Community Services of Starke County Serves Residents With Dignity
Writer / Matt Keating
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
Cindy Benke, executive director of Community Services of Starke County (CSSC), says the array of programs the center offers has made a tremendous positive impact on the community.
“We offer the health equipment loan program, public transportation, food pantry, energy assistance, senior tax program, two senior nutrition sites, and the Salvation Army,” Benke says. “We also contract with over 100 other entities to give services to the community. The public transportation is run through Indiana Department of Transportation and Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission.”
Benke notes that CSSC also provides transportation to anyone who needs it, for just about any reason.
“We even took a gentleman to the park to go fishing,” Benke says. “Our slogan is, ‘You need a ride? We provide!’ There are many people who don’t have transportation who benefit from this. It is cost effective and simple. Just call and schedule a ride.”
CSSC also helps individuals with health issues.
“Many people have health issues and need transportation to medical appointments,” Benke says. “They may not have any family to help them. We can provide the transportation they need to keep them healthy. Our food pantry provides much-needed nutrition to those in need. We are designed to be a three-day emergency supply. They actually receive more than that. They can receive assistance once per month.”
CSSC now has two satellite food sites. “One is in North Judson,” Benke says. “The other is in Hamlet. People in the southern part of the county can pick up food from the Methodist Church in North Judson on the third Monday of each month. People in the north part of the county can pick up food at the fairgrounds on the third Friday of the month. All three sites require you to call for an appointment.”
The satellite sites are available from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on pickup days.
“People must call before the pickup day for an appointment,” Benke says.
Benke adds that people in need of food shouldn’t hesitate to contact them.
“The food we provide really helps those with children who don’t get school meals on the weekends, or seniors who are on a limited budget,” Benke says. “It also helps those who are working but struggling to make ends meet. It helps them get by until the next check.”
Benke notes that it is rewarding to help those in need.
“One story in particular really stands out,” she says. “We had a gentleman who was really down and out. He was living in a camper with no stove. He walked 10 miles on the hottest day of the year to get to us. When he arrived, he was about to collapse. The food pantry was already closed for the day, and we were about 15 minutes from closing the whole place. He was hungry and exhausted. He had been eating dog food for three days. He ran out and didn’t have anything to give his dogs. He cared more about the dogs than himself. We gave him a sandwich and a bottle of water while we prepared his pantry box. He sat in the air conditioning, eating and resting. We had to get him things that either didn’t have to be cooked or could be cooked over an open fire. We just happened to get a donation of 200 pounds of potatoes that morning. We stocked him up. Of course, he received other necessary staples as well.”
Benke adds that they even provided him with some dog food.
“We then gave him a ride home,” Benke says. “He was so grateful and in tears. He hugged everyone and left with an optimistic attitude. This is why we do what we do. We are here to help the community in any way we possibly can. If we can’t help directly, we try to find resources that can help.”
The energy assistance program helps people with utility bills through the winter.
“The program begins in November,” Benke says. “Those who received help last year should have gotten applications in the mail around mid-September. We will receive applications to distribute around mid-October. We will provide you with an application toward the end of October. We do not process the applications. We send them to Michigan City for processing.”
The organization also has a senior assistance program.
“The senior program is wonderful,” Benke says. “It is mostly run through Northwest Indiana Community Action. We provide healthy, nutritious lunches for a suggested $3 donation. The meals are prepared by a gourmet chef from Meals on Wheels. They are so much better than what we used to receive prior to COVID.”
Benke notes that socialization is as important to seniors as nutrition to keep them healthy.
“We have daily activities at each site as well,” Benke says. “Those range from cards and games to exercise, to bingo and so much more. Every month the two sites get together for a joint activity. They have so much fun together. It is usually themed according to the season or the month. These sites provide a safe place for those who are 60 and over to get out and have fun.”
“We try to keep our finger on the pulse of the community and help in any way we can,” Benke continues. “November 10 is the second annual Radiothon. We have set a lofty goal of $20,000 this year. November 13 and 22 will be bingo at Knox senior site. November 14 is the joint senior center Thanksgiving dinner. December 9 is our annual bake sale at Bailey’s. December 11 and 20 is bingo as well. December 12 is the joint senior Christmas dinner. People can get involved by donating food or money.”
Benke says donations are always welcome.
“We always need donations for the food pantry,” Benke says. “We also accept donations for the general fund. Another way to get involved is to volunteer your time. We use volunteers at the front desk, in the food pantry and at both senior sites. Attending our various functions also helps. It’s discouraging to put time and money into our functions and no one comes.”
Benke notes that they get a lot of help from different community groups.
“We utilize several community resources,” Benke says. “We distribute an updated community resource book every two years. I just want people to know they are not alone in their time of need. Times are tough and getting tougher all the time. Everyone needs someone to lean on, a hand up from time to time. Think of us as a friend with lots of resources. We are here to help the whole community, not just the elderly. If there is a need, we try to fill it. If we can’t, we try to find someone who can.”