By LEAH STRATMANN
The monthly meeting of Community Walton, the grass roots organization dedicated to solving local problems, met last week to discuss ongoing projects. One of the goals of the group for this year is to gain federal recognition for the Muscogee Nation of Florida and the April meeting took place in the council house.
On this issue, Chuck Tucker reported that Congressmen Miller and Southerland have put together a bill to before the House of Representatives on May 3. Tucker said there had been rumors that Sen. Marco Rubio was not interested in supporting the legislation, but it turns out Rubio very much supports the bill and wants it known the issue is a bipartisan one and he has also introduced a bill, so two bills will be presented on May 3.
Guest speaker Virgil Smith, a member of Village Baptist Church and the man who has spearheaded the Rural Relief Coalition commented, “There are supernatural things going on in Bruce. The coalition started the first workshop with five members representing five churches and the third workshop brought 40 people representing 25 groups,” he said.
Smith noted the Emerald Coast Fellowship of Baptist Churches has taken an interest in the coalition and the fellowship represents 23 churches, apart from the other Baptist churches that are already involved.
The primary and ongoing need of the rural poor is food. Tucker said deliveries from the USDA are spotty and often present new challenges. “The last delivery featured chickens packed 40 pounds to the bag, making it difficult for us, but we do appreciate the food and we will make it work,” he said.
To supplement the food purchased and provided, Village Baptist Church collects a specific canned food type for three weeks and then delivers the canned goods to the pantry, Smith noted. “The primary needs are food, housing, health care and clothing.”
Aside from meeting basic living needs, the coalition wants to find a way for people to sustain themselves and not be dependent upon others to provide for them. To this end, one simple project is the collection of firewood, which is abundantly available. The firewood will be given to people who need it, but extra wood will be sold. As Tucker noted, “This gives people a way to give back in a small way that does not cost them anything.”
“When you work with people who have lost hope, you have to break the pattern,” Smith opined. “We do not know all the existing skills of the people in the area, but once we know that, we can direct our efforts towards self-sufficiency.”
Another plan of the group is to plant Christmas trees on the available land. Smith said the initial investment to buy the trees is small and it only takes about four years to have a crop of trees and the market is here to sell the trees. “We need to plant by December or January, so we still have some time and we certainly have the people to farm it,” Smith said.
Another avenue for revenue and creating small businessmen is to use the Internet to sell Native American crafts.
Rev. Benjamin Tandy, one of the members of Community Walton suggested the group secure the status of a faith-based non-profit group getting a 501(3) c tax exemption certificate. “There is about $6 billion dollars sitting in Washington for distribution to faith-based groups. All we have to have is tax-free status and someone to write the grants to apply for those funds,” he said.
Tucker reported that to date the pantry has distributed 55,000 pounds of food. “We have been blessed,” he said. “The way we found out about the needs of area residents was from the minister at Bruce Methodist Church.”
Community Walton chairman Jan Stevens reported the work is ongoing for 2-1-1. “COPE is moving forward and has put their arms around this and they have written several grants. This project is still alive and happening, but we must grow at a pace that is manageable.”