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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinAugust 22, 2003 Issue 

Wanted: Farmers needing aid

Emergency funds are available but no one is applying so search begins to provide help

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Defining its mission

The seven-member Diocesan Rural Life Committee has drafted a mission statement to direct its efforts to raise awareness of rural life issues around the diocese, said Mary Stubler, diocesan consultant.

The statement reads: "We, the Green Bay Diocesan Rural Life Committee, rooted in the Gospel and realizing our interdependence with all creation, strive to bring this awareness to all people."

The committee coordinates Rural Life Days held each spring at planting season. Next year's events will take place April 15 at St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Lakewood and April 22 at St. Joseph, Kellnersville.

Additionally, the committee is encouraging local parishes to hold Masses of Thanksgiving in November, focusing on particular local issues and concerns. Past Rural Life Masses of Thanksgiving have also collected items for local food pantries.

Members of the Rural Life Committee are Fr. Anthony Birdsall of Corpus Christi Parish, Sturgeon Bay; Chuck Feider (chairman) of New Holstein; Sr. Mary Samuel Brunner of St. Francis Solanus in Gresham; Bill Brey of Sturgeon Bay; Robert Miller of New Franken; Jane Rohan of New London; and Francis and Jo Ann Vanden Avond of Green Bay.

Dcn. Orvell DeBruin's phone hasn't been ringing a lot. And that worries him.

This retired director for rural life in the Green Bay Diocese knows many local farm families need help. And the diocesan Rural Life Disaster Grant Fund, for which Dcn. DeBruin is point man, has emergency funds to help. But no one has asked for a grant in four months.

A former farmer himself, Dcn. DeBruin knows "with low milk prices and the economy the way it is," that "the needs are all over the ballgame. People just don't have the money to pay certain bills or to get machinery fixed."

The diocese wants to help. Started in 1993, a year after severe Midwest flooding and a tornado that tore through Wautoma, the Rural Life Disaster Grant Fund offers one-time grants of $500 to local farmers in need. The fund is managed by Catholic Charities and receives funding from the St. Vincent de Paul Society, along with support from parishes and Rural Life Days' Mass collections. (Bishop's Appeal funds help with administrative costs.)

According to Karen Johnston, director of Catholic Charities, some grant recipients - once returned to their financial feet - have also donated to the fund. They are, Johnston said, "grateful for the care and support they received from the Diocese and, in particular, Dcn. DeBruin, at the time of their loss."

There are three requirements to apply for a grant:

• Be actively farming;

• Live within the 16-county area of the Green Bay Diocese;

• Have a serious need.

A home visit from Dcn. DeBruin verifies that need. After years of farming himself, he says he knows how to gauge how badly a farmer is hurting - or if someone could get by without help.

"The first answer you usually get," he said, "is 'Oh, I'm sure somebody else needs it worse than I do.' And then," he chuckled, "you know they need it."

However, finding those needs remains a problem. Most of Dcn. DeBruin's leads come, not from other farmers or parishes in rural areas, but from news reports of farm accidents or barn fires. He constantly scans the papers, but even large regional newspapers can't cover the entire 16 counties of the Green Bay Diocese. So this retired Seymour farmer needs help.

"If anybody knows of somebody that is really hurting," he said, "call me. I'll do anything I can to help."

To date, the Rural Life Disaster Grant Program has given 310 grants, totaling $152,500.

Anyone seeking assistance should call Dcn. DeBruin at (920)833-2279. More information on the fund itself is available from Dcn. DeBruin, or Catholic Charities, toll-free, at 877-500-3580, ext. 8234.

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