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Preparing Thanksgiving meals

Thanks to the efforts of Shared Blessings, the Bonne Terre-based non-profit transitional housing, along community members, thousands of needy Parkland residents will be enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving dinner once again this year instead of going hungry.

"This is our sixth year of preparing and delivering free Thanksgiving meals," said Shelly Bess, Shared Blessings director. "It started because our county announced that we would have more kids go home in that school district that would not eat again until they went back to school. That’s what started this whole thing. That first year we fed 500 and it has grown by 500 every year. Last year was right at 2,500 meals."

Bess explained that preparations for Thanksgiving started in earnest for Shared Blessings about two weeks ago.

"You know, the community puts this meal on and we reach out through the building of Shared Blessings, but it is the community that comes out and reaches into these homes that have no food," she said. "When we deliver those meals, I would unfortunately say that 50 percent of those meals go into homes where there is no other food.

"Again, it’s our community that makes this happen. We announced at the very get-go that Shared Blessings receives no benefit from it, but at the same time it doesn’t cost us because the community brings in the food, provides the manpower and turns in the names of those who need the meals.

"We get those from the low-end housing. We get those from the senior Meals-on-Wheels around us, but the community calls in and says, ‘I know these folks don’t have food.’ As long as the community provides all of that, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday we go out on those routes where we know we will find the folks who need the food."

In recent days, Shared Blessings received some big help from a local family who wanted to do a special project at the shelter.

“They came in around April and told us that they wanted to redo our kitchen because they had been there during our Thanksgiving outreach,” Bess said. “So, they made a plan but then we didn’t hear from them again until around Halloween. I was a little apprehensive, but they said, ‘Within three days we’re gonna get it done.’ They did, and it is marvelous. You wouldn’t recognize it."

The group began its renovation work in the kitchen on the first of November and finished it within the time period it had been promised.

“They moved our kitchen sink to make it where it flows,” Bess said. “We will have no problem assembling the plates of food for Thanksgiving this year or ever again. We’ve always had to leave our cabinets open and keep the heater running so our pipes wouldn’t freeze in the wintertime.

“They moved the sink off the exterior wall, painted everything, removed a wall between the dining room and the kitchen and opened it up where it flows the way it should have been all along. It’s just miraculous the difference they made in that building.”

Priscilla "Prissy" Sellers of Park Hills explained why her family took on the task of remodeling Shared Blessing’s kitchen.

“Usually we have family Thanksgiving together, but I think it was around two years ago that we were kind of dispersed as a family,” she said. “My one daughter, her husband and seven children were still here, and they heard about Shared Blessings. They said, ‘Why don’t we just go down there and see what we can do to pitch in and help out?'

“They helped distribute food they were delivering to the community for Thanksgiving Day. My daughter was so impressed with the work that Shared Blessings was doing in reaching out to the community and helping out those in need, but she saw they were in need themselves. They were a little disorganized and she realized with a little rearrangement they could become more expedient in doing their work.”

Sellers had been involved in catering for years and knew her way around a kitchen — and so, both she and her daughter knew how a kitchen could be better organized to make that task easier for everyone involved.

“My daughter brought the idea back to our family — there’s 22 of us in our family right here,” Sellers explained. “She asked, ‘Do you think that, if we can get permission from them, we can go in and reorganize their kitchen and dining room to operate more efficiently?’”

The family decided it sounded like a great idea and, after receiving permission from Shared Blessings, began getting all of their schedules set up to get the work completed before this year’s Thanksgiving deliveries.

“We just started asking for volunteers,” Sellers said. “We talked to different Christian families interested in getting involved in community affairs. We said, ‘Here’s the needs. Here’s what we’d like to do. Here’s how we’d like to do it and we just need volunteers.’

“We went on Craig’s List and Buy, Sell, Trade trying to find stainless steel equipment to trade out what was in there. We wanted to get new flooring, paint — so, we’d just go out and talk to anybody we could asking if they could help with the labor or donations, help prepare food or whatever was needed.”

Sellers said people were “gracious” in giving to a project to help an organization that was already in the process of helping others.

“We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said.

Everybody got involved in the project. Children in the family as young as 4 picked up a paint roller and got after it.

“Of course, we came along later and put on a second coat,” Sellers said.

