to serve 250 this month.
"We want everyone to come," he said. "We don't require any payment. ... But if you want to kick in a couple of dollars, great. We appreciate the help."
The meals now cost $500 to $600 to put on. At first, the Baldwins paid for everything themselves. Since then, they've gotten help from some business partners, including County Market, which provides a gift card for and discounts on food.
They've also gotten assistance from a small group of volunteers, including 73-year-old Perry Fillhouer of Tilton, who saw an ad for the dinner in The Independent News.
"They said they needed help. I thought, 'Well, I'm not doing anything,'" said Fillhouer, a retired barber.
"I just helped in any way I could," continued Fillhouer, who mopped the floor, set up tables and chairs, ushered people to the food line, cleared tables and took out the trash. "I must've done all right because they asked me back."
"We're so grateful for everyone's help," Baldwin said, adding that he, his wife and friend Monty Schroeder, who is in charge of kitchen operations, couldn't do it alone.
He added that since starting the dinners, he has become a victim of the economy, too. Baldwin, who worked for U.S. Music Corp. in Mundelein, was downsized from a full-time employee to an independent contractor, which cut his salary by 75 percent.
"I know what people are facing," he said.
Baldwin, who said he's been able to pick up more work recently, vowed to continue the dinners as well as other efforts he's been involved with to support the Danville Area Food Pantry. Baldwin and his band, Deeper Blues, have raised nearly $10,000 for the food pantry at benefit concerts, and they're planning another concert for September.
"Everyone has been so appreciative," he said. "One young lady said it was the only time her family could go out for a meal. ... Another young girl, this is someone who was 5 or 6, came up after putting her dishes away and getting her dessert, and just said 'Thank you for feeding me.' When you touch a child like that ... with something as simple as a cupcake, that's why we do what we do. We want to give these people hope. We want to let them know there's somebody who cares."
Danville Foodstock will hold its May dinner from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at the public-use building at the Tilton Ballpark, 501 N. Mayfield St. Doors open at 11 a.m.
The dinner is free and open to the public. On the menu: ham and beans, cornbread, garden salad, dessert and drinks.
Shut-ins can call 431-5324 to request a meal for home delivery. The deadline to do so is Saturday.