Just outside Loysville sits a horse farm with an old chicken coop attached to its barn. A red, white and blue “OPEN” flag fluttering in the breeze lets people know that Belle’s Cafe &Consignment Shop is in business.
The former chicken coop at Belle Haven Farm has been transformed into a comfortable cafe with bar stools and couches. Warm autumn fragrances waft through the air, mingling with coffee scents.
Behind the counter is Michaela Keegan, an 18-year-old senior at West Perry High School who is also taking classes at Shippensburg University.
Keegan started Belle’s Cafe &Consignment for a different reason than most people who would start a local business.
“I wanted to get a job somewhere to help Haiti because I’m really passionate about helping,” she said.
Belle’s — Keegan’s middle name — has been open for about six weeks. Its origin as a charity goes back about three years, the first time Keegan visited Haiti. She went on a mission between her freshman and sophomore years, along with West Perry Xtreme Club, a faith-based youth group.
Keegan, and her mother, Tracy Ross, have gone back every year since to continue their outreach and aid to the Haitian people. Those efforts include building a church and “ministry packs” with essentials such as soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and first aid supplies, as well as rice deliveries, vacation Bible schools for children.
Keegan also worked with an orphanage in Haiti taking the children to the beach for fun excursions.
The two women are planning their next mission in January.
Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the Americas when it was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which leveled much of the country’s buildings and infrastructure, and is estimated to have killed about 160,000 people, according to news accounts. Disease outbreaks hit the island not long after.
Seven years later, shelter, medicines, food and clean water still are everyday challenges.
“The kids are appreciative of everything you do,” Keegan said. “They jump on you, hug and kiss you.”
Instead of going to work for someone else, Keegan and Ross brainstormed the idea for Belle’s.
“I really wish there was a place in Perry County for people to just hang out,” Keegan said of why she started a cafe. “And people really like that they can come here and their money is going to a good cause.”
Keegan got a restaurant license from the Department of Agriculture and opened in September.
The consignment shop side was important, and serves as an outlet for people to share with others the things they no longer need or want.
“It’s an opportunity for her friends to sell their stuff,” Ross said, “and anything that won’t sell can be donated.”
From shoes to books to clothing and prom dresses, there’s a little bit of everything.
The sellers receive a 50 percent commission when their items are sold. Belle’s takes 50 percent, with 20 percent of all sales going toward Haitian relief efforts.
Belle’s also sells some locally made craft items, such as He-ck combination fleece head/neck bands made by Bonnie Derr of Ickesburg.
Keegan also makes and sells her own jewelry. Several of her friends have produced art for sale at the shop.
“We’ve had a decent amount of people come in each day,” Keegan said.
Keegan is applying to colleges to be a photography/photo-journalism student. She dreams of going on assignment around the country while living out of a tow-behind camper. She already has her dream home-on-wheels picked out.
Belle’s may require some help in the near future, she said.
“Hopefully we can hire someone, like one of my friends who will still be here,” Keegan said.
Mom, who formerly ran Belle Haven Farm as a wedding location, isn’t crossing that bridge until necessary.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Ross laughed.
Jim T. Ryan can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com
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