Fredonia, a town of about 2,500 in southeast Kansas, has always been a close-knit community, says Karen Betzen.

“There’s a lot of us who were born and raised here, and we came back here for our careers,” says the local Farm Bureau Financial Services agent. “It’s where we raised our children too. Anytime there been a disaster, the town always comes together.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception to the Fredonia community pulling together.

Betzen and some of her friends helped form the Fredonia CAN (Coronavirus Awareness and Nutrition) taskforce to provide community members with information on where to find food and other resources.

Betzen says the effort started after one of her best friends and Wilson County health officer Jennifer McKenney posted on Facebook for ideas on how to ensure people didn’t go hungry while trying to limit the spread of disease.

“From there, we came up with Fredonia CAN,” Betzen says. “There’s a couple of us business owners, some of the ministers in town and the PTO (parent teacher organization) is very involved.”

The taskforce has three objectives:

  • To provide up-to-date information on where and when food and other necessities can be acquired throughout the community and distribute this information through social media, newspaper, flyers and school communication.
  • To provide and replenish food supplies at local food banks.
  • To coordinate volunteers for distributing food when needed.

The PTO is now hosting a food drive to help stock up local food banks, and a local cabinet maker built a couple of “blessing boxes” for businesses, one of which is outside Betzen’s downtown office. The boxes are like a miniature food bank in that people place nonperishable items in them for others to take as needed. A nearby salon is hosting the other box.

“We’ve been keeping them stocked,” Betzen says. “We just started that Monday.”

She also keeps a supply of macaroni and cheese meal kits on hand in the office.

“I’ve had a few people come in and get those,” Betzen says. “I’ve also been sticking a few bags in the blessing box.”

Betzen says the initial focus has been on Fredonia, but the taskforce has reached out to some surrounding communities.

“If our county does wind up shutting down like Sedgwick and Johnson, I will probably try to do more (to get items to local churches or post offices),” she says. “There’s several of us who do live outside of town in different directions. We could make that happen if the need arises.”