Helping agency seeks community help

By C.J. Barbre

It was a quiet, but urgent voice in a room full of women at the Myers Businesswomen's Luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

"The [Lindsay-Strathmore] Coordinating Council is in trouble. It may not be much longer at its present location. That would affect a lot of people," said Teresa Serna who donates time in the Coordinating Council Thrift Shop. It seemed reminiscent of George Baily's perceived troubles in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Teresa said her church, Sacred Heart, passes an extra collection plate once a month specifically for the Coordinating Council, but she didn't know if other churches were still giving. "Apparently there may not be any Christmas baskets this year," she said.

After the luncheon, Serna said Cindy Rios is acting president of the Board of Directors of LSCC. Former LSCC Executive Director Rose Renteria-Rains reportedly gave up her position overseeing the day-to-day operation back in June. Sallie McDonald has taken over as interim director. She was working at the Council three days a week when Rose departed. McDonald now works full time and would not be opposed to holding the permanent executive director position, assuming the council stays in business. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and they have been reopening Friday evenings from 5-9 or 9:30 p.m. depending on the flow of people from the Farmers Market.

McDonald said the operating budget is about $3,000 per month including salaries for the executive director and one part-time person. Everything else is volunteer work. She said the cash shortage is because the former executive director failed to apply for two grants LSCC has traditionally received for operating expenses.

Renteria-Rains did not respond to the Gazette's several attempts to contact her.

Over at the Lindsay Department of Public Safety where Cindy Rios is Administrative Supervisor, she said LSCC had lost the bulk of its funding. In addition, Rios said the city, which owns the former Jessup Tire Shop that now houses the Coordinating Council, wants to charge the organization rent, but hasn't started charging yet.

"Scot wants to see us get funding to be a viable organization," Rios said, referring to Lindsay City Manager Scot Townsend.

City of Lindsay Chief Financial Officer Kenny Walker confirmed that, "This is something that has been discussed with the Coordinating Council for several months. This was part of the belt-tightening in the city. The city is no longer able to offer as much support financially as it has in the past," he said.

Asked if it wasn't local churches supporting the organization, Rios said, "The catholic church is the largest contributor, but I don't have an exact figure because I don't do the bookkeeping." She said the interim director makes the deposits and LSCC uses the accounting firm of Pine Langley out of Porterville to do the books.

McDonald said Sacred Hart always contributes between $300 and $400 per month and sometimes higher. She said since July the only other Lindsay churches that have contributed are Immanuel Baptist which has contributed $50-$60 each month and the First Baptist which contributed $125 in September.

Rios referred to the organization as being "faith-based" but when asked if that means they promote religion, she said perhaps better wording would be "church supported."

Former Executive Director Carole Ellis said in a 2000 interview, "Our organization has a network of resources and continues to collaborate with other agencies. It has been operating as an emergency assistance agency for more than 30 years. It was incorporated and granted non-profit status in 1979. Since that time, the organization has been a mainstay in the community. It is well-supported by area churches, businesses and residents."

She said the Council provides responsible coordination of relief work or special assistance to residents of Lindsay, Strathmore, Tonyville, Plainview and the surrounding unincorporated areas. This includes fund-raising, and soliciting and distributing the resources received.

Ellis said although the board of directors consisting of community members oversees the Council, she was responsible for the day-to-day operation.

Rios said, "On average, based on reports from previous directors, we serve 350-400 families per month." She said that was primarily through food donations from Food Link. Rios said CSET comes in on Monday afternoons and assists families in applying for funding for financial assistance in paying their utilities.

"The majority of the people are the working poor," Rios said, "and seasonal workers who feel they must choose between feeding their children and paying bills." She added that the children are fed in school.

McDonald said food recipients can come in once every two weeks. She said people who get food stamps may only come in once a month, after the 15th. But, she said right now food supplies are low, and the Coordinating Council is out of money. She said she is only ordering food that they get free, such as oranges, beans and rice through the USDA.

"If I had money I could order burritos. We are charged $40 for delivery", she said. "Food Link gave us $3,500 to spend before the end of September and we order from what they have available."

Sandy Beals, a supervisor at Food Link explained, "There are about 80 agencies that receive food from us." She said about 20 percent of the food has a fee, but the remaining 80 percent has no charge. "They're not buying food, they're paying a fee, 15 cents per pound. The value of the product makes no difference. The fee covers a little bit of our cost of getting the food in and out to them. But it's difficult for these nonprofits to raise money of course." She said Food Link applies for a grant every year from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. And every year they get a grant. The grant year runs from November to October, and the agencies are then notified as to how much money they have been allotted for the entire year.

