Finding a way to help

Jillian Kramer

Volunteers at Ravenna cafe gather supplies

Joe Dickle (left) and Dale Straw, members of the Way Cafe, take a break from sorting materials for the cafe’s trip to Louisiana on Sept. 16. Over the course of a week, the cafe had raised enough materials to fill a 24 ft. box truck and a 43 ft. traile

Credit: Steve Schirra

The desolate, down and out, homeless and mentally-challenged gather at the Way Cafe in Ravenna to find a safe haven from the harsh reality of their situations.

Despite any of their hardships, the customers of the cafe at 122 N. Chestnut St. did not hesitate to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Owned by Jack and Christine Keller, the Way Cafe was established in March to help those who often can’t help themselves. And these customers were more than willing to help anyone in need.

“Jack wanted to do something for the hurricane victims, but we didn’t want to send money,” Christine Keller said. “We contacted a church in Louisiana and got the word out for people to donate anything and everything. (People) would come in every day with donations, and we’d separate, box and label all the stuff.”

Christine recalls a woman who always wore a ball cap coming in to help. The woman hadn’t had hair since she was 11 years old, as she had been treated with radiation therapy in the 1970s.

“This lady who always wore the ball cap, she came and helped sort all the boxes,” Christine said. “She knew she didn’t have to be ashamed here, and she wanted to help.”

Another woman, who Christine said lives on pennies, brought in a pizza to eat for those who were working.

“She would ask everyone who walked in the door if they wanted a piece of pizza,” Christine said. “She couldn’t afford it, but she wanted to help.”

All the Way Cafe’s customers are “incredibly kind,” Jack said.

“It didn’t matter that they were mentally-challenged or on disability,” Jack said. “These are the people that made it possible for us to donate so many things and give them away immediately.”

Gathering more than 500 boxes and filling a 43-foot trailer, 24-foot truck, a Winnebago and a van in less than two weeks, the group donated whatever they had and asked the community to help, too.

The Portage County Moms group donated 52 air mattresses, 25 car seats and a number of strollers and infant carriers. The student council at Brown Middle School raised nearly $100 in change in one week and told the Kellers they wanted the money to go toward the gas it would take to drive to Louisiana, Christine said.

The selflessness of his usual customers continues to amaze Jack.

“Most of the people here have less than the hurricane victims in Louisiana,” he said. “Their giving was incredible. It’s just got to be a God thing.”

And on Sept. 18, eight people in the four vehicles left for the south so that Hurricane Katrina victims could receive some of that giving.

Contact news correspondent Jillian Kramer at [email protected].