By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DEWITT — The mission of the DeWitt Referral Center is to serve others, and it needs more room to provide that service. A capital campaign to build a larger center has resumed, after the COVID-19 pandemic suspended fundraising efforts. St. Joseph Parish and the DeWitt Knights of Columbus are helping in those efforts.
Volunteers from the parish and other faith communities have financially supported the center, which opened in 1974 as a drop-in service for seniors. Today, the center provides emergency assistance and food and referral services to residents of the Central DeWitt Community School District. It also operates a thrift store and donation center open to the public.
The center’s board president, Larry Fuglsang, said he reached out to pastors in the community for help during an ecumenical meeting via Zoom this fall and their response was encouraging. In October, St. Joseph’s finance and parish councils approved a $25,000 donation to the building campaign.
“The center provides assistance to many individuals and families who are having struggles in their lives with basic needs,” said Mike Barnes, the parish’s finance council president. “Many in our parish and surrounding communities provide donations of food, clothing and financial assistance to help sustain operations. This campaign is to help fund a new building project.”
Donation funds come from a bequest the parish received several years ago and not from the general fund. Barnes said the donation comes from gains on investments and “we are paying it forward.”
Individual parishioners also are encouraged to donate to the campaign. In the parish’s bulletin a note read, “This is another way of showing ‘God’s Light’ in our community.”
Knights of Columbus Council 959 also made a $15,000 donation to be spread out over three years, said Grand Knight Don Fuglsang. The council challenged fellow Knights to raise additional money for the campaign. For years, the Knights have donated $20 a month to the center and now want to support the capital campaign because the center has helped so many people in the community, he said.
Don Fuglsang said the Knights plan to raise additional funds for the center next year through its flag project in which people pay to have U.S. flags placed in yards on holidays such as Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans’ Day.
Larry Fuglsang said the former firehouse that the center calls home is “old and beyond its life cycle.” A new, larger center would provide separate areas for the food pantry and clothing center and more room for donations and display of sale items. The clothing center/resale shop should be able to generate more funds, which in turn support the food pantry, he noted.
The $995,000 capital campaign kicked off in January. In the first two months nearly one quarter of the campaign had been pledged. “We were encouraged. Then COVID-19 hit,” Larry Fuglsang said. The campaign committee suspended the drive so it could focus efforts on helping the community. During the beginning of the pandemic, the food pantry assisted more families than it typically served. The number has since gone down.
In July, the committee renewed the capital campaign. “We are now over the halfway mark,” he said. “We had to redesign our campaign since we could not go out and visit and talk with people and businesses in person.” The campaign committee has focused on virtual meetings and social media efforts. A virtual auction is being developed.
A YouTube video to promote the campaign features center director Michelle Ehlinger giving a tour. She talks about crowded conditions and lack of privacy for meeting with clients seeking assistance. She states that she has met with some clients who stayed in their car because they wanted more privacy. The new center would have two private rooms to meet with clients, separate food pantry and donation center, each with their own donation delivery doors, a meeting room, dressing room and more.
For more information on the DeWitt Referral Center visit https://dewittreferralcenter.org/ or watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgIA0lMBBhQ