She also noted that, even though a color scheme for the project had not been provided the donors, it was obvious that God was in charge because all the paint and other materials donated were in a shade of gray that matched perfectly with the stainless steel.

Bess said, “We would have never been able to do anything like this without their help. It was unattainable for us to do any type of major renovation. We just do what we have to do to exist. We just don’t have it in our budget. That building was built in 1910 and so it always needs something. We were blessed early in the spring whenever we put out a fundraiser and insulated the walls. That was the first time they’d ever been insulated.”

So, with a beautiful and more efficient kitchen in place, Shared Blessings is ready to go and hitting the ground running on all cylinders — well, not so fast.

Asked if the organization has any last-minute needs that the community could help out with, Bess said, “Last year we prepared and sent out 75 turkeys and 25 hams. This year we’re trying to veer away from that many turkeys for safety reasons. Currently we have around 25 hams and five turkeys, so we’re desperately low.

"What we try to send out is a traditional Thanksgiving meal and so in the past we’ve been able to send out anything from cranberry sauce to a dessert, bottle of water and a roll. Whatever is in your mindset of what goes into a traditional Thanksgiving meal, we need it. It can come prepared or you can just send the ingredients.

"We will have a group come to the shelter starting on Wednesday and they will cook until Saturday. We prepare some of it there, but we also need to have some of it come to Shared Blessings ready to be placed on the to-go plates and sent out. Bring anything that’s already prepared sometime between Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. Uncooked items can be dropped by 24-hours a day at the shelter located at 518 Grove St.

She said they are feeding those who are hungry, but they have requests made for the most basic of human necessities.

"Last year we had a lady ask for a comb. We had another lady ask for a bar of soap. When the volunteers come back in tears because they’ve witnessed something they’ve never seen before. The next day, when we take that warm meal, we also take the necessities that we know they need."

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Scouts gather food for pantry

There were a lot of happy faces Saturday morning when local Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts gathered along with their families and scout leaders at the Elvins Food Pantry in Park Hills to unload bags and boxes of community-donated items for the 34th annual Scouting for Food — the largest one-day food drive in the United States.

The event began on the prior weekend when Boy Scouts distributed bags at homes around the area and were collected on the following Saturday.

This year's donated items included canned fruits and vegetables; peanut butter; cereal; pasta; juice; meals in a box; canned soups; macaroni and cheese; and items high in protein such as canned tuna and chicken or chili and beef stew, along with other nonperishable items.

Troop 417 Boy Scout Clifton Bell, 10, was the first one out of the car to help his mom move the donated items into a shopping cart to move into the food pantry for processing. He’d already spent the entire morning collecting food from the doorsteps of area residents who took part in the worthy project.

Asked why he was spending a cold November weekend morning collecting food for the needy, Bell said, “It was to help all the people in need of food, so they can get a meal.”

His mom, Brandi Bell, looked on proudly as he spoke about helping the hungry.

“We’re really happy to help out the Boy Scouts with this project to feed people in our area who are needing food to put on their table.

Inside the food pantry were volunteers Judy Mattingly and Tammy Chapman who were preparing to take in all of the donations.

Matthingly, who has served as a food pantry volunteer for two years, said her main job is to show those using the pantry what is available, let them pick out what they want and help in any way that’s needed.

“If they can’t pick something up, I help,” she said. “Then I bring them around and the ladies on this side will continue to assist them.”

Both said that the stress on food shelters only increases during the holidays.

“They are always in need,” Chapman said.

Mattingly added, “It never stops.”

Asked why she believes it’s important to be a food pantry volunteer, she said, “I get a reward from it. I feel good knowing that I’m being able to help somebody. It might be just a little something here or a little something there, but I feel like I’m helping, and I don’t think people do that enough anymore.”

Chapman said, “I’m here to help people and I enjoy them coming through. You get to hear a little bit about their life and what they’re going through — and why they’re coming in here. Some people it’s not by choice — it’s because they have to, so they can feed their children or to help get through that month. Elderly people — they’ve got to get through that month.”

