Community Action, Basic Needs Boutique, Helping Hands among services available
Photos by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald
TOP: The Fall River Community Action Team is currently working on a move into a larger location. Pictured from left is Karen Montgomery-Smith, Barb Walter, Don Hill, Jullian Zornes and Brenna Schmitt.
BOTTOM: Pat Collogan is one of several people involved in recently opening a new service called “Basic Needs Boutique” in the basement of the United Churches
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – A warm coat, a full stomach and a soft, clean bed are a few of the things most all of us often take for granted. But for anyone enduring the hardships of poverty or suffering from a sudden state of emergency due to a fire or other extreme occurrence, these things become a constant cause of worry.
Thankfully, for anyone living in the Hot Springs and Fall River County area, there are a number of resources available that can assist in times of need.
One such place is the Fall River Community Action Team (FRCAT), which is operated by a volunteer board of directors, led by President Jullian Zornes and Vice President/Treasurer Karen Montgomery-Smith. They currently rent space at 108 N. Chicago where they provide services available through Western South Dakota Community Action (WSDCA), including a commodities program, ACA Navigator Program, Low/No-Cost Energy Saving Kits, Furnace Repair/Replacement, Dakota Dream Savings Fund, VITA (income-based tax prep), and weatherization.
But what they are probably most known for is their Thrift Store and CA Boutique, which are operated independently from WSDCA and serve as a source of revenue for the local, volunteer-operated organization which needs outside funds to cover everyday expenses like rent and some utilities.
The Thrift Store offers a wide selection of used clothing, books and household items. Shoppers are required to pay $1 at the door and are then given a bag which they can then fill with as many items that fit. The CA Boutique offers individually priced new or nearly new clothing, books and household decor for sale, with many of their items carrying a higher price point, similar to a traditional second-hand retail store.
All of the items available through the thrift store and boutique are donated from community members, oftentimes as leftovers from rummage sales or when they are no longer wanted or needed by the original owner.
In cases of emergency, like when an individual does not have the $1 to pay in order to fill a shopping bag, there are vouchers available that can be filled out to gain access to their Thrift Store items at no-charge. Vouchers are available through law enforcement agencies like the Hot Springs Police Department and Fall River County Sheriff, as well as from the county’s Emergency Manager Frank Maynard.
In addition to Community Action, there are also other options for area residents to receive personal or household items, all of which are free or available for a free-will donation.
The Bearly Used Boutique and the Basic Needs Boutique, both located in the basement of the United Churches, are two more such places. Another is a program called Helping Hands, which is operated by Hot Springs resident Shawna Nelson who has been accumulating items in the garage of her home at 838 Houston Ave., and making them available for free to anyone who needs them.
The Hot Springs Ministerial Association Food Pantry, located across the hallway from Community Action in the Sand Star Building on North River Street, is yet another location in Hot Springs set up to assist those in need.
The two boutiques located in the United Churches have a close connection to the Ministerial Association and have two specifically different purposes. According to Sheryl Brost, Kay Birkholt and Pat Collogan, who are just a few of several people involved in the effort, the Bearly Used Boutique was first set up more than a dozen years ago as an extension to the church’s weekly spaghetti supper.
Brost said the spaghetti suppers in the basement of the church, which also includes assistance from community members from other area churches, are held each week on Thursday nights – through the fall, winter and spring – from 4:30 pm to 6 pm, and is open to the public for a free-will donation. It was set up to ensure that a free warm meal was made available at least once per week to anyone who needed it. And through that effort, an additional need was discovered to provide slightly-worn clothing items for the public, also at no charge or for a donation. And thus was born the Bearly Used Boutique, which is open only during the same hours of the spaghetti supper.
Recently, the effort to provide items like clothes was expanded to also include other household and personal-care items. Birkholt said the items available in the Basic Needs Boutique are designed to supplement the needs of a household that is perhaps having difficulty making their paychecks stretch from one to the other, or for a family in temporary crisis, for whatever reason. Collogan said a special “Fire Crisis Room” was also set up with enough emergency household supplies for two families.
Birkholt described how the Basic Needs Boutique was also able to assist a mother and her children escape from an abusive situation by providing some items to allow them to relocate to a safer environment.
When describing the services offered through both the boutiques in the United Churches, Birkholt said how important it was to have good communication amongst all of the various groups to ensure everyone’s individual needs are met, with minimal overlap. She said by having the boutiques connected with the food pantry through the churches and the ministerial association helps to do that, in addition to having individuals serving on multiple boards. Birkholt said that Brenna Schmitt is an individual who is on the Fall River Community Action Team but who also assists with the efforts of the two United Churches boutiques as well.
Anyone interested in donating items to either boutique can do so by dropping items off inside the church’s front door during the office hours of 9 am – 12 noon, Monday through Friday, or by calling Collogan at 440-2739. She said that since the Basic Needs Boutique was started nine weeks ago, they have already helped 56 guests with free items.
Birkholt added, that in an effort to serve the food pantry customers more efficiently, the ministerial association has expanded their hours and are now open Saturdays from 10 am to 12 noon. Their other regular weekday hours are from 1 pm – 3 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
No one is turned away to receive food from the food pantry, Birkholt said. How individuals typically get connected to the service is through a church, where they are usually asked to provide a drivers license or other ID to show where they live. Anyone in the Fall River County area is accepted, but if they are from Edgemont, they are typically directed to the Edgemont Food Pantry, assuming that it would be more convenient for them.
Chris Martin is the manager of the Hot Springs Food Pantry. Depending on the size of their household, customers of the food pantry are allowed to come see Martin once per month and receive a couple of pre-packed grocery sacks filled with a variety of foods including meats, cereal, bread and canned goods.
