Elkhart Strong effort responds to tragedy with acts of kindness, T-shirts

Posted on Jan. 21, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 26, 2014 at 10:47 a.m.

Although Mike Bailey didn’t know the families of the Martin’s shooting victims, he said he felt a personal loss from the tragedy.

Maybe that’s because he lives behind the Martin’s Super Market on East Bristol Street where the shootings occurred. He knows many of the employees and shops there nearly every day. His emotions could also stem from the fact that his 20-year-old daughter Mandi is the same age as victim Krystle Dikes and attended Elkhart Central High School with her.

“We were just heartbroken that such a thing happened,” said Bailey, 48. “I was really bothered by it.”

By Friday night, Bailey felt like he needed to do something, so he posted an update on his personal Facebook page asking people to commit two random acts of kindness in honor of Dikes and Rachelle Godfread, the 44-year-old Martin’s shopper killed Jan. 15 by gunman Shawn Bair.

Response to his post was so swift and heavy that Bailey decided to create a new “Elkhart Strong” page, with the word “strong” also meant to honor the late Sarah Crane, the 15-year-old Elkhart girl who died of colon cancer in December.

Within two hours, the page had received 2,000 likes.

Alex Evans, Mandi’s fiancé, then suggested they make T-shirts and donate the proceeds to Dikes’ and Godfread’s families. Bailey’s girlfriend, Diann Owen, came up with a design, and Skinner the Printer agreed to donate all profits to the families.

The shirts are black with red printing and read, “Together we are ELKHART STRONG/Pay it forward/Commit to 2 Random Acts of Kindness/In Memory of Krystle Dikes & Rachelle Godfread/1-15-2014.”

They cost $15 and can be ordered at Skinner the Printer, 226 S. Main St.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 21, the number of likes on the Facebook page stood at 6,730 and was still slowly but steadily growing.

“We were surprised there was so much interest,” Bailey said. “There’s genuinely a lot of care in this community. It’s a great town and the people in it can be very loving.”

Bailey said he only got about six hours of sleep over the weekend because he was so busy keeping up with questions and comments on the Facebook page. It wasn’t until Monday that he had a chance to do one of his own acts of kindness. He said he and Mandi went into their Martin’s Super Market, picked the shortest checkout line and waited behind a woman who had been shopping with three young children. After the cashier scanned all of her items, Bailey and his daughter stepped up and said they wanted to pay for the woman’s $123 worth of groceries. They also gave her an Elkhart Strong T-shirt.

“We were both kind of embarrassed to actually do it,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

Bailey said the woman was surprised.

“She thanked me with a huge smile, I told her why we did it and asked her to pay it forward. She said she would.”

Miriam Cooper, who owns Skinner the Printer with her husband Michael, said they started taking orders Tuesday. Orders take a few days, so someone who comes in and orders Wednesday could come back in and pick it up Friday. Shirts can be shipped for an additional $5.60, and sizes 2XL-4XL cost an extra $4.

Orders have come in from Elkhart natives who now live in Tennessee, Arizona, Texas and Alaska, Bailey and Cooper said.

Cooper said she will give the proceeds to Martin’s Super Markets, with the understanding that Martin’s will divide the money evenly and deposit it in charitable accounts created for each family at Teachers Credit Union.

Bailey, who is in sales, paid for the first 25 shirts himself. He said their sales yielded $140, and he will add $60 so that he can deposit an even $100 in each account.

Rebecca Filley bought one of the first 25 shirts.

“I don’t want what happened at Martin’s to define this community in any negative way,” Filley said. “I think this community is so much more than that kind of negativity. We will get up from this and be stronger and better, I hope.”

Bailey said he hopes the shirts and his “pay it forward” message will help, in some small way, counteract the violence from the shootings.

“People don’t do anything nice for anyone anymore,” he said. “Everyone is so self-absorbed, myself included. I come home from work and spend time with my family and don’t always think about doing things for the community.”

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