Funds from Willie Nelson's Farm Aid concerts just aren't coming into Kansas like they used to, so a Tonganoxie church has decided to hold its own benefit concert to help pick up the slack.
The concert will be from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the First Congegrational Church, Fourth and Green streets in Tonganoxie. Two groups will be featured: Careless Joe, a Lawrence band, and Rosy's Bar & Grill, a women's duet from Kansas City.
The Rev. Sandra Reynolds, pastor at First Congregational, said the church decided to have the concert when it learned that state Farm Aid funds were running low. She said Farm Aid means a lot to the congregation because one of its families received much-needed financial assistance through the program.
"We had experienced how much it meant to them. We know that people can benefit from it," Reynolds said.
However, she said, not many more Kansans will benefit if Farm Aid funds remain as low as they are now.
THE INTERFAITH Rural Life Committee, a branch of Kansas Ecumenical Ministries, is responsible for distributing much of the state's Farm Aid funds. Reynolds said that on Jan. 1, the committee had a Farm Aid fund balance of $5,752. That figure had dropped to $270.48 by the end of last month, she said.
Del Jacobsen, rural life worker at the IRLC, said he thinks that Farm Aid officials have decided to concentrate more on legislative advocacy and less on direct aid to farmers, a strategy that makes sense to him.
"If you don't change the underlying conditions that create the need for the direct aid, you're just chasing your tail," Jacobsen said. "But from our perspective, it's important to be able to do both things."
Despite the recent drop in aid, Jacobsen called "tremendous" the assistance to Kansas farmers given by Willie Nelson's Farm Aid organization. Through four Farm Aid concerts, the first of which was held in 1985, Nelson has been able to provide $110,500 to the Kansas Farm Aid fund.
ANOTHER $52,500 has been donated to the fund by churches. Thirteen denominations make up Kansas Ecumenical Ministries.
Jacobsen said financial aid is not given directly to farmers but to church clergy, who can help farmers get Farm Aid assistance if a need is apparent.
"We felt it was important that it be done through local clergy so the families would have visible support and know that someone cares," Jacobsen said.
The Farm Aid grants have a $100 limit. However, if a farmer has a tremendous need, the clergy can apply for a second grant for that person.
Reynolds said the family in her congregation probably could have used a second Farm Aid grant. However, when Reynolds learned that the state Farm Aid fund was low, she decided not to apply for a second one.
Reynolds said she would like to see other groups make a conscious effort to keep the Farm Aid fund going.
"If people really could contribute, it could be a United Way type of thing for farmers," she said.