MORRIS – Letty Mae’s Tea Room in downtown Morris is known for more than its lunchtime sandwiches and quiche, vintage tea cups and tasty desserts. Its servers have always had something special about them, too.
Kayla Thornton, of Newark, is the daughter of Letty Mae’s owner, Laurie Belinski, and has been a server there since the shop opened three years ago.
“I love people, and I love being able to wait on them and show them the love of Christ,” she said. “I love that opportunity it gives me.”
The tea shop will close for a week starting Sunday to allow Thornton, five other staff members and the owner to fly to Zapote, Guatemala, for a Christian mission with The Hands of Hope. And this week, Letty Mae’s is donating 20 percent of its proceeds to the mission.
This will be Thornton’s third time going, and she can’t wait. She will work with the other volunteers to build homes and stoves, and plant vegetables in hydroponic gardens.
Paul Pope, who goes to Newark High School and works in the back at Letty Mae’s, also will be serving his third mission trip there.
“I love to serve the people,” he said. “I made really good friends down there.”
Belinski said she got the idea of closing for the week from her daughter.
“Ever since we opened, I always lose quite a few on my staff to this mission trip,” she said. “This year, I was just dreading this time, when Kayla said, ‘Why don’t you close down the shop and go with us?’”
After some convincing, Belinski decided to give it a try.
All four of her children – Kayla Thornton, Mike Thornton, Madison Belinski and Zach Belinski – will be going, along with staff members Paul Pope, Christy Steffens, Brooke Kowalezyk and Amy Marcoux.
It was Marcoux who introduced the family to the mission trip. Marcoux and her husband, Nick, previously with the Morris Christian Youth Center and now at Fox River Lutheran Church, have taken groups to Guatemala for years.
Belinski described shutting down the business for a week as a “leap of faith” for her family financially. A single mother – her husband Dale died two years ago – Belinski had to commit to pay $1,500 for each family member to give, plus go without a week’s income from the restaurant.
“When God tells me he wants me to do something,” she said, “it’s best to listen and do it. ... I am just praying, ‘God, you’re going to have to figure out the bills.’”
Belinski said she believes God led her to open the restaurant. Her husband had been out of work for two years due to the recession, and finances were tight.
“I went out for a drive one day, and I really prayed about it,” she said, “and I felt like God put it on my heart.”
She had always loved to cook and bake, and she collected antiques, many of which are now displayed at tea shop. Her parents have a tea room in Branson, and she has always loved the idea of it.
The tea shop caught on almost immediately, and Belinski credits much of its popularity to her staff.
“I have the most wonderful staff,” she said. “I think people see Jesus shine through this staff.”