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Food Insecurities ~Neighbors in our town of 900 are quietly struggling

By Publisher Amy Frederick

     I walked into the building and my heart actually flip flopped a little.

But before I get to my flip flopping heart, let me start at the beginning.

The beginning of this story, for me, actually began last year when we were running the temporary grocery store. One of the things we saw during this time, is what I would call food insecurities – families and community residents who were struggling to buy groceries.

I honestly believed that once the grocery store got food stamps and WIC (Woman Infant Children) programs going again things would be okay.
Once the grocery store was opened, food stamps and Wic were a nightmare for Eric to get restarted. It was January
before the services were functional.

During this time, a very well meaning woman commented to a lady in the grocery store who had just lamented about not having the capability for food stamps. She should just go to McCook to get her groceries. I remember inwardly cringing, while commenting about the lack of food stamps, the lady was counting out nickels and dimes, and had just walked to the store. Jumping in the car for a trip to McCook once a week implies several things – beginning with, I have reliable transportation and I can afford the gas to put in my car to get there.

There are people who can’t. For many different and many valid reasons. I saw it with my own eyes. And while I’ve been here for the majority of my life, I was amazed at how many of the people that I just didn’t know.

Once the food stamp situation was up and running, I withdrew myself from the food situation and went back to my normal life. And then this fall, something happened in the community, that I actually can not write the details about in the newspaper. What I can tell you is, it’s a year later and issues and people we were concerned about last year are back on my radar.

So about two weeks ago I talked to Sheriff Nichols about my concerns, and then I went and visited with DCS Superintendent Jim Kent with my concerns. And the consensus was, yes, there is a problem.

I went to bed feeling unsettled, and prayed and thought about it.

The next morning, I called Jim back and asked if I could get a meeting set up with some people to do some brainstorming on things the community might be able to do to help address the issue, would he come. Yes. Then I called Justin Nichols, his reply was the same and he offered to let us meet in the Jury room and he was also able to bring his Deputy John Carter. From there we invited the Hitchcock County Food Pantry director, and Pastor Doug Hjelmsted, from the Ministerial Alliance and food pantry and Sally Hudson from the Senior Center, Kacey Fries my sister-in-law and sounding board and one of the BWTelcom owners, Mary Deyle from the bank and Rita Jones from the hospital.

We sat down for an hour and just talked about things we are seeing in the community and then we discussed where we felt changes could be made to help address the issues.

We spent the second half of our meeting discussing things we can do to help address the issues we identified. We are now working on several things.

One of the points brought out was there might be a stigma with the food pantry. Another point that was discussed was where the food pantry is located and when it is open.

The food pantry is currently located in a room in the old part of the nursing home. The Methodist Church has a volunteer that has been helping staff it a couple of afternoons a week.

We discussed how the food pantry could better serve the community in a more visual location. We discussed name changes, and different locations. The location that seemed to grab everyone’s attention was the Mason building across the street from the Courthouse. It is for sale. So we agreed to take a look at the building and see what was involved and then go from there.

Real Estate agent, Diana Martin, met up later with several of our group and we toured the building – and that dear readers, is when my heart flip flopped. I walked through the doors into that beautifully maintained building and all I could think is, God, help us figure this out so many good things for the community could happen with a foundation to build off of like this location and building offer.

     There is a room to the northside that would make a great food pantry or bread basket type of an area. And there is a small kitchen that could be used to put a pot of chili on, house a cookie jar and coffee pot.

There is room for a couple refrigerators and freezers as well as shelving; it also has room you could put a kitchen table and chairs by the kitchen. So now this room has the ability to be multifunctional. We don’t have a Teammates or mentoring type program in Benkelman, but what if we could use this area as a way of helping to meet a couple of needs. What if we had a few community members that would mentor a youth once a week? Cookies and a friend to help study for a test? You can grab a few things to take home on your way out the door if you’d like… or a bowl of soup once in a while… It could happen and so much more.
After touring the building everyone there was in agreement, this location has a huge potential to meet our community needs. We stood around talking and one of the ideas that popped up was something that has been discussed quite a bit already in other forums – the sheriff’s office is very short on space. If you’ve ever been down there, they are piled in like sardines. Across the hall is a logical place to expand, but the Extension office is currently located there. Does the Mason building have the possiblity of serving multiple needs? The Extension office could be moved across the street, the Sheriff’s office could expand across the hall, the Veterans office is in the Museum, the County Attorney’s office is in the Hospital Foundation Building. What would happen if the county could help with the food pantry situation and also consolidate their offices into one location? What if someone needing the pantry could walk into a building on mainstreet and it wouldn’t be a big deal, because there are several offices in that location a community member could also be going into?
So on Monday, Sheriff Justin Nichols and I approached the commissioners about it. They, along with many from our initial brainstorming group toured the building again Monday afternoon.
Commissioner Richard Bartholomew was pegged by his Commissioner peers to visit with Larry Wiese about what it would a cost estimate would be to put some walls in the building to make some offices and maybe a meeting area and to upgrade the bathrooms.
It will be discussed at their next commissioner meeting.

In the meantime, we are working on a Plan B if the commissioners decide it’s not a good fit for them. How to get a building bought, and how to utilize a non profit to make it work. The overwhelming response from the community so far has been this is a much needed situation, and since I feel like it has came back to us full circle from a year ago, my heart tells me our job is not done yet. I’m not sure where this path will lead. I think it’s best at this point to leave in God’s hands, to educate the public and see what doors God sees fit to open. I’m willing to help. I’m willing to lead. I’m willing to follow.

If you want to talk, you can call me in the evenings at 340-4648. If I don’t answer I’m busy and I’ll call you back. Or you can stop by the newspaper in Benkelman, I’ll be there specifically this Thursday from 3-5 if people want to stop by and visit. Different viewpoints and thoughts help make solid informed decisions.

It is, and will always be situations like this, when the community seems to come together so quickly that endears my heart to Benkelman.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Friends and neighbors in our town of 900 are quietly struggling.



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