Scattered throughout farms in Amish America are small bulk grocery stores. They have no signage, no advertisements, no large neon lights. Only a sharp-eyed observer might notice a few metal grocery carts stacked out front and realize they belong to a store.
Inside, a stream of Amish customers quietly push their carts up and down the aisles. The store is not crowded but never empty. There’s a library hush covering it, like a morning fog. A few English tourists ooh and aah over the low prices of spices. Ground cinnamon in a pint-sized container costs only twenty-five cents. An older Amish man reviews his wife’s handwritten list in his hand, scratches his head, then peers up at the boxed cereals. “There it is! I just love Post Bran Flakes,” he says aloud, pleased. “Best cereal on the market.” Two women, good friends, meet up in an aisle, whispering news of their families.
Long metal shelving is filled with staples such as sugar, salt, flour, and lots and lots of bulk candy. There’s another distinctive feature in this simple store. A cardboard box, placed near the register, with a handwritten sign on its front: “Grocery Shower. For Sam and Maryann Stoltzfus. Maryann has had two surgeries for gall bladders. Expenses are high. Let’s help.”
Rebecca, whose family runs this village store, explains it is an Amish custom to have a grocery shower box. “It’s a way we have of taking care of our own. There’s always someone who needs a little extra help.” The box is overflowing with goods.
“Tomorrow,” Rebecca adds, “there will be another box. Just learned of a couple whose baby was born a preemie.” She said that in most communities, a week or so after a wedding, friends have a grocery shower to help fill the couple’s pantry.
Caring for each other provides great security and peace of mind for church members. The Amish believe their actions of kindness are much more important than words or money.
Contrary to beliefs, the Amish are not exclusive in their care or in whom they perceive as a neighbor. Amish folks readily help their non-Amish neighbors in times of disaster, fire, or illness. “My neighbor is my neighbor whether he attends my church or is a nonbeliever,” says Will, Rebecca’s husband. “I help him and he helps me. We need each other.”
In some communities, like Will’s, Amish men actively participate in volunteer fire companies. In fact, more than half the members of some Lancaster County fire companies are Amish. The Amish also support fire companies through their public benefit auctions, which can have annual sales topping several hundred thousand dollars.
When a natural disaster strikes, the Amish reach into their pockets and give, but they also give with their time. Lancaster’s Amish made many trips to assist in the reconstruction of homes in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One English woman remarked that the Amish carpentry crews had such a reputation for excellent work that homeowners in Pass Christian, Mississippi, asked for them specifically to rebuild their houses.
“I’ve gone down to Pass Christian a couple of times,” says twenty-five-year-old Joshua, a single Amish young man who lives on his family’s dairy farm in Groffdale, Pennsylvania. “A busload of us go down there, for weeks at a time. I like to go, like helping out. It’s fun to see a different place.”
Just as important, the Amish are comfortable about making needs known. Every week, The Budget runs advertisements for those in need. The family is identified, the need is stated, and an address for donations is provided. The tone in the request is similar to how one would write a sister or an aunt, filling her in on a family crisis, familiar enough to ask for help.
There is a childlike trust implied in these requests. Even though the Amish are known for their frugality, they are generous with others in need. “It’s because we know that someday, we might face hardships ourselves,” says Rebecca. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”
A suspicious, hardened English mind might worry that the Amish, in their naiveté and innocence, could be taken advantage of, scammed by con-artists. When such a concern was posed to Rebecca, she had a puzzled look on her face, as if she couldn’t quite get her mind around such an outrageous thought. “You mean, ask for money when they don’t really need it? But why? Why would someone ever do that?”
Source: Shared with permission by Revell Books. It was originally published in Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World.
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