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Community service seeks support

Warren Sundstrom, right, helps Bev Kingman with a Meals on Wheels cooler Tuesday in Willmar. West Central Industries will host an event Saturday to raise money for a work skills program for those with disabilities and the Meals on Wheels program. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- A nonprofit agency that provides meals to senior citizens and jobs and services for individuals with disabilities is hoping a community event Saturday in Willmar will raise funds to help keep those programs going.

West Central Industries will host a festival from 8 a.m. to noon at its facility to raise money for a work skills program for those with disabilities and the Meals on Wheels program. A walk -- or roll for those in wheelchairs -- is one of the featured events. Organizers hope the event will raise at least $10,000. The money is needed to offset budget cuts while responding to increased needs for services for the elderly and individuals with disabilities.

The recession, reduced business contracts and decreased funding from the state Department of Human Services have put West Central Industries in a challenging financial position, said Charlie Oakes, executive director.

In the 18 months, West Central Industries "turned off lights, turned down the heat, cut 10 percent of the staff and 20 percent of the budget," he said.

West Central Industries trimmed its $5 million budget by more than $1 million but it's still coming up short.

"We think what we're doing matters to everybody," Oakes said.

Among other services, West Central Industries provides training and jobs for individuals with disabilities.

Local businesses hire clients for a variety of on-site jobs, but Oakes said the recession has resulted in fewer job contracts.

Some of the jobs, like preparing food for Willmar's growing Meals on Wheels program, are done at the facility.

One of their biggest revenue-generators is the work clients do at the county recycling center. In the past year, workers processed 18 tons of material a day, which is 3 percent more than the previous year, Oakes said.

But because of cheaper market values for aluminum and paper, revenues were down almost $400,000. "That's a pretty big hole to dig ourselves out of," Oakes said.

On top of that, there's been a 5 percent reduction in state funding the past two years.

It's the same story many agencies and businesses are facing.

"It's not just us. We understand that," Oakes said.

"The recession has hit everybody and it's especially hit nonprofits," said Jamin Johnson, manager of the resource center program at West Central Industries.

Oakes said he hopes the community responds to the fundraiser and helps "fill some of our budget hole."

This is the first time the agency has conducted a fundraiser.

Johnson said businesses, local artists and residents have responded with gusto and donated numerous items for the fundraiser. Those items include original artwork and jewelry for a silent auction, a handmade quilt for a raffle and thousands of books for all age groups for the used book sale. There will also be lawn games and a dunk tank.

An all-you-can-eat pancake and sausage meal will also be served.

WCI staff members plan to hosting the event, rain or shine.

"It's just a fun way for us to reach out to the community," Johnson said. "And indirectly find out a little bit about what we do while supporting it."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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