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Community Action closure a loss for the area

May is Community Action Month, a time to focus on poverty in Minnesota and honor those devoted to helping the state's working poor.

What an unfortunate irony it is for us here in East Otter Tail County, then, that the closure of the Community Action office in New York Mills was announced this month.

By next fall, as many as 70 employees will have been laid off, and just one Community Action representative will remain in NY Mills.

The main office of the area's new agency, Mahube-Otwa Community Action, will be in Detroit Lakes - a more centralized location for the five counties it will serve.

A strong local Community Action presence will be missed here, where the need for services is evident.

The median household income in Otter Tail County is $43,000 - well below the state average (of $57,000). And nearly 13 percent of the population lives in poverty (compared to 10.6 percent statewide). Local food shelves and community charities continue to report increased need.

Minnesota's Community Action Partnership calls its agencies "the last local line of defense for families in need. "

An apt description. Community Action services are a godsend - and often a last resort - for people in dire straits.

For many, Community Action programs mean the difference between living on the street and sleeping in a warm bed; between their children spending all day with a trustworthy caregiver or at home alone; between keeping a job and losing it. The examples could go on and on.

Community Action agencies do immeasurable good for the areas they serve.

Through job training, career development services and job search assistance, they help people find work and move up in their careers.

Through nutrition programs and partnerships with food shelves, they help people keep food on the table.

Through energy assistance and weatherization programs, they help people stay warm and dry.

Through WIC, Head Start, crisis nurseries and other child care programs, they help ensure that all children get a healthy start in life.

Through emergency housing and financial assistance, as well as counseling and other crisis programs, they help people get through some of the most difficult times of their lives.

They also advocate for solutions to eliminate poverty.

While people in need of services in East Otter Tail County will still be able to get them, they'll usually have to travel farther to do so. Common sense tells us that the closer and more convenient help is, the more people will be able to take advantage of it. Finding reliable transportation is a common problem for those living in poverty.

But the fact is, there just wasn't enough money to keep things going in NY Mills. It's a problem faced not just here, and not just by Community Action, but by nonprofits all over the country.

It's another unfortunate irony - that the very organizations designed to help the poor are so underfunded themselves, they can't keep their doors open.

This editorial represents the opinion of the East Otter Tail Focus editorial staff.