Making Connections, Building Community

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

~~Lao Tzu

 

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “Making Connections, Building Community

  1. Wow, my head is spinning to with all of the leads you have. I went to a program that other night that is trying to save the farms we have left in the county. One of the things they’re doing is linking up people who need land to grow things to others with extra land. They have made 20 match ups so far, and are hoping for a lot more.

    Like

    1. I heard about that program to link existing farmers with proteges before they have to retire and to pass on the farm instead of selling the land to developers. I think it’s a wonderful program and hope more join in.

      Like

  2. Wow! That’s amazing! How exciting to find that there actually are some folks in your community with similar goals and interests. Congratulations on making some really meaningful connections.

    I may have mentioned this before, but there’s a non-profit in my neighborhood (well, technically in the neighborhood that starts a few blocks from me) that has been working for the past 10 years or so on the issue of food security. http://www.revision.coop/

    Over 36% of the population here lives under the poverty level, and nearly 20% speak no English, yet this little non-profit has managed to get over 300 households to start backyard gardens, they run 2 urban farms, a community kitchen, and are starting a new community owned grocery store/co-op where the backyard gardeners can earn extra money selling their surplus produce. They have a pretty interesting model where they get community buy-in by having a team of residents who work closely with the families on their gardens etc. Anyhow, you might want to peek through their site for inspiration if nothing else.

    Here’s hoping you can get the space for the food pantry, and maybe someday expand it to include some aspects of a farmer’s market.

    Like

    1. I do remember when you first told us about this coop and all the good they are doing. I’ve bookmarked the site for future reference and I’ll share it with those starting the community garden as well. I think of you and how much has changed since you moved in to your home. How you said your neighbors thought you strange with your garden. That’s me today, very few even want to have a garden, even a couple of tomato plants. I keep hoping one day I will be able to look out and see a small patch in everyone’s yard.You give me hope things can change here too.

      As for including a farmers’ market in the food pantry, I don’t know but I am thrilled to have been introduced to the man who is trying to get people to donate a row of food to the pantry. Now we just have to teach them how to prepare the fresh foods. I’ve already received squashes from my neighbors when they received them from the food pantry they drive to. They don’t know how to cook it or if they would like it.

      Like

  3. Way to go, Lois!!! We should all take such initiative. You are a power house. Gosh I wish they’d stop the fracking. They know how much damage it does and $500,000 doesn’t begin to cover the cost to human and plant life. You have done an amazing job where most of us just complain. I am so impressed I can’t even express it.

    Like

    1. I too wish they would stop the fracking. My water is tainted and my Pur filter doesn’t seem to be doing an adequate job of filtering it. I’m not sure what to do about that as my only option seems to be bottled and I hate the idea of contributing to a problem industry. Btw, my town didn’t receive that much money, we got $20,000! Isn’t that insane?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh man, Lois. Your enthusiasm and passion to make this world a better place starting in your community warms my heart. Can’t tell you how proud and an inspiration you are to me. 🙂

    Like

    1. Ah shucks. 🙂 Pat, I can’t just sit here and do nothing when I know how to accomplish these things and others don’t have the knowledge to make their situation better. It’s just not right to sit by and watch the struggles of so many.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Whoa!!!! You go girl! 🙂 🙂 This is wonderful and I can well imagine you are buzzing – through all your frustrations can come something great and nice to know there are others you can work/network with. I look forward to seeing more about this Lois, a food pantry!!!! Good on you 🙂
    I can’t believe homeowners have to pay for sidewalk repairs.

    Like

    1. Thank you Wendy. I am buzzing mostly because I see an opportunity but it’s slow moving to jump through all the hoops to make it happen.

      It’s pretty universal that homeowners are required to pay for the common sidewalks that run in front of their property. If you can’t afford to pay they attach a lien on your property. Same with paving a road the first time, they assess the cost to the homeowners based on how much of the road borders their property. Countries like the UK (sorry I’m not familiar with your tax set up) who charge huge taxes but then pay for medical, streets etc makes so much more sense to me than here where we pay the for example a gas tax to maintain the roads but then have to pay for them to go in.

      Like

      1. What’s that saying “all good things take time”? i am buzzing for you, will be so interested to watch how this goes for you and best of luck with it.
        You don’t pay council rates for this sort of thing? We pay 23 cents in the dollar for taxes but get free medical etc. Rates are quite high though, ours are $35 per week.

        Like

        1. How I wish! 😦 Everything here is set up to push the costs on the individual whether that’s our utilities or the local borough. What gets me is we pay a tax on gasoline which is supposed to be used to pay for road maintenance. Each state gets to set the gas tax based on how much it costs to keep up the roads. Most of that money goes to the interstate highways. But even with the tax our roads are a mess and with states going broke we hear rumors that the gas tax is being spent wherever the money is most needed.

          Like

  6. It sounds like the doors are opening, on like-minded people anyway. Lots of possibilities for you to pursue. I think you are going to be kept quite busy making some of your dreams come true.

    Like

    1. Cynthia, I do believe you are right and I will only become more busy the longer I live here. My son asked me if I didn’t have enough to do with the house. 🙂

      Like

    1. Hi Lindsay! Change is happening..slowly but it’s good to see. I keep meaning to stop by and thank you for your advice on the Rosehip oil for my dry skin. I’ve been using it all winter and it’s made a world of difference. I really have to set time aside to visit I’m sure you have been just as busy, if not busier with all you do.

      Like

I'd love to hear your thoughts, won't you please tell me what's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s