I was delighted to see the article about FISH in your April 14 special section "Salute to Volunteers." I am glad FISH is doing well and continuing to serve those in need under the leadership of Catherine and John Gase. The late Paul Harvey, a noted radio commentator used to hold his listeners spellbound when he reported his stories and then ended with, "And now the rest of the story!"
I would like to share with your readers "the rest of the FISH story" as I recall it.
It has been 43 years ago, and I have forgotten some of the names of the people involved in its birth, but I remember as if it was yesterday that the idea came from England, where FISH was began in 1961. This idea also moved a group of people from the Tiffin area to action. Among them were Phil Harner and his wife, Willa Jean; Walter Beat and his wife, Regina; Jim Rochester and his wife, Anneliese; and Sister M. Herbert of St. Francis. (So sorry, but I do not recall the names of the other people, and there were others.)
We met at St. Francis for several brainstorming sessions (we did not call them that), putting our prayers before God and our ideas on the table. As the Scripture tells us, "we are our brother's keeper," so how can our willingness to serve others be put into a plan that will allow many other people to get involved? How can this be put into a workable plan? What is our main goal?
The decision was finally agreed upon to do what everyone would do for a neighbor with a temporary need; nothing enormous, nothing earth-shaking, nothing binding or requiring gratitude or repayment. FISH would offer kindness without judgment and help with food, transportation, hospitality and money (if there was any available, since we did not expect any federal or state funding) and prayers, lots of prayers.
After much inquiring about rules, regulations and legal aspects, a long list of volunteers was needed and had to be somewhat educated to our vision to fulfill this mission. I am not going into detail about all that, it would take too much space and time, and that is not the reason that I feel compelled to write my "rest of the story."
We had "phone volunteers" who would be available to take request calls for a 24-hour shift, (I found it a wonderful opportunity to get caught up on my ironing and still do God's work), "driver volunteers" who were willing to take someone for an appointment to an out-of-town hospital or medical facility, and other volunteers to store and give out food and personal hygiene items when a neighbor in need has asked for that kind of help. (By the way, the first pantry was at St. Paul's Methodist Church on Madison Street, free of charge). Hospitality was taken care of by another FISH family, who invited stranded "neighbors" into their home for a night or two (the times were different then). Later, a motel room was procured and paid for by FISH for any stranded "brother." The Tiffin Answering Service provided connection between the volunteer for the 24-hour shift and the caller, free of charge. Everything was on a first-name basis only; after all, we were brothers and sisters in Christ.
We received plenty of advice from well-meaning fellow Christians not to embark on this mission, that we would be taken advantage of, etc., but in the spring of 1969, FISH was born. We learned very quickly what to do and what not to do, but with God's blessings we grew in leaps and bounds with volunteers, food and personal hygiene products. We had to find another pantry, local civic groups from Boy Scouts to fraternal orders and the churches in our area helped with donations of money and volunteers. It was a joy to be part of such an undertaking.
After almost three years, the initial core group decided FISH should never become OUR FISH and it was time for new people to join in this endeavor, people with new enthusiasm, new ideas and new organizational skills. That was the time when Mr. Fahrenbruck and Mr. A. Distel joined with our new volunteers and worked with FISH for several years, including my family. Throughout the years (we are talking about 43 years), much has changed in our society. Social agencies have come about, toll-free numbers became the norm. None of them were in existence then, when a small group of idealistic Christian pioneers started what we now call "a social ministry," not a term used in those days.
I thank God and my brothers and sisters in Christ that I was there, was part of this mission, and I hope and pray that there will be "Brother's Keeper" FISH as long as needed.