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