Beals said about Renteria-Rains, "The prior director didn't order a lot of food, not nearly what we expected, because Lindsay has a large number of these people [who are eligible for food subsidies]." She said when McDonald said they received $3,500, she was talking about a credit for the fees. Beals said LSCC still has $208 worth of credit left that it needs to use by the end of October or Food Link will give it to another agency. She said McDonald was very new at the job.

In a later phone interview, McDonald said, "Maybe my choice of words were wrong because to us it's like buying, but what she [Sandy Beals] said is true. But there is a $40 delivery fee. I have the invoice."

Meanwhile LSCC Acting President Cindy Rios said, because of private concerns in her own life, she had delegated many of her responsibilities to LSCC Vice President Jack Young, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church on East Tulare Road.

Pastor Young said, "We have in the past received quite a bit of funding from United Way. It seems that was used primarily to help support the organization. We got other funds from other places to help support people in the community; from CSET and Food Link and that type of organization. We were able to get some funds to help people with rent and utilities - emergency assistance. The problem is United Way seems to be lacking. We haven't actually received any funds from them for more than a year. Our operating budget is just about depleted. We're trying to get the community involved. If people in the community can help those who are not working, or are in need, that would actually be the best way to do it I think."

Young said board members went to a meeting with United Way and several other organizations in Porterville and Strathmore that provide food to different agencies. "United Way said we need to look for other outlets. Their funding has been cut because of a decline in contributions all around. We are putting in another request from them, but even if we get it, it won't come until January."

Young said the Lindsay Ministerial Association started the Coordinating Council to have central clearing house for people who were going to churches for assistance. He said the coordinating council has tried to establish a clearing-house data base on the needy. He said some churches support the LSCC but some are small, "and probably don't feel they can afford both. "What we're asking the community to do is become involved in the Council."

Asked if they were having an annual fall fund-raiser, standard operating procedure for local non-profits, Young replied, "We were going to have a fund-raiser this fall, but for a number of reasons that hasn't come about. We will probably have one in the spring." He said the interim director is primarily there to assist people in filling out requests for assistance. Young said, "Rose resigned because of church responsibilities." Rose is the wife of Pastor Dale Rains of the New Beginnings Family Fellowship on West Tulare Road.

Young said they haven't come up with a replacement yet, and want to first make sure they have the funding in hand, and that the organization will continue to be vital. He said if LSCC closes, clients would need to go to Porterville or Visalia. He said Strathmore has some organization for food distribution, but emergency rent and utilities could be more problematic.

"United Way failed to give us all the funds that they had agreed to last year, which we then didn't get this year. We had at least two checks that were coming, totaling $9,000. It just put us in a bind," Young said.

"In this community this is a needed service and nobody else doe it. We've got a lot of grant requests out, and a lot of funding requests out, but a lot of those take time." Young said Jim Maxfield at United Way in Tulare was their contact person.

Maxfield, Director of Organizational Development, said LSCC had applied for federal EFSP (Emergency Food and Shelter Program) funds, but missed the deadline. He said EFSP funds allow the agency to assist people with delayed bills or needed assistance to get down the road. "Secondly, I understand they failed to apply in a timely fashion for CSET funds which also allowed them funds to assist those in needs."

Maxfield said, "In fairness to Rose, I'm not sure if she was made aware of these deadlines." He said United Way is what is referred to as an affiliated agency. "We are in the process of working with them [LSCC] almost as we speak. He said United Way was helping LSCC evaluate or establish long-range plans and goals to strengthen their board of directors and, "Most importantly to discover ways in which they can work with like-programs on the East side of the Valley here."

Maxfield said, "Both Jack and Cindy bring a lot of credibility with them and seem to have invested their hearts in this, but there are some steps that have to be accomplished before they receive any additional funding. One of those steps is to see that the community is really supporting these programs. One of their goals is to say, 'This is going to go away if we cannot demonstrate wider community support.'"

McDonald said, "I'm working with EFSP to clear up the audit so we can get funds."

Again you get a glimmer of George Bailey, this time half-running, emotionally exhausted but ecstatic, down the middle of town shouting, "Hello you broken-down old Savings and Loan!"

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