Putting Community on the Menu in Northern Michigan

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Welcome to the Front Porch Café. At this diner in a small northern Michigan town, community is the main entrée.

When Ellsworth, Mich., lost its only grocery store and diner within two months because of the struggling economy, members of Ellsworth Christian Reformed Church responded, knowing how important a diner is to a little community.

“We started thinking how we could restore fellowship in the community,” said Bob Felton, outreach facilitator from Ellsworth CRC. “We needed to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to us.”

The Front Porch Café opened last year.

Felton said nothing on the menu costs more than $5, and there are $3 lunch specials for high schoolers. All profits go back into supporting the program.

Once a week during the winter, five churches put on family fellowship dinners for $3 per person, with a donor offsetting some of the costs.

The café has four paid employees and lots of volunteers. All tips are shared with everyone from the dishwashers to the greeter.

One of those who gives of her time is Sue Tillotson. “Volunteering at the Front Porch Café gave me a way of talking with people,” she said.

Bob Vollmer volunteers on Thursdays when the café serves senior citizens lunch for $4 a plate. “The town was dying,” he said.  “Now there is traffic on the streets. . . . People came back into town and began to help each other again.”

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