It’s difficult to measure the impact that Community Services of Starke County has on the people it serves. No one, however, wants to gamble on what life would be like for those who need a “hand up,” as Director Cindy Benke says.
“We are the only food pantry in the county,” Benke says.
The food pantry is only one of the many programs coordinated by the organization. It is the place for people to apply for energy assistance for their heating bills. It operates the senior centers in Knox and North Liberty, operates a meals program for seniors, and provides transportation services for those who need it.
“Our mission is to provide services to the elderly and the low-income residents so they may maintain their independence in their homes,” Benke says.
Her organization is also quick to identify a need and work with community partners to find a solution. Those needs could include assistance with paying rent.
“People’s needs vary continuously,” she adds.
One problem she is trying to solve is the lack of nearby grocery stores in the northern end of the county. Benke says she hopes to find a location in that area to open a third site for food distribution in the Hamlet area.
As Community Services marks its 45th anniversary, there is a need for funding so the agency can continue to provide services to the neighbors, families and people who need it most. To help raise money, a Radiothon event is planned for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on November 11, on WKVI radio.
This is a new fundraiser for the organization. Benke says the organizers are “learning as they go” about the task. The hope is that it will become a successful annual event.
“We hope to accomplish two things with the fundraiser – first, to inform people about us, and let people know we exist and what we do,” Benke says.
Some in the community refer to the organization as the Council on Aging, an outdated name for services that are not solely focused on the elderly. Community Services is for people of all ages, and administers programs targeting specific needs of residents.
“We are here for all people in our community, and people don’t realize we are here,” Benke says.
The second goal is to raise money, Benke says.
“Government cutbacks and a failing economy have made it difficult for us,” Benke says. “We have not been receiving the donations this year that we normally receive. It’s also been more difficult to find grants. We still have to keep things going.”
The food pantry alone has seen a 25% increase in the number of people seeking help. The amount of food coming from regional food banks has been reduced for several months. When this happens, money to keep the food pantry open comes from other programs, which, in turn, creates difficulties regarding the services those programs provide.
“People are struggling to take care of themselves,” Benke says. “People who would normally donate to us are coming to us for help. We need to raise more funds so we can continue to help those in need.”
Proceeds from the Radiothon will benefit all the agency’s programs. “In the end, the citizens of Starke County will benefit as well,” Benke says.
In addition to the established programs, the Community Services staff members are also addressing the changing needs of families in the community. In October a new program called It Takes a Village debuted, focusing on kinship care, which refers to family members other than parents who are tasked with raising relatives’ children. It is designed to be similar to a support group, but one that offers child care, and lets adults and children in these situations know they are not alone.
“There are a lot of people in this situation,” Benke says.