NEWTON FALLS - Even if a tornado hadn't ravaged the community in 1985, Doug Herlinger still would have found a way to devote his time to helping others.
''I guess it may have started with my mother,'' said Herlinger, who grew up in Braceville. ''She always told me I'd never be rich. So, if I had five dollars, give three dollars away and keep the other two dollars.''
Growing up, Debbie Nolfi, a distant cousin of Herlinger, remembers a touching moment when a 17- or 18-year-old Herlinger dressed up like Santa Claus in the summertime to give Nolfi's 3-year-old brother the excitement of a visit from the charitable old man from the North Pole.
Nolfi's brother was suffering from cancer and died soon after, but Nolfi has always remembered the extra effort put in by Herlinger.
The portrayal of Santa and the last 27 years spent behind the counter and the business desk at the Church Mouse is what prompted Nolfi to nominate Herlinger as a Community Star for 2013.
Now in its 12th year, the Community Star program celebrates the volunteers who have had a significant influence on Trumbull County. It is sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull 100.
Executive director of the Church Mouse in Newton Falls
But Herlinger is a reluctant type of ''star.''
''The reason you do volunteer work in the first place is not to be recognized. The good book will tell you not to expect anything back if you give. And believe me, I'm not a Bible thumper,'' said Herlinger. ''I sort of wish Debbie never nominated me.''
Still, the Braceville High School graduate tried his hand at teaching while going to college for a while and then worked for years doing just about anything for Doane Theater Corp., which operated the Skyway Drive-in.
''I ran a concession stand and the projectors. But I was sort of between jobs when the tornado hit the area,'' said Herlinger, who was in his mid-30s at the time.
He said he ran into Mary Hall, a retired school teacher, who was instrumental in setting up a recovery center run by the Newton Falls Interfaith Ministerial Alliance out of a church. Herlinger asked if he could help out.
''After the tornado hit, donations just poured in to the center. We really had more stuff than we needed. Mary was out delivering pizzas to the workers during the cleanup that started right away in May (of 1985). You could hear chain saws all over the place as Mennonite crews were cleaning up the damage,'' said Herlinger, who stood by in the center working with Hall until October 1985.
In the fall of that year, the alliance set up the Church Mouse with the inventory that remained from the donations and the community effort grew from there.
''They chose a storefront on Broad Street that was once Nichols Five and Ten-Cent Store,'' he said.
The Church Mouse has expanded in size and services under Herlinger, allowing the operation to sell used clothing, continue collection drives and form into a Salvation Army service unit.
Money from kettle drives and elsewhere is turned into assistance for the needy in the form of emergency car repairs, prescriptions, utility bills.
The food pantry still serves its original purpose, especially around the holidays.
Herlinger - still with the Santa outlook - gets special pleasure out of the holiday program that supplies one or two new toys along with used and donated toys to local kids around Christmas.
''I've been known to beg for that stuff,'' Herlinger said, laughing. ''We want to do whatever we can to help those in need.''
Working with Herlinger is one of the easiest chores ever, according to Debbie Braun, who has been with the Church Mouse as long as Herlinger. ''He'll talk your ear off if you let him,'' she said.
Braun, Hall and Herlinger all attended Braceville Methodist Church and knew each other before the tornado and before the operation started.
''I've known Doug for 13 years and help out in the Church Mouse and that guy would give you the shirt off his back,'' said Sherry Upole, a volunteer who has been minding the store while Herlinger takes care of some health concerns.
''The furniture is going out as fast as it comes in,'' she said, explaining that proof of income is all that is required as long as the the person is from the immediate school district or the 44444 ZIP code.