Kennett Area Community Service unveils Resource Center to help local families
By Steven Hoffman
Local families who are struggling now have a valuable new resource that they can turn to in their time of need.
The Kennett Area Community Service (KACS) debuted its new Resource Center with an open house on June 15 that included a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Chester County Commissioners.
Melanie Weiler, the executive director of Kennett Area Community Service, said that the Resource Center will allow the organization to meet its goal of working with families as they find a bridge out of poverty. The KACS Food Cupboard distributes approximately 40,000 pounds of food each month to families in need in the Kennett, Unionville-Chadds Ford, and Avon Grove school districts, while the organization also runs an Emergency Assistance Program that assists more than 1,100 individuals annually with rental payments, security deposits, utility bills and other necessities.
“We're thrilled about the Resource Center,” Weiler said. “We never thought that we would need more space so quickly.”
She explained that when she joined the Kennett Area Community Service as its executive director in March of 2013, the first board meeting that she attended included a very serious discussion. The Kennett Area Community Service had just moved into its new home less than four years earlier, and it was already running out of space, especially for the operations of the Food Cupboard.
“We found out that there was a lot more poverty than we were expecting,” explained Robert George, the board president of the Kennett Area Community Service. “The needs were really staggering.”
In 2009, for example, KACS was helping 130 families each month with emergency assistance, but by 2014 that number had grown to 520 families—and KACS was utilizing all its available space at 136 West Cedar Street.
When the home that was located right next door, at 138 West Cedar Street, went up for sale, KACS officials knew that it was the perfect opportunity to expand. The effort to purchase the property and renovate it to suit the organization's needs would take several years—and lots of help from a variety of sources.
KACS purchased the building in August of 2015.
In addition to the funding through the Chester County Department of Community Development, KACS received help from the Longwood Foundation. Tri-M helped with the lighting and wiring in the building. MOBAC Construction handled a lot of the contracting work on the new facility.
The grant from the county helped immensely, amounting to nearly half of the funding necessary for the project.
County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone explained that the county was able to provide Kennett Area Community Service with a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant to help fund the acquisition of the property and some of the exterior improvements.
“Our residents who need emergency help have somewhere to turn,” Cozzone said of the Resource Center.
Terence Farrell, the chairman of the Chester County Commissioners board, talked about the organization's importance to the community that it serves.
“Chester County is pleased to play a part in supporting Kennett Area Community Service and the work that you do,” Farrell said.
County Commissioner Michelle Kichline observed the 100 or so people in attendance and said that the turnout for the open house was an illustration of the support that KACS has in the community.
According to Weiler, the Resource Center provides additional space to KACS, allowing the organization to increase the amount of space dedicated to the food cupboard. This will help make the distribution of food more efficient.
The additional space will be used in a variety of ways by KACS. There are expanded case management offices where the staff can work with clients in a family-friendly but private environment, as well as more training and meeting space for KACS and partner agency programs. Bathing and laundry facilities are now available on-site for KACS clients who are currently seeking permanent housing. There are expanded raised bed gardens for food. There is also office space for partner agencies to deliver services on-site to the KACS client base. Some of the rooms in the building will be utilized by six agencies that Kennett Area Community Service actively partners with to provide services to families. KACS is also currently in negotiations with two other agencies who might also set up offices in the Resource Center.
“Our vision is to reduce poverty and we can't do that without our partners and supporters,” Weiler explained.
She added that partnering with so many other agencies is part of the larger vision to focus much more on working with families to find a bridge out of poverty.
“We want to journey with the families as they work their way out of poverty,” Weiler explained.
The Resource Center represents an important next step in the evolution of KACS. Throughout its history, the organization has evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. The Kennett Area Community Service traces its roots to 1954, when a man named Norman Connell provided the food for Christmas dinners to a handful of families in need. That effort continued and grew. Kennett Square resident Bill Buffington took over as the director in 1966, and for the next four decades he was the driving force behind an organization that expanded in every aspect of its operations. Buffington started the Kennett Food Cupboard in 1996, and that effort has grown since then.
Weiler said that the organization is thankful to supporters for helping KACS launch the Resource Center and continue to serve families in the area.
“The Resource Center is all about getting the resources to the people who need them,” Weiler explained. “One agency can't end poverty. The government can't end poverty. It takes a whole community to end poverty. We are poised to reduce poverty one person at a time.”