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Featured Story

Church puts faith in action by feeding families

By Carla Bumstead


Back in January, the First Baptist Church in Charlotte received a donation from a parishioner’s estate. But church leaders weren’t exactly sure what to do with some of the money.

“We wanted to give back to the community, but we really didn’t have any idea as to exactly how,” said Lisa Lupini, who sits on the church board. “So we decided to wait and pray about it.”

But when COVID-19 (coronavirus) arrived, and parishioners realized the effect it would have on the community, they knew exactly what the Lord wanted.

“God knew what he was doing, as far as having us wait, and when it was time, we were ready,” Lupini said.

On March 25, the church started paying for 50 dinners, three times a week, for area families in need.

Lupini explained that, although local school districts were supplying children with breakfast and lunch, they realized many families would still be struggling due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 restrictions.

“We knew that some families would need other resources to be able to put dinner on the table,” Lupini said. “We also wanted to be able to help local restaurants that are also struggling right now.”

Church members reached out to several Charlotte-area restaurants, offering to pay for 50 “family dinners” — enough to feed four to five people. Lupina said they heard back from several — including Riedy’s Pizza, My Place Diner, Sidestreets Deli, Eaton Place, Swampers and MOO-ville in Nashville. The church offered their first round of meals on March 25, when they partnered with Riedy’s for a spaghetti dinner (shown below).

Deb Heinze, owner of My Place Diner, said she signed up so she could “give back.”

“I decided to take part because the community has been so great to me, and it was my turn to give some of that back,” Heinze said. “I want to thank the church for doing this and helping when they can.”

First Baptist is providing meal vouchers for 50 families three times a week — with meals available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Families wishing to receive the vouchers need to come to the church, located at 1110 Cochran Ave. in Charlotte, at 5 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is all done on a drive-through basis, with those wishing to receive vouchers lining up in the church parking lot. The meals themselves are distributed at the meal-providing restaurant. Families drive to the restaurant and exchange their vouchers for the meals. No meals are being provided at the church.

Unused vouchers have been donated to various groups — including Eaton County 911 dispatchers, Sparrow Eaton Hospital workers and Eaton Community Palliative Care.

The church, with help from My Place Diner, recently provided dinner to nightshift workers at Sparrow Eaton Hospital. Shown here (r. to l.) are Kalli Dempsey from Sparrow Eaton Hospital, Lisa Lupini from First Baptist Church and Sara Caldwell from My Place.

Sally Seifert, who also serves on the church board, said she considers the effort to be about “putting our faith into action.”

“The Lord says that when people are hungry, feed them,” Seifert said. “We’ve had tremendous support from our congregation.”

As of Friday, April 3, organizers had restaurants lined up to provide meals up through Friday, April 17, with the exception of Good Friday, April 10. They were still looking for a restaurant to sign up for that date.

Lupini said the church is planning on continuing to provide the meal vouchers through April 29. For more information on the program, email the church at

(Main photo by Cindy Gaedert-Gearhart/TCJ) Sidestreets Deli staff (at right) are shown ready to hand out meals to voucher holders on April 1. First Baptist Church parishioners Sally and Randy Seifert are shown at left.



Featured Story

Xact Excavating: Local grad takes to the dirt

Amy Jo Parish

Contributing Writer

There is a saying, “Give a man soil and he will prosper.” Gino Costello has taken that to heart this past year, sinking his shovel into the ground and opening his own business — Xact Excavating in Olivet.

For some, the summer after high school graduation is a time of celebration. When Costello graduated from Bellevue High School last year, it was time to get busy. His odd jobs with dirt and equipment while still in school helped him to prepare to branch out on his own.

His optimism and work ethic are apparent when Costello speaks about his business, and it is those qualities that have helped the business grow. 

Once customers experienced the quality and care he takes with the work, Costello said word of mouth brought in more and more jobs. What started as a few jobs on the side grew into a business all its own.

With the help of co-founder Brad Shrontz of Shrontz Trucking, Costello’s business has continued to grow since it opened, and Costello could not be more pleased.

“It has been pretty awesome, how it’s going so far,” said Costello.

From excavating, site work, ice and snow removal and even hauling, there is a long list of services that can be found at Xact Excavating.

