It was January of 2002 when Rev. Rick King, pastor of First Congregational Church, Rev. Mark Dumke, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, and Rev. Shirley Duncanson, then-pastor of McKinley United Methodist Church convened the first meeting of the Winona Area Poverty Roundtable. Even though Winona doesn't have the visible abject poverty so often found in larger cities, including cities in the Upper Midwest, they saw that Winona has a significant number of people who live in poverty or who struggle to make ends meet. Through the Winona Ministerium, they determined to address the challenge. That first meeting four years ago drew more than fifty people to talk about poverty in Winona. Over the next few months, twenty to thirty people met regularly to develop a mission statement and strategic plan. Deacon Justin Green, Diocese of Winona, facilitated the process that resulted in a plan being presented to and approved by the Roundtable in 2003.
Already several elements have gone from planning to reality. A perceived need for hot meals in the community, available to people who could not make use of the food shelf at Winona Volunteer Services because they had no means of cooking the food, was met by the Catholic Worker Community. A desire to recycle no longer needed furniture and other items and keep them from the landfill was met by WinonaShares.org. Jim Allaire provided the computing expertise, and Saint Mary's University hosts the site on its server. Expansion of WinonaShares.org to include information about community resources and opportunities for volunteer service in the community is a late addition.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the Roundtable is New Focus, a four- month long classroom and mentoring program through which people learn how to budget and how to make better spending and saving decisions. Dorothy Ruppert, recently retired Executive Director of the Winona County Chapter of the American Red Cross, was employed to direct New Focus, and several churches in Winona support it with monthly contributions. St. Casimir Parish houses the program at no cost.
At a meeting on February 27, Roundtable members were updated on successes, and told of plans for the future. Within the next month, Winona Volunteer Services will launch a Coordinated Emergency Assistance Program, with the support of at least fifteen churches. When asked to identify unmet needs in the community, other areas in which the faith community might take a leadership role and collaborate with governmental agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations, Roundtable members spoke of health care and of issues associated with incarceration - programs at the county jail and discharge programs.
The Roundtable Leadership Team consists of Rev. King, Rev. Dumke; Deacon Green of St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. John Nepomucene Parishes; Beth Forkner Moe, Executive Director of United Way of the Greater Winona Area; and Suzanne Belongia, Director of the Office of Parish and Community Social Action at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Winona. At the meeting, Craig Brooks, Director of the Winona County Department of Human Services was added to the team, replacing Jeanne Mayer, formerly of the Winona County Collaborative.
For more information call: Rev. King, 452-4829, Deacon Green, 454-4643.