MARKLEVILLE, Ind. — The smell of sweet vanilla filled Michelle Hoppes' kitchen recently as she stood over a mixer adding brown liquid vanilla to a batch of banana bread batter.
“This is my grandmother’s recipe,” said Hoppes as she carefully poured a measurement of oil into the mixture.
Hoppes was frantically trying to fill candy, cookie and bread orders from an impromptu bake sale that went viral on Facebook. Money raised from the bake sale is going to help her sister pay her rent.
“My sister got sick in September, and in September and October she missed three or four weeks of work and when she went back, she ended up losing her job,” Hoppes said.
With no income Hoppes' sister, Lisa Gentry, was facing eviction.
“She had been trying to get another job and she had a really good lead on another job, but with all the shutdowns for all the holidays they wanted her to do orientation in January,” Hoppes said. “She really thought she would just go to her landlord and he would agree to wait and let her catch up at tax check time.
“He told her if her rent wasn’t paid by Nov. 30, he was filing for eviction.”
Hoppes went to her husband and discussed paying her sister’s rent, but things were too financially tight to make that happen.
“We just didn’t have it,” Hoppes said.
Her husband suggested she have a bake sale.
“Where am I going to do a bake sale in the middle of December?” Hoppes said.
Hoppes said she went to bed, but around 2 a.m. she got an idea.
“I thought, you know what, I will try to do a Facebook sale,” Hoppes said. “I see people doing little community things like that all the time so I thought I would try it. I messaged the Markleville Police Chief Tim Basey and told him what I was doing and he messaged me back saying he would share the post on the department’s Facebook page.”
Hoppes created the post saying, “there is a person in my life that is having a very rough time. They need $350 in the next week to pay rent or risk eviction.”
She went on to say it wasn’t feasible for her to loan her sister the money and Gentry needed a “hand up, not just a loan.”
For $4 each, Hoppes said she would make banana bread – with chocolate chips, walnuts or cranberries – cinnamon, lemon, watermelon or grape hard rock candy, peanut butter fudge, sugar cookies or triple chip cookies.
Hoppes then went to bed hoping she could generate enough sales to pay her sister’s rent in November.
When she woke up, she was shocked to discover her post had been shared more than 100 times and the orders started pouring in.
“By 8 a.m., I had enough pledges to buy bake sale stuff and we could almost pay her November rent,” Hoppes said.
The initial orders included 50 batches of hard rock candy, 20 batches of peanut butter fudge, 80 loaves of banana bread and 40 dozen cookies.
Hoppes said she was humbled by the community’s generosity.
To help kick off the bake sale, Basey and his mother donated 50 pounds of flour and 50 pounds of sugar.
“We just wanted to help her with the sale,” he said. “I’ve known her for a long time. My wife and I plan to help her deliver the breads on Saturday.”
Within hours Hoppes said she had enough money to pay her sister’s rent for November and December. She sent the November payment with Basey to take to Gentry’s landlord.
“People are stepping up and doing what they can,” Hoppes said. “It’s been amazing how people in the community – who didn’t know her from Adam – are willing to help her.”
In addition to the bake sale items, Hoppes said people have simply showed up at her door to make monetary donations to help with Gentry’s rent or allow her to buy her preteen son Christmas gifts.
“The church next door said they would give her a $25 gift card to help her with presents for him,” Hoppes said. “So he is going to have something. It’s not going to be like he has nothing for Christmas.”
Gentry, who helped with some of the baking, said she is so thankful to the community and her sister for everything they have done.
“She has just baked her little fingers to the bone,” Gentry said of her sister’s efforts.
On Monday, Hoppes said she was able to raise just over $900 for her sister.
“We are going to see what other needs they are going to have, but we will have about $100 left over to do something for them with,” she said.
Basey helped Hoppes deliver the baked goods for four hours on Saturday and Hoppes said she met with 17 people at Meijer who picked up items. Only four paid orders were not picked up, but Hoppes said she is holding them until the people contact her.
"Everyone was so sweet and kind and everything a small-town community should be,” Hoppes said. “They sure put me in the Merry Christmas spirit with their outpouring of support.”
Miller writes for the Anderson, Indiana Herald Bulletin.