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'People's stories are hard, right? Life is hard,' says non-profit leader whose organization is trying to 'fill the gaps.'

Main Pic BSCC.jpeg "How we're working to fill the gap." A mural expresses the mission of the Bellbrook Sugarcreek Community Support Center.
Jerry Kenney
"How we're working to fill the gap." A mural expresses the mission of the Bellbrook Sugarcreek Community Support Center.

A local non-profit knows they can't be all things to all people in need so they're doing what they can.

We recently paid a visit to the Bellbrook SugarCreek Community Support Center in downtown Bellbrook. The non-profit was getting ready to deliver food packages to about 50 families and individuals. The organization not only provides food to local residents but a host of services to, as Executive Director Kelsey Hurlburt says, fill in the gaps left by other non-profits.

Kelsey Hurlburt: When I started as the director three years ago, which if you can do quick math, it was the month the pandemic started. We were serving about 0 to 1 families a week. We were open for 4 hours a day and nobody really utilized our services. We had a lot of clothing and that was really all. So, when the pandemic hit, I was talking to a woman who was helping out in the food pantry, and we decided, you know, we were kind of thinking, schools have closed, kids who are getting free breakfast and lunch no longer have access to those services. Do we want to see how the community respond or do we want to be the response? So, we decided to be the response.

A couple weeks after that, I became the director, and as you can see now, we are serving about 50 families per week, providing food and non-food items. Food stamps do not cover toilet paper, laundry detergent, any of those items, so we want to make sure we can meet the needs of the family. And as you can see, every package here looks different. You know, regardless of what your family's dietary preferences are or, you know, you already have a whole bunch of green beans in your in your pantry, we don't want to give you more green beans. What can we give you that you're actually going to eat? So, every single order is personally packed for the family based on their needs.

Families or individuals contact us at any time to tell us that they're in need of food. We have them sit down with a social worker or one of our case managers so we can really find out what do you need besides food? Because we've had people come in before and say, 'Well, I really need food, but nothing that requires a can opener.' Okay, why not? 'Well, I don't have a can opener.' Okay, let's get you a can opener. If you only have one fork in your family, let's get a fork for everybody, more than one fork for everybody.

Jerry Kenney: Those sound like simple things, but those are actual... the reality of what you're dealing with.

KH: Absolutely. Yep. We see that all the time. We see people who come in and have, you know, we're sharing a plate. Two weeks ago, we had a mother of four and they were all living in their car, right, with nothing. We see this all the time, and it's to be honest, it's getting a lot worse. We're really you know, I'm part of different housing groups, different groups that are working on how can we really fix the crux of the issue because we know how structural this is. We know all the different pieces that have gone into making the system what it is. How can we really fix those structures and systems to really, truly help people? And that is a challenge. That's the eternal question, right?

JK: So, it's really a combination of basic and comprehensive needs that you're meeting in the community. Yes.

KH: Beyond the food and household necessities that we offer, we offer a computer class that we're about to launch for our third time. So, we managed to partner with Frontier Technology, and now we've since partnered with other organizations, and we now offer a seven week computer course where you learn everything from how to open up Word, how to save a document all the way to you've written a resume, you've written a cover letter, you know how to attach an email and send it. And then at the end of that class, you get to keep your laptop. So, that way you really can keep building on those skills. You can apply to jobs that require computer skills. What we really want is for people to be in jobs that have livable wages. It's not that useful to, for me to say, 'Hey, I got you a job at X, Y, Z company,' and them to say, 'Okay, thanks, great. I still need your food pantry.' Okay. Right. We want to put people in jobs where they can make enough to survive.

JK: What impact do you hope this organization is having on the community?

KH: We hope to be a place that people know that they can turn to, to fill in those gaps. There are great social support services that exist through the government and through nonprofits. We want to be and not, nobody can be everything and we can't be everything. We don't ever want to be a place that 600 families or people are driving through a week to try and get food. That's not what we do. But we need places like that that exist. We want people to know that there can be an individualized place where people know you as an individual and they can help meet those needs. They can hear what you're saying. And that's been the backbone behind everything that we do. As we've gotten bigger and we've grown more, there's been kind of more of a need for policies. Right? As most you know, you look at the most bureaucratic organizations to the most kind of loose free flying organizations, and there's probably a happy medium somewhere.

I never want us to be a place where we say, well, this is how it always is, no exceptions, because people's stories are hard, right? Life is hard. I want to continue to always be a place where your story here matters. You're not just a well, we've seen a ton of you write like, that's not what I ever want us to be, and that's not what we are. We need that individualized approach because that's the only way we can fight against the systems that have been put in place or have evolved in place that keep oppressing people.

JK: Kelsey Hurlburt is the executive director of Bellbrook Sugar Creek Community Support Center. Kelsey, thanks so much for your time and thanks for the tour of your organization. You're doing some great work.

KH: Thank you very much for coming down.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.