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Palmerton native gives back with food

As a young child, Mike Balch knew what it was like to go hungry.

Having experienced desperate times, Balch has made it his purpose in life to give back to those in need.

That’s why it warms his heart to travel 4½ hours from Pittsburgh to return home to Palmerton each Thanksgiving.

Balch took the trek on Sunday in preparation for the annual community dinner tradition that he started several years ago.

That tradition continues tonight at Living Hope Lighthouse Church, 705 N. Third St. in Palmerton.

The free meal is available at the church, with dine-in from 5:30-6:30 p.m., and curbside from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

“Six years ago, I was having a conversation with my cousin Stevie,” Balch said. “I grew up in Palmerton; everybody was involved with everybody.”

Balch said that when he started the tradition, it appeared to him as if there wasn’t any community involvement.

“I got the idea to do a Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “I put out on Facebook if I would do a Thanksgiving dinner, would anybody be interested.”

Balch said he was able to get five businesses from Palmerton to donate: Chris Anthony from Country Harvest, Chip Solt from Joey B’s, Fred and RoseAnn Lesher of Country Inn and Suites, Joe of Joe’s Place, and Sheila Reiss of the Beer Zone.

“In my opinion, it’s the best town in the world,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Balch said this year he gave out 12 20-pound turkeys, and 22 5-pound hams, and added some make gravy, green bean casseroles, stuffing and filling, sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll.

Balch said, “I wanted everything to be a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I will do it every single year.”

“The community outreach is amazing; every year, a bunch of different people support it,” he said. “The whole youth group from the church will be there helping; it’s a community thing.”

But, it doesn’t stop there, according to Balch.

“I personally, myself, walk over to the (Palmerton) police station and I deliver on-duty police officers meals,” he said. “I also take two boxes of meals over to the Palmer House.”

Balch said that last year, they had about 125 people at the church coming and going, and served about 200 vehicles outside, and expects around 400 meals this time around.

“It’s not just designed for people in need,” he said. “This is also designed for someone that doesn’t have a family to hang out with.”

Balch, who drag races Nitro Harleys, won National Champion as a rookie and again this year.

“The racing that I do is kind of a rich man’s sport,” he said.

“I am blessed with so much in my life, it’s the least I can do to give back,” he said. “All the blessings that I get, how rude would it be of me to not give back to the world.”