BFA remains critical to county, Tuesday, November 15, 2016

From The Brunswick Beacon. Copyright © 2016 The Brunswick Beacon

After a successful distribution of U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities from the former pressroom at the Beacon last Thursday, Brunswick Family Assistance and its new executive director, Stephanie Bowen, are preparing for perhaps its busiest event of the year: its annual Christmas distribution.

The abrupt, dramatic departure of Bowen’s predecessor, Lou Nistler, who resigned Aug. 19 after 48 days on the job, seems like a distant memory. It may be one we would rather forget, but the resulting lesson is something we cannot.

Nistler cited personality conflicts and financial issues he inherited as his reasons for leaving. The Beacon filed a public records request seeking details, which the BFA board promptly provided, and reported the story accurately based on those records.

BFA, since 1981, has been “dedicated to improving the lives of families and individuals in crisis in Brunswick County, who are willing to help themselves, by providing emergency assistance and educational and skills development programs.” It has an important job to do, an obligation to our community.

As unfortunate as BFA’s situation was and the timing of our reports, the Beacon also has an important job to do, an obligation to our community — despite and because of our close relationship with this organization.

It is not asking too much for any community organization, especially one that uses money from tax-funded government agencies and private sources, to be a responsible steward of that money.

We rightly expect the organization’s leaders and board members to be able to account for every penny and clearly articulate its purpose.

A breakdown in communication hints at bigger problems requiring investigation.

BFA, to its continued credit, operates transparently and makes its audited financial statements and federal 990 filing available to the public through its website, brunswickfamily.org.

Fred Stephens, who retired after four years as BFA’s executive director, returned as a consultant to help Bowen, BFA staff and board members right their ship. In October, we published a guest column in which he clarified the financial aspects of BFA that were called into question.

BFA has provided programs designed to help people become self-sufficient, to qualified low-income families and individuals as a result of donated money, food, clothing and countless hours from volunteers to about 20 percent of our county’s residents.

Its 2015 data show:

– 4,874 households and 16,434 individuals were served by its food pantry.

– 90,667 pounds of USDA commodities were provided for 3,484 households and 7,760 individuals

– $165,700 was distributed to provide utility assistance for 2,128 households and 6,879 individuals

– $68,444 was given in rental and emergency shelter assistance for 164 households and 1,076 individuals

– Funding for 16,560 nights of sheltering was provided.

– 1,166 individuals received gifts and/or food through the Christmas distribution.

– BFA approved and distributed to another 159 households under the Toys For Tots program and assisted in the vetting process for 100 people for the Brunswick County Toy Run Christmas programs.

– 139 children received back-to-school book bags, school supplies and clothing through the Christmas in July Program

BFA also regularly provides vouchers for clothing, money for prescription drugs, support for transportation and assistance to individuals to enroll in the food stamp program.

The fact is, BFA and the services it provides are vital to our community. But it is not up to the Beacon to restore public confidence in BFA; only BFA can do that.

We believe BFA has, and we are confident in its abilities to continue serving Brunswick County for as long as necessary.