By Bruce Karnick
Amy Sutton, executive director of Hastings Family Service, has been in her role for roughly six months and a lot has happened for her and HFS. Her promotion kicked off the changes at HFS that also included the retirement of Mary Kocak, the 27year food shelf director. Adding to the chaos of the positional transitions is coming out of a pandemic that forced many changes to the services offered at HFS along with the expansion of the building and Sutton has had an eventful first six months.
“During COVID, we purchased the adjacent building,” explained Sutton. “I feel like my job that entire two years was space management. What happened for us was a very quick transition when everything shut down. We had to move from an inperson market food experience to a no contact drive thru experience and we did it in a weekend's time. That takes a very different intake process trying to figure out the logistics, but it takes a ton more space, like, more than what people would understand. Suddenly, we needed pallets of empty boxes. We needed pallets of packed boxes. We needed socially distanced sorting and packing stations to keep our volunteers safe. We went from having hundreds of volunteers a week in our building to a core group of about 28 people who kept everything going for us. There was no working from home it was all hands on deck and I have schlepped my share of boxes and packed my share of stuff. Everyone just needed to jump in where we needed to jump in.”
That need for space meant that the forced closing of the Rivertown Treasures store was a blessing in disguise for the team because it became a temporary warehouse space.
“We needed space, where do you go with all of that because we're still doing the drive thru. The building next door, my office had always been in the front window, and I'd come in every day and the building next door had this for rent sign forever in the window. I finally said to Chris one day, ‘Can I just call them and see if they would sell it to us,’ because we would not be able to rent it. We would need a place because of the warehousing needs to punch through the walls and be able to get back and forth and fortunately, that all came to fruition and then we were able to renovate this spring,” added Sutton.
The food shelf and Rivertown Treasures store has since reopened for business, services and programming have expanded some and things are returning to a little less chaotic that Sutton had experienced her first six months in charge.
PreCOVID, HFS would service 2528 families per week, now, they are seeing 2528 families per hour on their market express days. This is due to the diligent work of the staff and volunteers at HFS and their creativity in helping people by thinking outside the box. For example, a resident stopped in looking for help paying for either prescriptions or rent, currently something that HFS is not able to handle. What they can do however is offer assistance with groceries and personal care items. That assistance and shifting the thinking allowed them to help the person save on those costs to move the funds to rent or prescriptions. The person was also referred to some of the many county and state programs available, so there are options and creative ways that HFS helps with the problems faced by the community.
“One of my concerns at this point is we already are seeing the uptick and what happens when we have food and gas prices go up,” noted Sutton. “That disproportionately affects the people that we serve because they're already living very close to the edge and their budgets can't take that. One of the educational pieces that we started during COVID that I think is helping now is that we told people then, even if you come in and we have to say no to whatever it is that you're asking for, how can we help? Can we instead give you food so you can take your dollars that you were going to spend at the grocery store and put it over here to do that piece?”
What about their Market on the Move van? They are currently using that to do more food rescuetype runs while they move staffing pieces around to make it more of a servicetype vehicle. Food rescue is where they bring the van to area stores that have products that are close to expiration, places like Kwik Trip or Coborn’s donate to the food shelf. The products are still good, but people are bypassing them when purchasing so the items get donated and HFS rescues that food before it expires and gets it distributed to families in need.
The last piece discussed was Rivertown Treasures and that storefront being open again to the public. The struggle has been to find the right person to hire to open the store on Saturdays.
“Yes, it's a revenue source for the food shelf and yes, we provide clothing and household vouchers, but there's a significant group of people in the middle who don't want to ask for help or have a hard time doing that. But also, can't afford to go and buy their things for regular prices. And we're missing that group because that's the group that's out there working and their budget is right at the line, but we haven't been open during a time when they're able to come in,” explained Sutton.
If you are in need of assistance, please remember to reach out to HFS, they are here to help the community even if that help is pointing you in the right direction for the kind of assistance you need if they cannot do it themselves. Stop down and check out the thrift store and if you are in a position to do so, give them a call and ask what items they need most for donations. Often times, feminine hygiene products are in short supply on their shelves, so one can never go wrong with those kinds of donations if you would rather do that than a cash donation.
For more information, visit www.hastingsfamilyservice. org.
Amy Sutton, Executive Director of Hastings Family Service, visited the Hastings Area Rotary Club to give an update on her first six months in her position with HFS. COVID prompted a massive overhaul of the way that HFS operates and helped build new programs that will remain part of the offerings of HFS. Photo by Bruce Karnick