The business gives Costello the chance to combine two things he really enjoys — working with equipment and working with people.

“I love working with people, and I think the best thing for me is that I get to do the whole job,” said Costello. “You get to see a project come together from beginning to end.”

The most surprising aspect, however, has been for the customers, not the young entrepreneur.

“My age surprises people. They sometimes aren’t sure at the start if I can do the job, but at the end, they say, ‘wow, you actually can.’”

For Costello, reading blueprints is like reading a book, and he looks forward to working in the dirt for years to come. His eagerness to learn has been a key part of his success thus far and helps him stay on top of new trends in the industry.

“I’m always trying to figure something out to make us better than the competition,” he explained.

For more information about Xact Excavating, visit the company online at Xact Excavating is located at 22105 T Drive North in Olivet. Costello can be reached at 517-706-1563 or

Readers: since many ads are from outside the local area, please know what you are buying before sending money.



Featured Story

Bellevue girls celebrate ‘senior night’

By Kayla Whitmyer

Guest Writer

The Bellevue girls varsity basketball team lost to a tough Calhoun Christian team 58-39 on Feb. 24. But the night was about much more than wins and losses, as Bellevue was celebrating their five seniors. Senior captain Morgan Messenger injured her knee earlier this year, ending her senior season. Thanks to the generosity and sportsmanship of Calhoun Christian, she was able to suit up, start the game and score her last bucket on her home floor. A timeout was called for substitution, putting a bow on her Bellevue career at 1,035 points — or so everyone thought.

As the clock was about the expire in the fourth quarter, Morgan was subbed into the game for the final seconds to pay tribute to the seniors. In true Morgan fashion, she spotted up and pulled the trigger on a 3-pointer right next to the Bronco bench. Needless to say, she has officially finished with 1,038 points.

Bellevue may have racked up a loss, but both teams left as winners tonight. It was a sight to see and one for the books. The Broncos cannot thank Calhoun Christian enough for their class act.

The Broncos had a widespread scoring affair, led by Aneesah Qahwash and Taylor Andrews, with 7 points each. Cylee Hughes chipped in 6 points and 8 rebounds. Alex Williams played fierce with tenacious defense and aggressive offense. And, of course, Morgan Messenger finished with 5 points and a rebound.

The next night, Feb. 25, Bellevue lost a close game to Maple Valley, 39-31. The Broncos battled each quarter and ended up falling short despite a valiant effort. All Broncos gave full effort and worked together to keep clawing back from the deficit.

The Broncos were led by sophomore Marissa Powell with 11 points. Morgan Keson added 7 points, and Cylee Hughes snagged 9 rebounds and had 2 blocks.

With the loss to Maple Valley, the Broncos fell to 8-10 overall and 8-8 in the SCAA. Their final regular season game was set for Thursday, Feb. 27, at Athens, with results too late for this newspaper’s deadline.


Photo by Candy Marie Photography

The Bellevue girls varsity basketball team celebrated Senior Night on Feb. 24.

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Eaton County

Eaton County

Featured Story

Local healthcare facilities focused on preparedness, PPE supplies

By Ally Telfor

Contributing Writer

Across the globe, the nation and the state, healthcare workers and hospitals are experiencing shortages in much-needed medical supplies required to handle the influx of patients with COVID-19 — including ICU beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns and respirators.

According to John Foren, director of marketing and communications at Sparrow, the governor’s executive orders have helped its hospitals react quickly to the crisis. Foren said Sparrow has been planning its preparation efforts around the clock for approximately three weeks now, in collaboration with various health departments as well as the Michigan Hospital Association.

“From a supply angle, we’re doing okay, but we don’t know what we’re facing.” Foren said. “We’re like every other hospital and health system, we’re just trying to find resources where we can.”

Mikkee West, a Charlotte resident, has used her skills and her on-hand supplies to sew masks for the Eaton County Health and Rehabilitation Services (ECHRS). Through a local Facebook group, West said she found patterns for the masks and a community of seamstresses in Eaton County. 

“I went into my crafting closet because I’ve been sewing forever […] and I just pulled out my leftovers from previous projects, and I made 50 masks with just what I had in the house.” West said.

Thanks to her experience in sewing, she made the 50 masks in 14-16 hours before dropping them off at ECHRS. 

