BELLA VISTA -- When Bill and Sandra Bugner moved to Bella Vista from Wichita, Kan., 18 years ago, they made an effort to reach out to get acquainted in the community.
The true meaning of community came in the form of a local non-profit organization, Care & Share, and their own participation in the parish life of St. Bernard Church.
In learning more about their parish through their duties as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and the activities of the Knights of Columbus, they discovered the great need of Care & Share. While they have been involved in Care & Share for the last 15 years, both of them have served as coordinators since 2003.
This involvement wasn’t exactly how they had planned to spend their retirement years. "When we moved here, I thought I would be playing golf every day. But that really gets old," Bill Bugner said.
Sandra Bugner said, "In the beginning, I worked in the store just as a volunteer. But when the person in charge gave it up for health reasons, Bill and I just thought it might be something we could help with. It was something we talked over together and it seemed a way to give back to the community."
The service is available to all who live in or visit the Gravette School District in Benton County.
Through the earlier efforts of Lew and Carole Liss, the first coordinators from St. Bernard Church, the organization was established in 1984 in conjunction with other area churches. In his work as a deputy sheriff in Benton County, Lew Liss recognized the needs of struggling families in the Gravette area.
Currently 10 area churches sponsor Care & Share, but some of these churches have small memberships.
"We saw a need for a larger church to help the smaller ones in the community," she said. "The individual churches have so many weeks a year to operate the store. Many of the other churches are smaller than ours, but they all have volunteers to operate the store certain weeks out of the year. Because some of the other churches only have 60 to 70 members, some of the smaller churches might only have two weeks a year allotted to them to operate the store."
Working in conjunction with other member churches, the Bugners operate Care & Share’s two stores -- the main store in Gravette and the Specialty Shoppe in Bella Vista -- along with two food pantries, the Care & Share Food Pantry and Feed My Sheep Food Pantry, both in Gravette.
Operating the stores are only part of their jobs as coordinators. While Sandra Bugner spends eight hours a day Wednesday through Saturday in the stores, Bill is in charge of picking up donated furniture and larger items for the store. Along with other volunteers, he goes out two or three times a week to collect these donations. Twice a month, a Care & Share trailer is available to collect donations at St. Bernard after each weekend Mass. Two other Bella Vista churches -- Highland United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church -- also collect donations on a regular basis for the organization.
Drawing from the 200 volunteers at St. Bernard, the duties at Care & Share stores require a volunteer to work six to 45 times a year. Each day, four to six volunteers are needed to be available during store hours.
Because of its large size, St. Bernard is the only church that has six weeks to cover in a 12-month period to operate the main store while the Specialty Shoppe is operated by St. Bernard volunteers 50 weeks out of the year.
"So far we do not have any volunteers from the other church for the Specialty Shoppe," Sandra Bugner said. "We hope this will change. At present the secretary for Care & Share Inc. sends out schedules to all the member churches. We then put the notice in our church bulleting at St. Bernard asking for the volunteers for the necessary days and hours. Volunteers will call us personally to sign them up."
The main store is located on Main Street in Gravette and is opened Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Donated items such as clothing and household items are displayed throughout the store for customers to purchase. A price sheet is displayed above each counter along with a price list posted at the checkout counter.
"You have to keep in mind that all of the pricing for our customers is extremely low," Bill Bugner said. "We do it this way so those in need can afford the items. Some people say, ‘Why don’t you just give away the items to them?’ We do give away a lot of stuff, but we feel that if people can buy something like a pair of jeans for a quarter, they feel better about it because they bought the item.
"There are people who don’t have anything. We give away a lot of clothes. But when we put small prices on our items, people feel like they really own them."
Bill and Sandra Bugner have also discovered that their effort has its rewards.
"When you have people coming into the store as regular customers, they will tell you that they don’t know how they could manage without the Care & Share stores. They couldn’t clothe their families," he said. "Sandra has had people come in here, crying and thanking her because they really appreciate our efforts. That is very real to us."
Even the Bugners’ grown children in Kansas have found a way to make donations to their parent’s favorite organization.
"Our older daughter and her husband are wine collectors. So I told her one time that we could sell the wine corks for 50 cents apiece. The next time they came to visit, my daughter brought $25 worth of corks," she said. "Our other daughter sent down a TV set recently. They understand what we are doing here and want to help."
In addition to the stores, the organization provides vouchers for perishable food, medicines, utilities and gas as well as for the two food pantries.
To qualify for these vouchers, recipients must provide a utility bill or prescription for verification.
"Each family can only be given help three times in one year period. Some people find themselves down one month, and then they will be all right for the rest of the year," she said. "That is our policy."
The organization served more than 100 families in 2010 and it continues to grow each year.
Word of mouth in this small community has proved to be the best way to alert possible recipients about the services of the food pantries. This is done primarily through the member churches that sponsor the Care & Share organization.
"Even if they go to churches that are not members of our group, recipients can be referred to us," Sandra Bugner said.
The second store, the Specialty Shoppe, is an effort to raise even more funds for the organization. Two years ago, the group decided that those donated items in better condition should be set up in a different store and displayed there in order to bring in more money. The Specialty Shoppe is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
"In the two years the Specialty Shoppe has been opened, it has been very successful," Sandra Bugner said. "In fact we have been able to buy a new building to house it in. It was an old church that we converted. In January we paid off that mortgage so we now have two stores paid off. However, we are looking to advance in another year to a new store. That is our goal."
In addition to St. Bernard Church in Bella Vista, nine other churches sponsor Care & Share.
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