Ansonia school picnic honors Rustic Hope

On hand for the check presentation were, from left, Kristina McKenzie and Mary Lochtefeld, the organizers; Connie McEldowney, the recipient; and students Kylie Caldwell, Olivia Schmitmeyer and Camryn Winner. (Linda Moody photo)

ANSONIA—Ansonia High School held its annual “Pay-it-Forward” Picnic this past week and the recipient was Rustic Hope in nearby Russia, Ohio, in neighboring Shelby County.

Connie McEldowney, founder and director of Rustic Hope, was on hand to accept the donation on the school grounds near the Early Childhood Preschool and Athletic Fieldhouse and football field.

This program has been ongoing for a number of years, according to Mary Lochtefeld. who with fellow-teacher Kristina McKenzie, co-organize the annual event.

Several students are grilling the meat for the picnic, which took place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Linda Moody photo)

Lochtefeld said the Pay-It-Forward Picnic was the brainstorm of retired teacher Tara George, which she believes was at least 15 years ago. Some of the recipients have included Ansonia United Methodist Church’s Food Bank, Darke County Developmental Disabilities, and last year went to Our Farm Sanctuary, at 6495 Agenbroad, in Tipp City.

Money for the project is given by local businesses as well as the high school students’ $5 fee to take part in the picnic on the day of the presentation.

The picnic lasted from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“The yearbook staff picked up and collected all of the donations for the picnic,” Lochtefeld said.

Some students preferred to get a workout on this “game” at the picnic. (Linda Moody photo)

With the $5 entry, students were treated to a picnic meal and participation in a variety of games on the school grounds.
The burgers, prepared on the grill by some of the students, were provided by one of the sponsors, Butchers Block, it was noted.

Picnic sponsors this year were: Cox Insurance, Beanz, Edward Jones, Whirlpool, JAFE, Vint’s, Dairy Queen, Dairy King, Ansonia American Legion, McDonald’s, Reier’s Auto, McBo’s, The Winery at Versailles, Ansonia Lumber, Las Marias, Taco Bell, John’s IGA, Marco’s, Tolly’s Gastropub, Erwin Brothers, Moody’s Auto, Hot Head’s, Weaver’s, Joseph Demain, JT’s, Chipotle, Eikenberry’s, Morning Fresh, Lowe’s and Winners.

“The donations bumped up this year, and we think it’s due to Rustic Hope’s being the recipient,” Lochtefeld said.

Many high school students enjoyed bean bag tossing during the Ansonia Pay-It-Forward Picnic. (Linda Moody photo)

According to Rustic Hope’s director, more than 2,000 people have been helped by that organization. It is open to single mothers with children as well as young families who are struggling financially.

There is a plan to build a residential structure in Russia, Ohio, to house some of these families soon. They also want to have instructors teaching classes that the parents have not learned at that facility.

Rustic Hope is a 501c3 non-profit organization that offers free support to single mothers before, during, and after delivery of their babies.

McEldowney has been helping single moms for 21 years.

She and husband Craig have a total of 12 children and are involved in the foster care program. Five of those 12 are their natural children, and the youngest is 3 years of age.

McEldowney’s original plan was to take abortion-minded women into their home west of Russia to provide them with what they needed. Thus, it became a reality.

“Rustic Hope was in the works about a year later, but officially received our non-profit status in 2013,” said McEldowney. “I didn’t have an agenda, I just did what God put in front of me…one day at a time. The Shed opened up around 2013 at 3666 Simon Road, west of Russia.

“I started taking moms into our house before my word got around and received donations at our house,” the director said “I decided to put up a little shop where moms could shop for free. They could come out once a month and check things out.”

After their garage became full of donations, she knew she had to do something. That’s when The Shed was formed after some planning.

The Shed is open every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for mothers to come in and select items needed in their respective households.

“More importantly, Rustic Hope provides unconditional love,” McEldowney said in a previous interview. “We consider every woman and child we help an important part of our family.”

She went on, “Pregnancy can be a very difficult time for young women without a support system, and we faithfully believe that providing loving support is imperative to healthy pregnancies. We are Christ-centered and family-focused. This wasn’t my plan; it was God’s plan. Now, we have over 6,000 square feet and it’s all paid for. My plan was teeny tiny compared to God’s.”

According to her, to be eligible to receive these donations, a person must have custody of children under 18.
“You can even be a grandparent with custody of a child,”

There are approximately 100 volunteers, men and women, at The Shed who come once a week to help customers and to sort and clean The Shed.

Rustic Hope accepts donations of new and gently used baby clothing, furniture, household items, car seats, cribs, strollers, high chairs and toys, and is always in need of diapers and wet wipes. Also accepted will be donations of non-perishable foods and freezer meats; and automobiles; and monetary donations of all sizes.

Other services may include temporary housing, transportation, daycare, adoption information, post abortive counseling and parenting classes.

Rustic Hope, it was noted, can also assist young women interested in making an adoption plan for their baby by providing life books of families willing to adopt, and offering support to both the birth mother and adopting families. All adoptions are handled as private adoptions.

“Rustic Hope is not a licensed adoption agency,” she said. “We do not charge for any of our services. The adopting family is responsible for handling and paying for all legal fees and providing proof of a current home study.”

“If moms come in, we give them a book that tells them who they can contact and they deal with it,” she said. “Court costs and home study, if they go through us, is cheaper.”

Held there are free classes for moms that focus on such things as cooking, Bible study, self-defense, automotive care, painting, stress management and budgeting. An indoor playground is also now available for children.

Instructors of these classes donate their time to make these classes possible.

“It’s not about the free diapers. It’s about the hope where moms feel not judged. They are welcomed here and accepted,” McEldowney remarked. “They’re loved unconditionally. Our job is to love them.”

A 1986 graduate of Versailles High School, McEldowney is currently penning her third book. She has already written,

“Who The Hell I’m Not,” while her first one was a children’s book.

Any business willing to provide sponsorships for future Pay-It-Forward Picnic events at Ansonia School are urged to call the school and ask for McKenzie or Lochtefeld.