Much like the boutiques, the food pantry is designed to help supplement the family’s needs and not be their primary source of nourishment.
The Helping Hands organization, founded by Shawna Nelson, is an example of what an individual can do on their own to help their fellow neighbor in need.
Nelson said she decided to start her own “Helping Hands” in 2017 following a negative experience she had with the management of the Fall River Community Action Team and their hardline policy they have of requiring cash payment for their goods, even when she was in their store to donate several bags of clothes and attempting to barter for a jacket for her son, with part cash and part donated canned goods.
While she acknowledged that Community Action “has done a lot of good things” for the community, her personal experience that day was not a positive one.
Her Helping Hands effort then is one where all items are completely free and available to anyone who needs them, she said. While many of the things she has are clothes that have been donated to her from community members, she has also received totes full of toys and other many other things.
All of the items are in the garage of the home she shares with her mom, Nancy Nelson. She does not hold regular hours for people to stop by, but anyone with a need is asked to contact her through a Facebook message to her Helping Hands Facebook page or by contacting her through a call or text to 605-891-4226.
Nelson said she provides all of her items for free, with no questions asked, but recently started having her clients fill out a form so that she can keep a record of what they need, so that when she gets the item in, she knows how to contact them.
Linda Smith of Hot Springs is another individual who is making assisting local families in need a personal undertaking, much of which is motivated by how she feels Community Action is falling short of their mission.
Smith has taken her personal concerns to social media, where she has posted a number of criticisms about the organization on various Facebook chat sites. She has also organized an open meeting at the Hot Springs City Library to hear ideas from the public on how their needs can best be met. The meeting was held this past Tuesday, Jan. 7, from 3:30 pm to 7 pm.
In a phone interview last week, Smith said she was a former volunteer at Community Action but left after feeling her voice wasn’t being heard on how their thrift shop was being operated, and how some of the patrons were being treated by management. Included with her voiced concerns was a feeling that items were overpriced in the CA Boutique and how more exceptions should be made on the $1 per bag requirement to shop in the thrift shop.
When asked about their policy to charge $1 at the door before one can browse the items in the thrift shop, Fall River Community Action’s Karen Montgomery-Smith said that the policy was put in place about five years ago to help ensure their organization could cover their ongoing operational expenses. For many years prior to that, they operated under a free-will donation policy, but unfortunately, far too many people did not donate when taking items. To ensure their ongoing existence and ability to pay the $700 per month rent, along with their phone bill and sanitation bill, they instituted the $1 per bag policy.
And for the most part, its been very successful, she said, and has allowed them to earn enough money to cover their expenses, which does not include any wages of any kind. Everyone who works at FRCA does so on a volunteer basis, with the only paid employees being those who are compensated through programs like Experience Works or the Dept. of Labor.
Lillian Jensen and Loretta Stymiest are two Hot Springs residents who shop weekly in the Community Action Thrift Shop and CA Boutique. Neither reported having any negative experiences with Community Action and both said they feel the management there is doing an excellent job.
Stymiest said she finds all kinds of things in the store – from clothes to kitchen items to linens. She said she has been shopping there for many years and is happy to pay the $1 to fill up a bag. She said going to similar thrift stores in Rapid City, she ends up paying a lot more for things, because everything is individually marked. Here, $1 gets her much more.
Jensen agreed and said she gets good value for her $1 and was surprised to learn that some people think that it’s too much to ask. “They have to have income of some kind, because its all volunteers down there,” she added.
The FRCAT board of directors, which also includes board members Brenna Schmitt, Barb Walter and Bea Olson, said they recognize that while most people can afford $1 to receive a bag full of items, not everyone can, which is why they offer a voucher program for those who cannot afford the $1.
One criticism of their voucher program is that they do not allow people to complete the vouchers on site, and require them to go to one of the local law enforcement agencies to fill them out. Montgomery-Smith said this policy was put into place after learning they had once provided assistance to someone who was “running from the law.” She said they will not assist anyone who is wanted by law enforcement, which is why they require anyone seeking free assistance to first check in with law enforcement and get a voucher.
Another criticism of the FRCAT is that of being overcrowded in their current facility at 108 N. Chicago. That concern however is currently being addressed as the organization has begun the big task of loading everything up and moving into a new, much larger facility this month.
Beginning later this month, the new home for the Fall River Community Action Team’s boutique and thrift shop, and other Western South Dakota Community Action services, will be in the former Mammoth Signs building at 647 S 5th Street. The new building is a total of 4,700 sq. ft, compared to their current location of only about 1,000 sq. ft. It is located next door to the Fall River County South Annex building. FRCAT board member Brenna Schmitt said the location will be conveniently located to the county’s extension and health nurse offices located in the annex building.
Building owner Curt Lout has agreed to lease the building to the FRCAT at a rate of $1,000 per month, with $300 per month going towards the eventual purchase of the building. Montgomery-Smith said the lease is set up for two years, with the option to extend, but also with the hope that a grant can be secured within that two-year window to cover the remaining cost of the building by 2022. Tammy Ackerman with Exit Realty in Hot Springs is working with FRCAT and assisting them with their grant applications.
In addition to their two stores and the aforementioned services provided through the Western South Dakota Community Action, the FRCAT will also continue offering some of their other services in their new location, including their recycled clothing program which provides bundled fabric to S.D. Reservations for rugs and/or quilts, a free diaper program and a veterans assistance program that provides clothing and household items for the Veterans graduating from the programs at VA Black Hills Health Care System.