Elvins Food Pantry Board President Randy King has headed up the Elvins Food Pantry since 2010. His father- and mother-in-law started it 20 years ago in the old Elvins gas station. Ever since the food pantry began it has made a difference in the lives of so many. King said it’s groups like the Boy Scouts that have kept it going and growing for two decades.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “We need it so bad right now. It’s always worked out where we’ve had enough. The Lord is in control. We’ll get down to nearly nothing on canned goods and something comes up. He’s never failed us yet.”

King expects a larger-than-normal crowd this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday being celebrated Thursday.

“We’re serving 407 families now a month,” he said. “That’s family, not people. It’s about 1,200 people. Along with the scouts we have several churches that help us out, United Way of St. Francois County, Missouri Foundation for Health and lots of individuals. If it wasn’t for our individuals that donate to us, we probably wouldn’t be here.”

Asked what kind of donations the food pantry needs, King said, “We can always use canned goods — canned meats of some kind, like ravioli, — tuna, Vienna sausages and all kinds of dry goods like macaroni and cheese.

Boy Scout Troop 417 Scoutmaster Gene Bannister was on hand to provide any help to the scouts and their families as needed. He’s worked with the organization about 30 years.

“Scouting for Food actually started down in Fredericktown as an Eagle Scout project,” he said. “A young man started it down there as a project and it grew. Now about every Boy Scout council in the country does it at one point or another during the year.

“Not everybody here does it in November. Some do it in April. Some do it in May, but we do it at this time because this is the time of year when the food pantries are tapped. The kids love it. Not only is it helping in a way that not everybody is doing, but it’s also giving back to their community and they’re learning the value of service to their brothers and sisters in this world — and they are, look at them!”

Anyone who forgot to put out food on Saturday, can drop off food donations at any Goodwill location until Nov. 24. While monetary donations are discouraged because of their difficulty to track, if desired, donations can be submitted by check to Greater St. Louis Area Council that will be combined into one large check to the St. Louis Area Food Bank.

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Spier charged with assault

A Potosi man has been charged after a man was assaulted Sunday.

Isaac Spier, 19, has been charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. His bond was set at $75,000.

According to the probable cause statement, a man who had been staying at Spier's residence entered Spier's bedroom and started an argument after Spier sprayed him with a chemical window cleaner. Spier told the man to leave his room but the man refused and threw a small safe in his direction.

Spier reportedly then grabbed a machete and chased the man down the hallway. When Spier was close enough, he "slashed" the man across his left upper back area, causing a four-inch laceration.

The laceration apparently exposed a portion of the man's lung, causing it to collapse. The victim was transported to Mercy Hospital-South for treatment. 

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Low-flying aircraft to map geology

The U.S. Geological Survey will conduct an airborne survey to study the rock layers under a region of southeast Missouri and eastern Illinois starting this month with the project to run through March 2019.

When the data analysis is complete, results will provide state-of-the-art, subsurface maps that will contribute to a wide range of 3-D representations of the nation’s exposed and concealed geology.

As part of this research, a low-flying airplane with auxiliary instrumentation will be used. Area residents might see an aircraft flying low to the ground near the Farmington, Salem, and Rolla areas.

The airplane is under contract to the USGS through TerraQuest Ltd. The aircraft will be operated by experienced pilots who are specially trained and approved for low-level flying. All flights are coordinated with the FAA to ensure flights are in accordance with U.S. law.

The airborne survey will augment and extend geophysical surveys flown by the USGS in 2014 and 2016. The area flown will cover important mining districts around the St. Francois Mountains and major structures with potential seismic implications within the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

USGS scientists plan to use the new geophysical data to help determine the 3-D geologic framework surrounding known and potentially undiscovered critical mineral resources.

In addition, this research is meant to map the soil and rock chemistry at the surface and to study rocks that are deeply buried, beneath limestone and sandstone layers.

The airplane will carry magnetic sensors mounted on the wing tips and tail stinger of the aircraft and an instrument inside the aircraft. The instruments will measure low, background levels of natural radioactivity that will be used to map different types of surface rocks and soils.

None of the instruments carried on the aircraft pose a health risk to people or animals.

This survey will be flown at elevations of approximately 260 to 450 feet above ground in a grid pattern along north-south flight lines spaced approximately 980 feet apart.

East-west flight lines will be spaced 9,800 feet apart. All survey flights will occur during daylight hours.