Semcac staff shares impact of services with County Board

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County commissioners welcomed spring but resisted the temptation to venture outside for the Tuesday, April 23, board meeting. The board heard from Semcac Outreach Services Case Manager Lynn Mensink and Semcac’s transportation director, Jim Wolter regarding Semcac’s Fillmore County impact report.

Wolter outlined that Semcac serves seven counties and has an office in each, making it more convenient for residents to obtain services they need.

Wolter shared statistics about the services that Semcac has provided, including over 17,000 meals provided to 569 senior citizens at Senior Dining sites and more than 20,000 meals delivered through Meals on Wheels. Energy assistance was provided to 564 households for winter utility payments and 149 households received additional crisis assistance.

Mensink related she works with housing and takes applications for programs. She highlighted there were 46 children from 17 households in the Head Start program, the county food shelf provided supplemental food for 437 households – comprised of 1,152 people – for a total of 2,698 visits. Also, 15 households attended budgeting and financial education classes, 53 individuals received crisis assistance, 200 families received Christmas gifts through the Rural Concerns Task Force, which helps families with gifts and gift cards for local groceries.

Mensink said Semcac provides referrals to and information about other agencies that can help people who need it.

Wolter summarized that across Semcac, 24,694 unduplicated individuals were served in 2018.

Commissioner Duane Bakke noted, “Five percent of residents used the food shelf and 5 to 10% have energy assistance. That’s concerning, I think, because if that many are using it, that means that there are likely twice that many who need it.”

Mensink concurred, stating, “That shows that there are people who could use it but don’t because they think that somebody else could use it more than they can.”

She added that she knows that residents know that Semcac has a presence in Preston because she receives phone calls from people in need when she’s at home and does her best to refer them to the appropriate officials.

Commissioner Randy Dahl, who serves as representative to the Semcac board, said Semcac works very well with county public health and community services departments and there is “a lot of interaction with the various entities.”

Bakke brought up transportation – specifically the availability of public buses traveling between towns – because he’d been asked by an individual attending an event at which he was guest speaker about whether it would be possible for the county to provide a bus to travel from Lanesboro to Preston for groceries.

Semcac has a fleet of buses, Rolling Hills Transit, that has served in Chatfield, Rushford and the Spring Valley-Ostrander-Wykoff area, among other locations. Bakke asked, “Do the people who live in Lanesboro, Harmony and Peterson even know it exists?”

He observed that it seemed that the person who asked him about it was unaware of the service being available to everyone who wishes to catch the bus from one town to the next or across town to carry out errands.

Mensink replied that she does distribute the Rolling Hills bus system phone number to interested persons if they inquire.

Dahl stated, “That is one area of transportation that the state is putting money into.”

He pointed out that there has been a decline in the number of Head Start sites within the county, and that funding for Head Start buses was decreased and more funding allocated for public transit.

The commissioners asked Wolter how service was established in the cities that Rolling Hills serves and whether funding was received from those cities.

Wolter answered, at the outset, funding had been given but no longer exists. It was reiterated by the Semcac representatives that anyone can ride Rolling Hills buses, and that curb-to-curb service is available if someone makes an appointment to have a driver pick them up to share transportation to numerous typical destinations.

Conversation turned back toward the annual report, and before departing, Mensink added that she is part of the Fillmore County Salvation Army service unit board, offering opportunities to intervene when Semcac programs don’t apply to an individual’s specific situations of need.