By Kathryn LeBrasseur, Alexandria, MN
I’m on a soap box! And I am truly frustrated! We have in the Douglas County area, non-profits, spontaneous citizen groups, governmental service providers ready to address the needs of every single citizen of any age group, and the people in need either don’t feel they should take advantage of the help or they are unaware of the help or don’t know how to go about getting it. Our news and radio media are supportive and try to spread the word. I don’t know the solution, but feel we truly need to find it.
Frustration number 1 is that no one in Douglas County should be hungry. There are so many opportunities to receive food and amazingly, the donors are frequently unable to give all of it away. The Farmers to Family Program, the United Way Food Drop, the Free Little Pantry, the Douglas County food shelf and NAPS for Seniors are just a few of the offerings. Daily, the food shelf and local farmers set out boxes of foods available to be picked up in front of the United Way Office on Hawthorne. Programs of giving and sharing and often no one to share it with. Is it pride or lack of information? In the good old days, no one had much and so everyone shared.
Frustration number 2 is the number of people concerned with fuel bills, repair of AC or furnace. Many are concerned with obtaining affordable housing or eviction. Perhaps minor repairs are necessary to adapt to disabilities. Once again, Habitat for Humanity, West Central Minnesota Community Action Programs, USDA Office, Northwest Minnesota Legal Services have trained persons waiting to help you handle these problems and in receiving financial help. They even advertise their programs in the Lakeland Shopper and other free publications to let you know about their help. They aren’t trying to hurt anyone’s pride. They are there to help us. And those of us who are no longer good at filling in forms or don’t have technology available can talk to them by phone.
Frustration number 3 is affordable transportation. Back before all those friendly lawsuits, we had volunteer drivers out in the county and cab companies in Alexandria that were subsidized by the city and county. Some agencies are creating new programs and finding ways to work with insurance companies to enable volunteers to drive their neighbors. An example is Ready Ride. Rainbow Rider is trying very hard to serve us also. Children and elderly share needs for transportation. Region 4 and WCMCAP are in the resolution game also. Car Care is unique in offering both repair services to vehicles of those in need and often providing a car to make work and family feasible.
Frustration number 4 is mental health. The pandemic isolation and needing some of the services mentioned above result in depression and other mental health issues. There is also help for that via Region 4 Crisis Line and through churches and fellowship programs. Mental Health and physical health programming is offered via Verizon Public Health and Alomere classes. The main frustration is why these resources aren’t being used. At least, not used enough.
There are more, but I have been ranting for some time now. Time to provide a few possible contacts. I have not given out telephone numbers for every group mentioned above, but actually most are listed in the phone book. This is not a complete listing either. It is primarily a listing compiled through efforts for helping the elderly. But there are three numbers I recommend that can give you the phone numbers or information regarding services you or someone you know needs. Love INC is a group sponsored by the local churches. It is the most viable place I know for receiving current and updated information regarding services for all ages. They can give timely and updated information about whether the agency is open to drop ins or if you need to call for a visit or whatever. Love INC’s number is 320-759-3022 and the website is www.loveincdouglas.org. It is definitely a starting point and covers the entire area, not just Alexandria. The United Way has a statewide number, simply 211. Like calling 911, the operator will ask your zip code and then narrow it down to type of service and give you contact information. That is easy to remember! For seniors, there is the Senior Linkage Line, 1-800-333-2433.
In addition to being frustrated, I feel extremely blessed to live in an area where help is created to fill needs by all groups. We know and love our law enforcement and elected officials. We may disagree once in a while, but we don’t hate and we are given every opportunity to express our opinion directly to them. Now, we need to find a way to help each other. That wonderful group created by our pandemic needs, “Helping Hands,” is truly an inspiration! I know some churches have programs developed to assist their members. Our county offices of Family Services and Veteran Affairs helps those involved but how do we reach the others? How do we become our “brother’s keeper” if our brother doesn’t want the help? Perhaps we can start small. Each of us reaching out to a person with information and kindness that we feel could use our help. Hopefully, this listing of available services can be a starting point.
Kathryn LeBrasseur is a former executive director of the Alexandria Senior Center and has been involved in a variety of community organizations, many focusing on senior issues. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.