West said the group is always accepting donations, whether it be 1/4 – or 1/8-inch elastic or pre-washed, 100% cotton fabric. She said as long as there will be a need for the masks, she will continue to sew them. 

Foren said Sparrow has been transitioning its staff and equipment to handle the eventual influx of COVID-19 patients.

“Some of our SMP (Sparrow Medical Practice) have basically closed because everything is focused on urgency,” he said. “That means shifting resources; That’s facility-wise, staff-wise, everything.”

Foren said Sparrow hospitals have ramped up screening practices, including taking temperatures, to protect its caregivers and patients. 

Jennifer Casarez, RN and emergency preparedness coordinator at the Barry-Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD), said PPE supplies remain vitally important.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a decrease in the amount of supplies that’s out there, and hospitals and community partners continue to need that PPE to continue to provide safe care,” Casarez said.

She said BEDHD is getting PPE from the national stockpile.

“We are providing that PPE out to those partners that we have in the community that need it.” She added the team is moving as quickly as it can. 

Larger companies and organizations have also been working to innovate during this health crisis. Ford Motor Company announced Tuesday that it’s working with 3M and GE Healthcare to produce medical equipment and protective gear for healthcare workers.

The Sparrow Eaton hospital has already received support in the form of supply donations.

“The outpour of support from the community, in general, has been outstanding,” Foren said.

Donations of hand-sewn masks, booties, etc. have been provided by individuals, companies and organizations.

Charlotte collection site

Sparrow Eaton Hospital (SEH) in Charlotte has announced a collection site for community donations located at the main entrance to AL!VE, at 800 W. Lawrence in Charlotte. The drop-off site will be available starting Monday, March 30 and be open Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. The following new or unopened items will be accepted: disposable face masks; N95 masks (including 3D); eye protection, including face shields and safety goggles; disposable gowns; disposable non-latex gloves; surgical caps; disposable foot covers; bleach; bleach or anti-microbial sanitizing wipes; hand sanitizer; PAPRs (Power Air Purifying Respirators) and PAPR hoods; nasal flock swabs (FLOQ swabs); and hand-sewn reusable masks. SEH asks that anyone wishing to make and donate reusable masks call or email for the approved pattern. The main phone number for SEH is 517-543-1099.

Stay safe

Foren said one of the best ways to support your local healthcare facilities and workers is to practice safe health habits.

“Our goal is to try to keep people healthy, that’s our ultimate goal.”

This means continuing social distancing at least six feet and washing hands often.

Gov. Whitmer said Monday that if citizens do their part and stay home, “we have a shot at helping our healthcare system meet our needs.” 

Carla Bumstead contributed to this report. Ally Telfor can be reached at

Readers: since many ads are from outside the local area, please know what you are buying before sending money.



Featured Story

Maple Valley exchange students create positive impact

By Amy Jo Parish

Contributing Writer

Exchange students give up their home and their family for a year in order to gain new experiences in a foreign culture. Those experiences, however, can last a lifetime. This year, the Maple Valley School District welcomed nine exchange students into their halls. Though the students come from all around the globe, all were eager to experience America for themselves. For some, it was an eye-opening experience to come to the very rural setting of Maple Valley.

“I imagined it would be like the High School Musical movies, and it’s a lot more different,” laughs Julia Schnull from Germany. “It’s a lot more country life, but I really like it.”

Maria Sousa of Brazil made the journey without any preconceived notions of American life.

“I thought, it will be what it will be – no expectations,” said Sousa. “It is better than I could have expected.”

Along with a new language, the students have also been experiencing new cuisine. For the German students, they are used to sweet popcorn and the salty varieties have taken a bit of adjustment. Overall, the students said they have been enjoying the food.

“I’m gaining weight every week,” said Sousa.  a

A few students have found a new favorite food.

“Deep-fried pickles, they are so good,” said Sofia Kärki of Finland. “I would eat so many of them.”

The course work has been easier for all of the students, making it easier to adjust to new schedules and time zones.

“School here is so much easier, but it’s so different,” said Matilde Lenzi of Italy. “We don’t change classroom; teachers change, and we go on Saturday.”

