Although the much-anticipated end of 2020 will not change the impacts of the pandemic we’ve been living with since March, a fresh start in 2021 sounds pretty good right now. Through it all, through the past 10 months or so of social distancing, mask-wearing, obsessive hand-washing and extreme upheaval in our daily lives, our rural communities and the electric cooperatives that serve them met the challenges presented by COVID-19 in extraordinary ways.
One needs to look no further than Kansas electric cooperatives to discover the unique ability of Kansans to turn lemons into lemonade, lemon bars, or a traditional lemon pie topped with mile-high meringue. In this final column of 2020, I’m sharing a small sampling of the co-ops’ commitment to community — one of the seven cooperative principles — I’ve witnessed in my first year working with the electric cooperatives, as I believe it helps to put 2020 into perspective.
In May, Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative announced the creation of a COVID-19 relief fund designed to provide energy assistance to their members who have felt the financial impact of the pandemic. This program was created with funds that went unused due to the pandemic. Money allocated for in-person director training, youth leadership programs in Colorado and Washington, D.C., and other canceled events the co-op sponsors was repurposed to help consumer-members whose finances have been strained during this pandemic.
Thanks to the Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City, several Kansas electric co-ops were able to help distribute bottles of hand cleanser — which, if you recall, flew off the grocery shelves the first weeks of the pandemic — to first responders, hospitals and senior living facilities. Pioneer Electric Cooperative, Prairie Land Electric Cooperative, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, Victory Electric Cooperative, Western Cooperative Electric and Wheatland Electric Cooperative all joined in the effort to keep Kansans healthy.
For employees at Butler Electric Cooperative, commitment to community meant making sure children in their service territory had access to nutritious food. At their June 25 staff meeting, they donned white hairnets and grabbed bright yellow funnels to assemble more than 6,000 meals to donate to the local Kids Need 2 Eat program. This program assists communities in overcoming barriers some children have in accessing nutritious food. The food items were funded through Butler Electric’s Operation Round Up program and the CoBank Sharing Success program.
CoBank’s Sharing Success program has partnered with Kansas electric co-ops throughout the year to fund other community-based organizations across the state. In response to the challenges faced by our communities due to COVID-19, CoBank expanded Sharing Success, increasing matching funds from $4 million to $5 million, increasing the maximum match per customer to $10,000 and increasing the number of applications each customer could submit to four. CoBank’s electric cooperative customers responded enthusiastically. From Caney Valley Electric Cooperative’s support of the Kansas 4-H Foundation and the Friends of Chautauqua County Animal Shelter, to the Washington County Food Bank supported by Bluestem Electric Cooperative, the Sharing Success Program along with the sponsoring electric co-ops has supported more than 30 Kansas organizations with $80,100 in needed funding this year.
These are just a few examples of the good work our electric co-ops and employees do in your communities. In the coming months, Kansas Country Living will bring you stories of our co-ops partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program to ensure vital access to healthcare and to fund repairs to a school building that is at the core of a community’s social and economic well-being.
I believe silver linings are pieced together from tragedy, the reward for your courage during difficult times. May we all continue taking care of one another while discovering the silver linings hidden in the challenges ahead.
Lee Tafanelli is Chief Executive Officer of Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. in Topeka.