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'The demand is still there': Chippewa Falls nonprofit celebrates six months of success in fighting a hidden issue

A local nonprofit is celebrating six months of being open to the public — and the time has been both successful and eye-opening.

The Legacy Community Center and newly reopened Agnes’ Table has been open in downtown Chippewa Falls for six months, and in that time a large amount of food and a substantial number of people in need have come in and out of their doors. In just half a year, the Legacy Community Center has distributed 12,386 pounds of nonperishable food items from its emergency food closet to 631 households.

Dave Gordon, president of the Legacy Community Center Board of Directors, said the need for facilities like the Legacy Community Center often goes unnoticed in the Chippewa Valley.

“You don’t see poverty in Chippewa Falls,” Gordon said. “You don’t see people sleeping under the bridge, you don’t see people living in their cars, and you don’t see people begging on the street corners. It’s easy to say that we don’t have a problem. That’s one thing we are trying to help people understand that even though they don’t see it, the demand for food and services is still there.”

The Legacy Community Center is staffed by three women: Rebecca Al-awdi (executive director), Karen Anderson (community outreach coordinator) and Almeada Sullivan (Agnes’ Table program director). In addition, the facilities require approximately 100 volunteer hours a week to fully staff both programs.

Besides distributing food to families in need, the Legacy Community Center in its first six months has also redirected 123 individuals to other agencies for additional help with services like shelter and transportation — issues people deal with daily in addition to food shortage. Of those 123 people, 53 percent were homeless.

Gordon said one of the goals of the Legacy Community Center is to become a location where both people in need and community members alike can go to learn about what the city needs to do to address various issues.

“We hope to become a source for the community to see the needs of the people and decide what we are going to do about the issues,” Gordon said. “And if we have the services available in this community to address the problems, are there things we can do together to be more effective in helping folks?”

In addition to the Legacy Community Center, the new location for Agnes’ Table is reaching more people than ever before. After being located in a local Methodist church for 14 years, the new facility next to the Legacy Community Center is open five days a week instead of three. It has served 5,810 meals to date, which includes 1,080 breakfasts and 200 lunches (not previously possible due to the church facility’s limited availability).

Besides providing food and a meal or two for someone in need, Agnes’ Table is a place for people to gather, socialize and use a safe haven, Gordon said.

“There was a gentleman in here eating breakfast and he said, ‘I can tell you what Agnes’ Table means to me’,” Gordon said. “He said his wife died a couple of months ago and on Monday mornings he gets up, gets dressed and comes over here for breakfast. He said this place is helping him get up in the morning. So, it’s not only the food, it’s other things that are important, too.”

The holiday season is one of the times of the year where both the Legacy Community Center and Agnes’ Table see peak foot traffic. More and more families walk through looking for food for the holidays, and up to 100 people a night attend dinner at Agnes’ Table to escape the cold and eat a warm meal. However, along with peak use comes the age old issue of finances.

The two facilities are funded by United Way (which provides $12,000 a year for three years to Agnes’ Table), Rutledge Charities, the Dental Foundation and above all else individual donations from members of the community.

Gordon said even though there are 13 food pantries in Chippewa County, one aspect sets the Legacy Community Center apart from other operations: availability. The Legacy Community Center is open five days a week; in comparison, six of the 13 food pantries in the county are open once a month and five are open once a week.

Gordon said the need still outstrips the services his and other pantries are able to provide, and that facilities in the area need the continued support of the community to stay open.

“Obviously, now the challenge is to keep going,” Gordon said. “It costs money to run this facility: we have to rent space, we have a staff of three, food and many other things. Our message to the community is we’re here and there is a proven need, so we need you to continue to support us.”

“You don’t see poverty in Chippewa Falls. ... That’s one thing we are trying to help people understand that even though they don’t see it, the demand for food and services is still there.” Dave Gordon, president of the Legacy Community Center Board of Directors

Chippewa Falls Senior Center to hold ceremony honoring emergency service, military and Girl Scouts

The Chippewa Falls community is coming together this weekend to recognize and celebrate an overlooked part of the community.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, the Chippewa Falls Senior Center is hosting an event to celebrate area military and emergency service personnel. Along with celebrating the professionals in these occupations, the ceremony will also remember the three Girl Scouts and mother who were killed in a tragic hit-and-run crash.