Through all the differences and adjustments, Maple Valley High School Principal Michael Knapp said welcoming exchange students into the district creates a positive impact for not only the students but the community as well.

“It allows our students that don’t leave the area to get to experience other cultures,” said Knapp. “They get involved with extracurricular activities and in our school community, and our students just really embrace them.”

Maple Valley typically welcomes anywhere from 10 to 15 exchange students each year, some stay for a semester, others an entire year. The district works with CET USA, Share and other exchange programs to bring the students into the community. The organizations works with local families to match students’ interests with the families and ensure a positive experience for all those involved. Knapp said Maple Valley will continue to work with exchange student companies well into the future and is certain the host families and students are changed for the better because of the programs.

“In many cases, students and host families will visit each other down the road,” said Knapp. “It just spurs on what can be a lifelong friendship.”

The commitment of leaving family and friends for a year can be daunting, explained Knapp, but the experiences and memories make for an unforgettable 12 months.

“It’s a huge step for that student to commit to leaving their homes for a year,” he said.

The students could not agree more and would encourage other students who might be interested in becoming an exchange student to take the chance.

“It’s hard sometimes, but it’s worth it,” said Schnull.


Photo by Amy Jo Parish

This year’s Maple Valley High School exchange students include (front, from left) Veerin Yimsmerjit, Thailand; Matilde Lenzi, Italy; Leo Roskouetz, Germany; Luisa Pidun, Germany; Julia Schnull, Germany; Maria Sousa, Brazil; (back, from left), Vilma Viitanen, Finland; Sofia Kärki, Finland; and (missing from photo) Sally Park, South Korea.

Readers: since many ads are from outside the local area, please know what you are buying before sending money.



Featured Story

New Potterville High School boys varsity basketball coach sets first camp

Newly hired Potterville High School boys varsity basketball coach, Jacob Briney, and his entire coaching staff, is offering a four-day basketball camp for area youth in second through 12th grade. The camp will be held four consecutive Sundays beginning July 21 in the Potterville High School gymnasium.

Students entering ninth through 12th grade will attend from 2 to 4 p.m. July 21, July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 11. Students entering sixth through eighth grade will attend from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and students entering second through fifth grade will attend from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The cost of the camp is $50 per participant, which includes access to all four Sundays, and a custom Moneyball practice jersey. Checks should be made payable to Potterville Public Schools, attention Boys Basketball.

Registration forms must be completed before the start of camp and are available in the Potterville High School athletic office. There will also be an opportunity to register your child on Sunday, July 21 prior to the start of camp.

For more information, contact coach Briney via email at

Readers: since many ads are from outside the local area, please know what you are buying before sending money.

Eaton Rapids

Eaton Rapids

Featured Story

ERMC, focused on protection, urges community to take COVID-19 seriously

By Carla Bumstead


Eaton Rapids Medical Center (ERMC) made the decision to approach the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak with directness, honesty and transparency.

“Our Incident Command Team (ICT) went into action weeks ago,” said ERMC spokesperson Lindsay Peters. “We had the sense that there were some people out there that didn’t think the coronavirus would get to Eaton Rapids, but it is here and it is serious.”

ERMC’s president and CEO Tim Johnson announced yesterday, in a letter to the community, that the hospital had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that that number is expected to rise in the coming weeks.

“We are not unique, and we are not immune,” Peters said. “What you are seeing and hearing on the news about COVID-19 applies to everyone, including all of us here in Eaton Rapids.

“We want people to understand that, when they see the health department reporting eight cases in Eaton County, two of those cases are right here.”

Peters explained that the two cases confirmed at ERMC are not currently hospitalized and that ERMC is not planning to continue to directly report confirmed cases to the public in the coming weeks.

“We report everything directly to the Barry-Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD), and they are the ones responsible for reporting numbers,” she said. “We just want to make sure people understand that those numbers do include us.”

For now, ERMC expects to transfer COVID-19 positive cases to other, larger facilities. In return, ERMC is poised to take in non-COVID-19 patients, should extra beds be needed.

ERMC is testing for COVID-19 only when a patient meets specific guidelines. Those who are tested have their tests sent out to the state and other available labs for analysis. Because test results are currently taking seven to 12 days to come back, the number of local confirmed cases is definitely expected to rise.

