Whew this has been a full week. Last I shared with you my efforts to bring more services to town I felt a bit beaten down. Today I feel much more optimistic.
I had been given the email for a person I was told was the contact for the county’s food pantry. Since my original goal was to bring a farmers’ market to town I had to stop and reevaluate what the town needed most, not just what I wanted most.
Here are a few facts about my county that made the path I needed to take very clear:
- Food insecurity rate: 12.2%
- Child food insecurity rate: 19.3%
- Poverty rate: 10.8%
- Children under 18 Poverty rate: 15.1%
- Seniors over 65 Poverty rate: 7%
There is definitely a need that must be addressed before we can look to those extras that would be nice to have.
I emailed the gentleman briefly explaining I was relatively new to the area and wanted to help bring services that would benefit the poor, specifically food and how to get access to more food for those most in need.
I heard back from him very quickly but all his email said was “Lois, please call me” and a phone number. His speedy response gave me hope but it was our conversation which completely energized me.
During our conversation I learned:
- The food pantry had tried to open an office in my town but couldn’t find a building they could use.
- This had been a thriving town until two things happened, the first was the closure of the steel plants in the next state and the elimination of the train service which traveled right through the heart of the town.
- Most importantly I am not the only person who wants to improve the services and make things better for the residents.
The gentleman I spoke to was the person who organized the “Grow a Row” program where he his friends sorted 600 pounds of seeds to distribute through the county to anyone willing to plant and care for the seeds and then donate the harvest to the food pantry. The seeds have been donated to individuals, farmers and even schools.
He then began rattling off the names of people who are also working to better the food situation for the residents of this town. My head was spinning as I tried to jot down all the names and their projects as he said he would be contacting each one to give them my contact information. These are just a few of the individuals I can work with.
- The high school teacher working to start a community garden. She is one dedicated lady who hasn’t given up when the first plot of land fell through because the town was concerned about liability issues. A new plot of land has been found, farmland (30 acres), and plans to return this property to a working farm as a community project.
- The man who has run programs for children and families. The programs include dance nights, bingo nights, tutoring, and more from his storefront.
- Two individuals who run greenhouses in the area who are open to working with anyone who wants to partner with them to improve the area.
My meeting with the mayor didn’t take place today as planned but I did meet with the President, and several members, of the town council. They were open and receptive to my concerns.
I first asked them about the sidewalks. When a sidewalk is repaired by a town the homeowners are billed for the repairs. This would be a hardship on many of the residents in this town so my question was whether any of the money paid to the town from the fracking industry could be used to pay for this. I refer to these monies as a bribe to allow the gas industry to be allowed to destroy the natural resources of an area. Unfortunately, the next town over, having more businesses and population received $500,000 while my town received $20,000. That’s not going to pay for new sidewalks.
The sidewalks are a big issue for the city council. They are aware the homeowners can’t afford the costs for repairs and are applying for grants to make the necessary improvements. The secretary at this point walked in and said the sidewalks while an issue for a while became a bigger issue when she spotted using the streets to get around in my chair. 🙂
After the sidewalks it was time to talk about a food pantry. Again the sticking point is a location. To operate a food pantry you need dedicated space to store non-perishable items, not just a one day spot for distribution. I asked if there were any rooms in the borough building, there weren’t. The gentleman who runs the kids’ programs said he wanted to offer space in his building but the need for a dedicated space for storage he just didn’t have.
On my way to the borough building I spotted a store front for sale right on Main Street. It’s listed through the same Realty company my son works for. I took that as a good sign. I am now in negotiations with the seller to use one part of this rather large building to run a food pantry and exchange shop (where people can drop off unneeded items and take what they want). If he agrees to allow us to use the building he can claim that portion of the building as write off on his taxes as a charitable contribution. Keep your fingers crossed. If this should fall through there are a lot of vacant homes that we might be able to negotiate a deal on although depending on the house if handicap accessibility is an issue I would have to find someone else to run the program.
I’ve also been asked to join the masters horticulture program, which will allow me to be more helpful to new gardeners. It’s something I’ll look into later as I have my hands full at the moment and with school getting out soon my grandchildren will be with me for a month.
All in all, it was a productive week and I am very thankful for the people I’ve met and spoken with.
The Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step