SIKESTON -- County and community agencies often have tight budgets, which makes it near impossible to buy new equipment or the material for improvements.
However, they get a helping hand when it comes to some special projects, through grants provided by USDA Rural Development. And on Thursday and Friday, the local agency traveled around the area to host media events in area towns for organizations that were recently awarded grant money for various projects and equipment.
Cathy Walters, area specialist, and Morris Westfall, the state director for USDA Rural Development, who presented the awards, agreed. "Most of them are," said Westfall. He thanked those involved for their dedication and cooperation with USDA Rural Development to secure those grant funds.
Walters said the agency tries to target first-responder and emergency items in the grants, but there are sometimes grants to fund other projects. And at times, the grants are a communities only way to get the improvements.
"We have a lot of 'bedroom' communities in this area that don't have any businesses," said Walters. "All the community has is a small real estate tax base, and if we wouldn't do this, they wouldn't be able to (make those purchases or improvements) at all."
For instance, the New Madrid County Ambulance District was awarded funds for the purchase of two emergency generators.
"It wasn't in our budget, and they are quite expensive," said Ralph Barnwell, administrator. "This grant covered enough of a portion that helped us get done what we needed to do."
And the generators -- one of which is at the Parma facility and the other in New Madrid -- have already been put to good use in the aftermath of the storms that ripped through the area on Sunday.
"We were up and in operation while nobody in town had electricity," said Barnwell. "But we were going full speed here, because of the generators."
Another project the USDA recognized during the media events included the purchase of materials to finish the inside of the fire building at Anniston, "so they can keep water in their truck in the winter and it won't freeze," said Walters. Without the USDA's help, money would have been raised through fundraisers and it would have been a longer project, she said.
Walters said that sometimes the grant funds pay for items that are in the budget, which then allows that money to be used in other areas.
"For instance, if we help them buy a police car, then they can use the money that they saved to go toward street work or other things that we can't help with," said Walters.
She and other members of the local USDA Rural Development staff work with the communities to provide support and inform them of grant opportunities.
"We contact all the communities and try to explain to them what we do," said Walters. "And we try to do all the paperwork, because sometimes they don't have the money to have a full-time person to do it or the expertise."
Walters said people in the communities appear to appreciate the grants, in addition to the assistance provided.
Barnwell can speak from experience about that. This is the first time he has applied for such a grant, but called the help "tremendous."
Without the help of the USDA, it would have been tough. "I was just completely ignorant to what the process was," he said. "They took me through the steps and helped with with it and showed me what to do."
And Barnwell is already looking forward to future partnerships. "If a need comes up and there's something we qualify for, I wouldn't hesitate a bit," he said.