Blair, Nebraska stands as a testimony to the strength of community spirit and the power of collective efforts. Blair is setting a commendable example with the “Buddy Box” program. At the heart of this initiative is Jordan Rishel, whose words offer an enlightening perspective into its origins, functions, and aspirations.
Jordan, a pivotal figure in Blair’s community, offers insights into the conception of this program, sharing, “This idea came to mind when we were at an Optimist meeting in January 2023.” She emphasizes the pressing demands in the community, adding, “There were so many over the last couple years that have been asking for basic needs such as laundry detergent, shampoo, deodorant, body wash, etc.”
Exploring the need further, Rishel underlines the importance of addressing it, saying, “We have families in Washington County fill out an application if they need assistance with Christmas gifts for their children.” The challenges they observed were not just limited to holiday gifts. Surplus donations also drew attention. “We also had quite a bit of clothing that had been donated that we didn’t get distributed during our event, so we went ahead and donated the ‘school aged’ stuff to Blair schools,” Rishel notes.
The Buddy Box initiative is adaptive to the varying needs across school levels. Jordan clarifies, “We have reached out to the school principals and nurses directly to determine what their greatest needs are. Obviously, the pre-K kids have different needs than middle school and middle school is different than high school.”
Yet, how did they go about giving this idea a tangible shape? Rishel sheds light on this, saying, “From there, we had several discussions amongst our club, and we had members reach out to the school principals and nurses to see what the items are at each location that are most commonly needed.” Funding and support played a crucial role too. “We applied for a grant through Optimist International, and were awarded $1000, we had to agree to match the amount that was awarded to us.”
Zooming out from Blair, it’s worth noting that similar initiatives have been set in motion across the country. One such commendable effort is the “Blessings in a Backpack” program based in Louisville, Kentucky. Aimed primarily at providing food for students who might go hungry over the weekends, this initiative ensures that children have a reliable source of nutrition when away from school. While both the “Buddy Box” and “Blessings in a Backpack” aim at addressing primary needs, they do so in distinctive manners. While the former focuses on a broader range of essentials, from clothing to personal hygiene items, the latter hones in on the crucial aspect of nutrition. Yet, at their core, both projects underscore the importance of community-driven efforts in shaping a better future for the younger generation.
The local businesses of Blair are standing in strong support. Rishel informs, “Buddy Boxes have been distributed in local businesses. A list of suggested donations has been posted on the Optimist Club of Blair Facebook page.” Additionally, she offers avenues for further support, mentioning, “Financial donations can be made to the Blair Optimist Club. Donations will be used for specific clothing, diapers, or other requests not provided by donations collected from the Buddy Boxes.”
Rishel’s deep-seated passion for community service is evident. She states, “I am blessed to work for and with a fantastic group of individuals that understands the importance of donating your time and efforts to things you believe in.” And regarding the future, she optimistically hopes, “I feel like this particular program will definitely help to strengthen our relationship with the school and supporting the students and their families with specific needs for a successful education without worries.”
As the Buddy Box initiative takes root, it’s a reflection of Blair’s unified spirit. The town, through collective action and programs like these, continues to stand as a beacon of community cohesion and support. Those looking to offer a hand can visit the Optimist Club of Blair Facebook page to learn more.