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Published on December 21, 2021

eyeglass donations received through pars program

Pierre Area Referral Service Helps Those Most in Need

It’s easy for people who live elsewhere to imagine smaller communities in South Dakota like the state’s capital, Pierre, are immune to the tough realities that bigger cities face.

Poverty, hunger and emergency assistance are urban issues, some might think.

The central South Dakota counties of Hughes and Stanley have their share of people in need. But they have a service that cares.

“We’re a food pantry, that’s true, but we’re much more – referral is our middle name,” said Corwin Jones, executive director of the Pierre Area Referral Service (PARS). “We could not do it alone – we’re proud to have partners in our good work, partners like Avera.”

Jones said education toward self-reliance is a core goal of PARS, too.

“We teach people about assistance programs available in the community as well as our own programs that can help pay for non-narcotic prescriptions, or transportation to an out-of-town doctor’s appointment,” he said. “Avera social workers often refer people to PARS. Along with personnel in our community, we work to best serve people in need and pool our resources as best we can.”

In 2020 alone, PARS provided more than 15,000 assists to people in the two counties. That's about 74% of that population.

Pierre, like many small cities, does not have a shelter for homeless people or families. “We have provided temporary lodging for those stranded in Pierre or transportation to the shelters that are in Sioux Falls and Rapid City,” he said.

The service also supplies food for kids, including bags of weekend food as part of its BackPack program (more than 300 each week) as well as food for those who qualify for the Senior Food Box program (more than 40 each month.)

These are just two of many services PARS offers to people who may need them.

Many Allies in the Good Work

Many groups partner with PARS to serve the people of several small communities as well as Fort Pierre and Pierre. PARS is the Salvation Army Extension Agency for Hughes and Stanley counties. The United Way, Feeding SD and many local churches – as well as Avera – all play important roles.

“Each organization who supports us realizes that our various missions are all about helping people in times of trouble,” said Jones. “We really try not just to lift someone up, but to educate and help people use resources available.”

PARS is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1974. Many of its partnerships are decades-long, and help community-supporting organizations reach those in need with more accurate and uplifting results.

“Avera’s proud to support such an all-encompassing organization, one that helps with health foundations, like food, shelter and travel costs,” said Micki Lundin, Avera’s Director of Community Partnerships.

Lundin said PARS is among the 250 organizations with which Avera partners to achieve the health system’s mission of improving the lives and health of individuals and communities. “In just the last year, PARS provided assists for a large fraction of the population of Hughes and Stanley counties,” Lundin added.

How Helping PARS Multiplies Investments

When large organizations partner with ones who know every alley, street, backroad and neighborhood in the area, they are doing more than donating.

Jones said the willingness to listen – to be there – is one part of Avera’s assistance that stands out. He mentioned the relationship that exists with Pierre's hometown hospital, Avera St. Mary’s Hospital. But there's more to it.

"The ways Micki and her team reach out, we can tell Avera truly cares about us and our success,” he said. "It means a lot."

Understanding a Teamwork Approach to Service

“Our health ministry is glad to partner with PARS,” said Karen Gallagher, Avera Vice President of Mission at Avera St. Mary’s Hospital. “As allies in our efforts, we together contribute to the greater good of our communities.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, PARS was as busy as ever, and succeeded in covering gaps in safety nets to make big impacts over time.

“We live and serve in a very giving community, and we help all of our partners to mesh, so we can make the best use of the support we receive,” Jones said. “From Pierre and Fort Pierre churches to area businesses and our ministerial allies – we feel good hands are helping us, no matter what our community might need.”

Learn more about PARS and its work. See how Avera is partnering with a variety of organizations.

This is part of a series on community partnerships across Avera’s five-state footprint and how these organizations are creating important changes in our communities.

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