Les & Jim’s hospitality to area residents without power warms hearts
Area business provides meals, entertainment for the kids, and warmth that extended beyond a heated building
TINA L. SCOTT
“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
This catchy phrase has often been attributed as a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, although many sources now dispute that.
Nonetheless, it is an easy way to remember that the Bible, in both the New Testament Gospels and the Old Testament, implores people who have much, to give to those who do not. Whether giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, or providing shelter to the homeless, action is needed. Words aren’t enough.
Many businesses support charities and fundraisers that seek to do those very things, but one Merrill business took matters into their own hands this past week. When the Thursday/Friday windstorm swept through Wisconsin, it left thousands of homes without power. Those homes without generators were then left without heat. Finding a way to stay warm became a real issue for many.
In the Merrill area, more than 1,000 homes were affected, school was canceled on Friday, and while Wisconsin Public Service and work crews focused on removing trees and fixing downed power lines, the owners and employees of Les & Jim’s Lincoln Lanes/Center Grill in Merrill focused on meeting the immediate needs of their local community.
The business opened their banquet hall, restaurant, and bowling lanes and invited the community inside. At 9:12 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 17,, they posted on Facebook: “ls your power out and your house is getting cold? Les & Jim’s is open and warm. Please come on over and warm up with us. We will also be providing free lunch today and free bowling for the kids to keep the kids busy. And we have internet.”
“General manager, Kevin Jacoby, had lost power and came up with the idea of opening up so people could stay warm,” Les & Jim’s co-owner Mark Bares said. “I threw in that we should offer free bowling and lunch since families with no power would have nothing for the kids to do and they would have no way of making a meal.”
“When we heard that people were going to be out of power for a while, we quickly decided to do a buffet supper too …”
At 1:39 p.m. they added a new post: “Does your house have no power and you can’t cook supper?!? Warm up here at Les & Jim’s | The Center Grill … FREE coffee & hot cocoa, FREE bowling (until 4pm), FREE supper (4pm to 7pm), FREE internet, CHARGE your phones. We have plenty of space in our banquet hall. Bring a board game. Stay as long as you like! (We close at 10pm)”
And at 4:32 p.m., they posted: “If you or someone you know is still without power tonight, stop on down for a free dinner and a chance to warm up. We are ready to serve until 7:00 and offer hot coffee and hot chocolate, as well.”
Bares said about 100 people came for lunch and bowling, with about 50 people there for supper.
“Then we decided to offer meals for people without power throughout the weekend,” he added.
On Dec. 18 at 10:07 a.m., they updated their Facebook message to say: “Les and Jim’s and Center Grill would like to extend our offer for those still without power. If you would like to come in and warm up, charge your devices, or use our WiFi, please do anytime we are open. Let us buy you a cup of coffee or a hot meal while you are here, as well. Please, if you know anyone who could benefit, let them know as well!”
Spontaneous and selfless, the owners of Les & Jim’s weren’t out to make a profit or get positive PR from their actions. “People were in need, and we were in a position to help,” Bares said. That’s it.
But the community took notice, and that kind of generosity in today’s world warmed more than just bodies in need of a heated building. The efforts of the Bares, Arndt, and Jacoby families, and all of the Les & Jim’s staff, warmed a lot of hearts, as well.
One grateful community member posted: “Come check out Les and Jim’s Lincoln Lanes. They are offering free bowling and free lunch to kids who don’t have power! It’s been great for us to keep warm and have a little bit of fun. Thank you so much Mark and staff …”
“We so much appreciated your kindness and food and warmth when we were without power. Thank you,” another Facebook post said.
Still other posts echoed similar sentiments. Here are just a few:
“Mark, even though we no longer live in Merrill … [we] are very proud of you and your family and staff for what you’re doing for the community.”
“This post warms my heart. Thank you for being good human beings and helping your neighbors when they need it the most. I hope others will pay it forward. I know I will.”
And, “Just another GREAT example why our small town is wonderful! Thank you!”