From the Worldwide Faith News archives

South Dakota agencies build drought response coalition

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Tue, 18 Feb 2003 15:54:04 -0600

Feb. 18, 2003  News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212)870-38037New York
By Donna Fisher*

RAPID CITY, S.D. (UMNS) - A statewide ecumenical effort to address South
Dakota's drought began with a simple idea: a hay lift.

Like many folks not impacted by the catastrophic drought and economic
disaster occurring on the western plains, the Rev. Greg Kroeger and Brook
McBride were surprised to learn that water sources had dried up months
earlier. The pair represented the United Methodist Church in initial
discussions this winter as part of the ecumenical response.

They found out that pastures had shriveled to bare and cracked ground. Cattle
had been sold or shipped east and north to be fed. Struggling ranchers with
wells or springs had already signed staggering loans for hay to feed
remaining livestock. A few came to the back door of Church Response's food
pantry in Rapid City.

The first idea for a response was to have a hay lift, according to Kroeger.
But, he explained, "as we got into discussion, we learned that the problem
was much broader and more complex than donated hay."

"This is not just a down year," he added. "We're talking about an emptying of
the land that hasn't been seen since the '30s, and (the people are) not
coming back. We need to feed people who are trying to feed us - with
spiritual support, with an all-encompassing view towards their needs."

Hands Across South Dakota has been established as a coalition of church,
farm, ranch and government interests. Committees within Hands Across South
Dakota work on feed donation, distribution and trucking, direct payment for
family assistance, food banks and counseling, including financial and
employment-relocation counseling. 

Board members include Dennis Wiese, president of the South Dakota Farmers
Union; Tom Walsh of Lutheran Social Services; the Rev. Peter Funch
representing the South Dakota Presbytery; the Rev. Barry Dawson, representing
the Association of Christian Churches of South Dakota; and Craig Rosenberg,
with Minnehaha County Extension. 

With funds from the church association, Janelle Bischoff was hired to
coordinate Hands Across South Dakota, working out of office space donated by
the South Dakota Farmers Union in Huron. 

"I see more groups coming together to help - like Farmer's Union, Dakotas
Rural Action, Cattlemen's Association - groups that used to be political. I
see more unity; they don't care about the political part, they just want to
work together," Bischoff said.

Needs assessments are under way. Extension specialists and agriculture
organizations will continue gathering and shipping loads of hay and other
feed. Farm organizations are coordinating delivery points in some counties
where farmers can drop off donated hay.

Through the South Dakota Corn Utilization project, ethanol producers donated
$15,000 to buy dry distillers grains. Two other ethanol plants have donated
additional dry distillers grain and pelleted soybean hulls for alternative

The association's member denominations have been invited to take offerings
for this relief effort. Besides United Methodists, participating
denominations include the American Baptist Convention, Roman Catholic Church,
Disciples of Christ Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mennonite
Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church of America and United
Church of Christ Church. 

United Methodists will take offerings Feb. 23 and March 3.

Bill Keck, Pennington County Extension horticulturist and a member of Canyon
Lake United Methodist Church, is encouraging church members to contribute to
Hands Across South Dakota. "We are all dependent upon agriculture - even Main
Street Rapid City and Sioux Falls," he said. "If our agriculture falls apart,
there's no Main Street."

# # #

*Fisher is the communications coordinator for the United Methodist Dakotas
Annual Conference.

United Methodist News Service
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