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