Peters explained the long turn-around time for results is due to a backlog at the state lab level.

“We don’t have the capacity to do in-house testing, and we send everything out to the state or other labs. We expect to see the turnaround time improve, as everyone is working on ramping up testing capabilities. We are looking into other testing options that may be available.”

Monitoring of patients who are not hospitalized is handled by BEDHD.

Need to screen

The bulk of the COVID-19-related work currently going on at ERMC involves ensuring the safety of patients being treated for other medical needs and its own staff.

Barbara Parrott, RN, is the medical center’s infection prevention and control manager. She stressed that ERMC’s effectiveness relies heavily on teamwork.

“We have a great team working well together around the clock to help mitigate our risks and keep one another and our community safe,” Parrott said.

Just because COVID-19 is causing major disruptions doesn’t mean the community’s other medical needs can be put on hold.

“We have a duty to take care of our community, and that is exactly what we are doing,” Peters said. “People are still going to have heart attacks and accidents and will need our services.”

In order to limit any possible spread of COVID-19 by people coming into ERMC facilities, all those wishing to enter the hospital must first stop at a screening tent located outside of the Emergency and Redicare entrances. Large signs are in place to clearly direct people where to go. In addition, except for very specific circumstances, visitors are not allowed.

PHOTO INFO: ERMC’s Tammy Schafer, dressed in a lovely teal gown, is shown inside the mandatory check-in tent in front of Redicare. Redicare is located at 1500 S. Main St., Entrance C.

Peters said that, at first, the public often didn’t seem to understand the need for all the extra precautions.

“But we have really noticed a change. At first, we had some people who were upset and frustrated about the inconvenience. But over the past week or so, we’ve noticed a lot more understanding and appreciation of what we are trying to do.”

As far as ERMC staff is concerned, Peters said it is obviously a stressful time.

“People are concerned, and it is ok to be concerned. We all think about the possibility of bringing this home to our families, but we also feel better if we are busy doing something.”

ERMC has instituted a number of steps aimed at closely monitoring staff health. All staff are required to take their temperature twice a day at least eight hours apart.

“They also take their temperature right before entering any building, and if they have a fever or symptoms they are sent right home. And we have been sending out a lot of wellness information to staff — things like how to talk to their children about COVID-19, stress management resources, workout videos and daycare options.”

PHOTO INFO: Chris Sebastian and Josh Leask are shown on duty at the ERMC employee screening tent.

Incident Command Team

The ICT consists of the ERMC executive management team along with the addition of an infection prevention and control specialist, a supply manager and a physician.

All emergency facilities and organizations around the nation are required to have a complete plan for emergencies and to regularly practice a wide variety of emergency scenarios. Pandemics are one of the many emergencies on the scenario list, and ERMC was ready when it came time to put its pandemic emergency plan into action, for real.

Peters said that by the second week in March, it had become clear to ICT members that the COVID-19 situation would require team activation.

“We had been getting information (on the outbreak) for quite a while, but by early March it became clear we were going to be facing a serious situation. Since then, the Incident Command Team hasn’t had a day off … we knew what was going to happen but just didn’t exactly how or when.”

The team was officially activated on March 13, and it has been an almost non-stop series of new information, new mandates and new challenges.

“We are in constant communication with each other, constantly gathering new information, answering questions from staff, responding to new mandates and working with many other organizations from all around the area. The amount of paperwork alone is immense.”

Of utmost importance

Peters said the most important thing for the community to know and understand about the current COVID-19 situation is that all the guidelines and rules are essential for everyone’s safety.

She urges all Eaton Rapids area residents to listen to the experts on the best ways to prevent the spread of infection, to stay home as much as possible and to follow all social distancing and hand-washing guidelines if one does have to go out.

ERMC’s website, at, has a special COVID-19 notice on its main page. Clicking on that notice will bring up a page with full information on how to protect yourself and others. It also offers links to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) website and the CDC.

“If someone does need to come in to see us for medical treatment, we are here for them and simply ask that they follow our procedures in order to keep everyone safe.”


Main photo – ERMC Emergency Department employees Dr. John Fata; Jolynne Smith, RN; Emily Willinger, RN; and Heather Sholty, MA, are shown sporting goggles donated by Eaton Rapids Public Schools.







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