Good will and action on that good will are two very different animals.
It's easy to form a committee or a task force and have a couple of meetings with a big goal. Not so easy to the hard grunt work for months or years that it takes to have any chance of realizing that goal.
I've seen committees come and committees go. Some have excelled for a while - a Balloon Days group had a great run in Storm Lake but eventually disbanded, a winter carnival had a couple of good years before that faded away as a community-wide event.
Three or four different incarnations of a community center plan have come and gone without a shovel of dirt ever being turned. A YMCA committee started strong but two years later is down to just a couple of members soldiering on with uncertain prospects. A city skate park committee involving a number of local teenagers dissolved in frustration with a plan drawn up but nothing more accomplished. A few bike trails efforts have come and gone around the area, (though a current committee is now very much working in that direction).
Things like an excursion boat, skating rink, zipline project and others were suggested, somewhat pursued, but not completed. A nature interpretive center committee worked for several years toward a big project at Little Storm Lake - a building was drawn up but the project never gained traction, and was left at an observation tower and short trail.
Other groups have succeeded in their efforts, building the LakeTrail, Field of Dreams, a disability-accessible fishing pier, a swan restoration pond, a beach near the college, a day care center in the works, the long-running Star Spangled Spectacular celebration and other strong volunteer-driven projects.
What makes some community efforts successful while others struggle or quickly disappear?
Commitment, above all else.
Drawing up an impressive plan is the sexy part. The hard, time-consuming grind of paperwork, fundraising, calling around to budge people into attending meetings and doing their part of the work, keeping people informed, scratching out grant applications, getting your hands dirty to do labor first hand, all that is necessary for a project to have legs... that's the rub.
It has to be personal. People have to care on not just a "wouldn't it be nice" level. You can't just go to a meeting or two and expect progress to magically happen.
It takes organization. Someone willing to be
in charge. Lots and lots of hours given up.
This is what we keep in mind after a BV County Hunger Dialogue gathering in Storm Lake Friday.
It is a beautiful, invigorating, promising beginning to something that is far too important in our community to let fade away in a vague blue-ribbon committee or a pretty report to gather dust on a shelf somewhere.
There are people going hungry in our town today, while we have an overabundance of food... we have to bridge that gap. We want our diverse population to be educated, and informed, and involved and active and assimilated - but I guarantee you that none of that happens for people who struggle each day for something to put in their stomachs.
This Hunger Dialogue was a great start. Most of the people there represented various helping agencies, schools, public safety, a couple of the larger food businesses, some of the faith community.
I didn't see any of the elected city, county or school district government leadership. As far as I know, this paper was the only local or area media to show up.
Even more conspicuous in absence are all of the people who need the help. Most, probably, couldn't get off work. Or perhaps are too proud to speak of their situations. Or are too concerned with survival to pay much attention to meetings.
To be successful, this effort will have to reach out to local government on one hand, and the people in need on the other. A few people trying to pull all the load on such a big issue will achieve little, grow burned out and frustrated as other committees have done, or simply disappear as members age out or move away.
The good news here is that people care. We have a plethora of agencies addressing parts of the need, and we can do more if all work in the same direction.
It would be wise for one of those existing organizations to take the lead on the hunger issue - Upper Des Moines, Salud, The Bridge, Iowa Food Bank, whatever it may be. A few volunteers could get things started, but a lasting, sustainable effort would need some staff behind it and the know-how to organize and communicate.
This is not to say the effort should be handed off. Every group in town that deals with poverty in some way should be a part of this, there will be room for all who can work as volunteers too.
Please don't let this stop here. Don't say we don't have time, or that it's someone else's job. Don't let us become distracted or disjointed or competitive over the credit.
Storm Lake has been blessed with bright ideas, volunteerism, giving people. Some of our efforts have been great successes, some have faded away on us.
This one is too important to fade.