By Nancy McGill
It may be difficult to imagine homeless families in rural communities, but Julie Hibbs of Blue Valley Community Action said she met with one just last week.
“People do live in their car here,” Hibbs, BVCA’s executive director, said.
And, when school let out for the summer, many parents found themselves struggling just to afford lunches.
“The utilities were really high. Kids were home and eating more,” Hibbs said. “We had a lot of people in over the summer.”
It’s important to note, Hibbs said, that at least one parent in these families is working.
“They are the working poor,” Hibbs said.
It isn’t just a term. There are almost two million people in Nebraska who are in poverty with nearly 500,000 children, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
In Thayer County, BVCA serves roughly 30 to 40 families — that’s 80 individuals, including children to benefit from the organization’s food pantry.
“These families receive the full pantry,” Hibbs said. “Every month, six to 10 families get emergency food. We had a couple of families whose homes burned. They needed emergency assistance and food.”
For Christmas, BVCA is currently working to help 25 to 30 families. Churches have pitched in, too, but Hibbs said applications were still coming in after the deadline.
She said last year, some of the applications didn’t come in until the last minute and BVCA ended up with zero sponsors for four families.
This year, a tree went up in Blue Valley’s thirft store to cover for families who aren’t registered in time. Hibbs said people are welcome to donate.
“The real trees are at the banks. They do that every year for us,” Hibbs said.
The Thayer County and Bruning State banks will each have giving trees with nicknames of families on them. One want and one need are listed by each family on the tree.
Blue Valley also touts over 30 programs to help families and individuals, depending on what they qualify for. Programs include, housing, housing rehabilitation and utilities.
And Hibbs issued a reminder — that the rest of the year, the need for food and personal items is just as high.
“Over the holidays, we have a lot of stuff coming in and that will last into the spring,” she said. “From May to October or November, it gets a little tougher. The need is there all the time.”
She said another resource is the Food Bank of Lincoln’s mobile unit, which visits Hebron the second Tuesday of every month.
As of Oct. 1, BVCA became a partner of the Food Bank to help families apply for state assistance and Hibbs works through the Food Bank to purchase cheaper items for the local pantry.
“We try to be good stewards of the donations we receive. So, a couple of months ago, a case of 24 ham steaks was $4.38 and one pound of hamburger was $2.28 (from the Food Bank). I bought several cases after that. We have to spend our money as wisely as we can,” she said.
Personal items always come up short.
“Those are huge needs,” Hibbs said. “It costs me $55 for 96 rolls of toilet paper.”
For families who receive state assistance, such simple needs, like toothbrushes, laundry soap and toilet paper are expensive.
Hibbs also plugged Blue Valley’s shop on 4th Street in downtown Hebron.
“We really want the public to come and see what we have. The prices are reasonable,” she said. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, Blue Valley is open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Hibbs said they are closed Fridays because more volunteer staff is needed.