The 20-minute outdoor event will begin and end with prayers delivered by guest speakers and echo taps being played. On display will be individual flags representing each of the five branches of military service surrounding the United States flag and emergency service flags. The Girl Scouts will have a dedicated flag as well. In addition to the flags, various colored trees will be on display in correspondence with the flags.

Following the presentation, the community members in attendance will be invited into the senior center to meet and speak with the emergency service members at the event to help bringing the community together in mutual respect.

Following the recent Girl Scout tragedy, director of the Chippewa Falls Senior Center Angie Walker said she felt it was important for the community to come together and recognize both the Girl Scouts and the men and women who encounter heartbreaking scenarios like this as part of their profession.

“Without them, we’d be lost,” Walker said. “We wouldn’t stand a chance, so the tragedy that happened woke me up and said, ‘What about all of these men and women who have given their lives for our lives?’ They’re there for us, so we need to let them know we’re here for them.”

Walker said it is incredibly important to shine a light on the men and women in the emergency service and military branches, because they don’t get the common recognition they deserve.

“They’re forgotten,” Walker said. “As a profession they give to their community and we expect them on the spur of the moment. We rely on these people 24/7 and they have to go from one desperation call to another. We don’t know what impact it all makes on them. It’s got to be so internally embedded to be able to go when it’s 50 below and still come or it’s 100 degrees and still come.”

Preceding the 2 p.m. ceremony, the center is holding an “Breakfast with Santa” event. Before attending the ceremony, the public is invited to the three-hour event bringing Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the building to take pictures and have breakfast with the children in attendance.

After all the children have had their fun in the morning, and after the community comes together in the afternoon to honor the military, the emergency services and the Girl Scouts, Walker said the hope for the event is to have the Girl Scout tragedy help bring the community together in a time of extreme mourning.

“Having the Girl Scout tree ... (it) wouldn’t be the same without one,” Walker said. “Whether we knew the families or not, each one of us was very touched and felt that pain and suffering. Our hearts went out to these people and to have their flag and tree stand with the emergency services’ is an honor.”

Parker Reed / PARKER REED, The Herald 

Members of the Chippewa Falls Senior Center preparing for Saturday's ceremony.

Evers vows to fight lame-duck bill, seek common ground

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Gov.-elect Tony Evers on Thursday continued to rail against lame-duck Republicans for voting to weaken his powers, but added that he still hopes to work with them upon taking office in January.

“As I’ve said many times before, the entire package is a hot mess. The people of Wisconsin did not vote for these changes. The people of Wisconsin voted for the opportunity to elect a governor, and they elected me,” said Evers, who spoke with reporters after leaving a meeting of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents at UW-La Crosse.

“We have some big issues in the state of Wisconsin — whether it’s transportation, whether it’s funding for education, whether it’s making sure we have accessible and affordable health care,” he said. “We have to make sure we reach agreement and common ground on these issues, and I’ll continue to do that.”

In the wee hours on Wednesday, after hotly contested meetings behind closed doors, Republican lawmakers voted to strip the governorship of many of the powers Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has enjoyed over the past eight years.

The legislation would likely prevent Evers from fulfilling several of his campaign promises, including pulling Wisconsin from a multistate legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and dissolving the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Walker’s controversial jobs agency.

It would also shrink the window for early voting in Madison and Milwaukee — this after record early voting totals helped Democrats win every statewide race in the November election.

Evers has requested a meeting with Walker, in hopes of persuading the current governor to veto the bill. On Thursday, Evers said no such meeting had been set.

“My staff is trying to work though that, to make that happen,” he said.

If signed by Walker, the bill figures to ignite a legal firestorm with Evers and Democrats fighting the legislation in court.

A law similar to the early voting measure was struck down by a federal judge in 2016.

While lamenting the possibility of a drawn-out legal battle to begin his term, Evers indicated that he does not expect this latest power struggle to cause irreparable damage between the two parties.

“It’s part of my DNA to look for common ground — regardless of what happens with this,” he said. “When I ran for this, my goal was to make sure I work for the people of Wisconsin to solve our problems.”

While some Republicans have framed the bill as a long-needed check on a governorship that has grown too powerful, Robin Vos, the speaker of the Assembly, suggested his motivations were largely partisan.

Without the legislation, he said, “we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”

Evers underscored the perceived partisan nature of the lame-duck Legislature on Thursday, though it was not the common ground he had in mind.

“I’d bet my last dollar that if Gov. Walker had won, we would not be having this conversation,” he said.