New committee breathing life into Community Needs Agency

Marianne Gillespie
Volunteers gather around to sort food and other items at the annual Community Needs Agency’s Christmas basket assembly at Illinois Valley Central High School.

A long-time Chillicothe charitable organization was in jeopardy of closing down for good until a committee of volunteers recently announced that they are working to keep it functioning.

Community Needs Agency, which is thought to have began in the 1970s, serves residents in need of assistance with emergency bills, signing up for utility assistance if residents meet certain income guidelines, school supplies and more. It is probably best known for its Christmas baskets, full of food for a Christmas meal along with other items, as well as toys for children funneled through the Chillicothe Optimist Club.

Nancy Blew, who was the CNA director for at least 35 years, retired in June, leaving the office closed.

“I don’t think anyone on the committee realized just how much Nancy did, until she retired,” said Karen Moewe, one of the new committee members. “Her retirement is well deserved and we wish her all the best. Our goal is to pick up where Nancy left off and to keep CNA operating at her standards.”

New committee members include Moewe, Darlene Kumpf, Doug Crew, the Revs. Ed Dutton and Ron Martz, Greg Hurd and Ben Alvarez, with more expected to join in the future. They will work with the current CNA board of directors.

“We couldn’t have come as far as we have, as quickly as we have if it hadn’t been for the assistance and the blessings of the former board,” Kumpf said.

Blew could not be reached for comment.

“She took care of all kinds of emergencies that would pop up,” Moewe said of Blew. “CNA couldn’t always pay (to fix a bill or need), but she helped find a resource for them.”

Sometimes that meant CNA, along with the local extension of the Salvation Army, possibly Chillicothe Township or a church, may have assisted in helping a needy resident who was threatened with a utility being shut off, or needed a prescription filled.

Her ability to help residents or find a resource for them was invaluable, Moewe said.

As the former Chillicothe Township supervisor, Moewe explained that CNA could help residents easier with an emergency than the township could.

“There are very, very, very strict guidelines. It’s a long application process. It’s a very time-consuming process,” Moewe said.

“CNA has more freedom to help out. They don’t have the government guidelines that the township does,” she added.

When Christmastime rolled around, Blew spearheaded the Christmas basket drive. Last year 105 baskets were put together, Moewe said, with 76 of those needing toys for children.

“(Blew) was the person who coordinated all of that,” Moewe said.

It also was the time of year that residents would donate money for the baskets, which also was used throughout the year to help residents. The listing of those who gave donations each week is staple in the holiday pages of the Chillicothe Times-Bulletin. Various groups fundraise for the cause as well.

“Our goal is to make sure the Christmas basket drive goes off,” Moewe said.

The committee already met with Sandy Dunbar, who coordinates the Optimists’ toy drive.

More information will be released soon about how residents can donate to the CNA basket drive, as well as signing up for a basket, or buying a toy for the toy drive.

Moewe said the group plans to keep the Christmas basket drive and its assembly the same as previous years.

With the Christmas basket drive in the forefront, there are other things the committee is considering.

The CNA office, which was on the side of the Chillicothe Public Works building on Santa Fe Avenue, will be located somewhere else. City officials are working on selling that building currently. Eventually, Moewe and Kumpf said, they plan to have a director in place, maybe after the New Year.

Another part of keeping CNA’s doors open is fundraising.

In recent years, funding that CNA used to get has dried up, from United Way funds to various grants.

“I think we’re going to have to be creative in our fundraising endeavors,” Kumpf said. “We will have to look for avenues to raise funds.”

The support that residents have given CNA in the past gives the new committee members hope for the future.

“I have faith that the people of Chillicothe will continue to support CNA,” Moewe said. “I think Chillicothe is very generous. (CNA) is direct aid to people in need.”