Editor’s Note: Andy Blodgett passed away February 12. This article is the first of a two-part story which was drafted for the South County News but did not run until now, as a tribute to his memory. The second part to the article will run next month and will also feature information on a memorial service planned by the Blodgett family for some time in April.
By Linda Lane
“You’re going to think I’m kidding, and you’re going to ask how it is even possible to do it, but our jingle is, ‘We get a ton and a half into a half-ton van.’ And we do!”
That was Andy Blodgett, a former Schoolcraft resident, who dedicated himself to helping some poor villages in Mexico with a group he formed, “The Mission to the Poor.” And many trips literally had two tons loaded into that van. Preparations would take months for Blodgett to organize a large delivery of items he took to Mexico for children and adults for Christmas.
“We manage to get THAT much merchandise – shoes, clothes, school supplies, buckets of paint, candy and toys for kids, and many other things – stuffed into every crevice of that van,” Blodgett explained.
The seemingly impossible task was accomplished because Blodgett had his van heavily accessorized with 10-ply rated tires, two extra springs, a “Timbren” suspension system on the van which holds the back of the vehicle up (often used with a snowplow truck). If the van appeared to be too heavily loaded, they would have been “bandit bait.” Blodgett had many 3-4,000 pound weight-slips to prove that ton-and-a-half claim.
Blodgett and his wife, Alicia, then drove a 2,378-mile trek to the Mexican state of Michoacán, where they distributed food and merchandise to the poor. It was imperative for safety that the van appear to be just a normal van with the enhanced suspension system; dark sheets covered the windows to prevent people from seeing the boxes packed into the van. On the third day when they crossed the border into Mexico, they did not travel at night and stayed in a gated hotel. They traveled on toll roads, paying the “cuda” as an insurance policy to avoid small towns and bandits.
They first started distributing items in the Michoacán region because Blodgett’s wife, Alicia, was born and raised in a village of 70,000 people called Los Reyes. The region is a non-tourist area which grows avocados, sugar cane, and small berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. While they began distributing to the very poor in that area, they expanded to address the dire need of the poor in adjoining villages and up into the mountains. They made contacts through family members with a priest in the mountains and helped the congregation, and later added additional churches to distribute their donations. During one visit, they had 68 volunteers, provided by the church, helping to distribute food and goods to 1,027 families, totaling over 4,000 people. They have also given away, or used with the new school, 2-3,000 gallons of paint. In addition to the supplies they bring down, the Mission to the Poor also brings funds to purchase and give away 5,000 pounds of beans, a major staple for Mexican people. Alicia’s parents’ house became the storage facility for their ministry. Blodgett and his volunteers would scour major sales at U.S. stores, when items get discounted 90 percent or more and when companies like Meijer, Kohl’s, Walmart and Dollar General would clear shelves.
They took items to distribute to 101 people in a seminary in Zamora (a village close to Los Reyes) including 73 seminarians, 11 resident priests, three nuns and 14 kitchen and maintenance helpers.
Some years they managed to get in four trips (most years were three trips), bringing 15,300 pounds of merchandise to distribute to the poor. They have wired cash transfers of $12,000 for the school they built to teach the poor children who would otherwise have had no education. In addition to the seminary, there are 80 “street children” in the school that they’ve built in Zamora who also received goods from the Mission to the Poor. Some years, Schoolcraft Community Schools pitched in to help the Blodgetts repack and box 11,000 candy canes that they distributed to the Mexican kids at Christmas annually.
The need for the school was identified by a local woman at the church named Lupita. “She’s a saint in my mind,” Blodgett said. “She knew the kids had to be out in the fields picking strawberries with their parents and were not receiving any education.” With the Blodgett’s help, the school has included a medical doctor, plus her assistant, as well as a school psychologist. The school has expanded to include a trade school for the children with training for carpentry, plumbing, electrical, automotive repair, sheet metal and welding for boys, and home economics, weaving, sewing, family living and cooking for girls.
To raise the funding necessary to purchase the new goods that he and his wife delivered to Mexico, Blodgett drove all over Michigan purchasing nursery products and working US and Canadian trade shows. He was an independent sales rep for three Michigan nursery growers and three Tennessee nursery growers which helped provide a revenue stream for his mission. His business, Mission Gardens, has sold retail nursery products at wholesale prices, where growers gave him special prices to sell at that reduced price to help fund the mission as well.
Part 2 of this story will run in the April edition of the South County News.