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The needy are the real winners in Beatrice Community Food Bank Raffle

Tayven Essam bit his lip and reached down into a bucket full of yellow ticket stubs. Of the group of six people at the table surrounding him, he was the only one suited for making this raffle fair.

“He can't read quite yet,” said Mark Essam, “So he's the one that's going to draw the names.”

The Beatrice Community Food Pantry held its first raffle on Monday afternoon and gave away prizes including a rifle, a barbecue, gift cards and Huskers volleyball tickets. The group raised $4,803.34 over the last few months selling raffle tickets for $5 a piece along with other fundraising activities.

Tayven, standing on a metal folding chair in the basement of St. John Lutheran Church in Beatrice, reached into the white, five gallon bucket full of tickets and shuffled thoughtfully before pulling out a name. He looked at the ticket before handing it to Essam who read off the name of Susie Carpenter, who’d won a Mossburg Patriot 30-06 rifle, donated by Uncle Matt’s Guns of Beatrice.

Other winners included Linda Bierman who took home the barbecue donated by Westlake Ace Hardware, Ron Maschmeier who won a $50 Walmart gift card, Gerald Kleveland who won a $50 Shopko gift card and Pauline Bauer who took home the UNL volleyball tickets donated by a food pantry board member.

“This is the first fundraiser of this type that the food pantry has ever done,” said Sue Orwen who works with the pantry. “Hopefully the first annual.”

The money the Beatrice Community Food Pantry raised from the raffle tickets, selling popcorn at Traubel’s and from a donation jar at the Beatrice Farmers Market will allow the group to purchase more food said Karen Mains, pantry coordinator.

In a back room under the church sits a large, concrete room filled with food, ready to be given away to people in need. It smells a bit like bread in the storage room and the walls are lined with cans of vegetables, boxes of Hamburger and Tuna Helper and other non-perishable food items, as well as several refrigerators and freezers full of meat, eggs, butter, cheese and other staples.

The fridges are getting a little low right now, Mains said, especially since the group has had some of its most active months in recent history lately. In August, the group gave food to a total of 522 people—just seven people shy of their all time high a year before—and they’re starting to run a little low, especially on staples like bread, ground beef and pork.

The group also helps people struggling with rent or utility bills. They can help out by giving people in need a one-time $200 payment to help keep the lights on or to make sure they have a place to live. If they repay the money, she said, they have the option of using the service again.

On Nov. 3, the group will start bringing donation bags to homes around Beatrice for their annual holiday appeal. The pantry is asking for things like flour, pasta, peanut butter, soup, canned meats and vegetables, laundry soap, shampoo and other items that would be considered staples in any home or kitchen.

On Nov. 11, they’ll pick them up and bring them back to the pantry to be sorted. They’ve got 6,000 bags to give out and they’re hoping for a good-sized return.

Even if people can’t contribute to the food drive, she said, they’re open for donations all year round.

“They can bring it down any time,” she said. “We have a table right here with a sign and they can just bring their sacks in and just set it right on the table.”

Keeping hundreds of people in need fed throughout the year can be a real challenge, she said. Thanks to the participation of about 25 churches around Beatrice they can keep putting food on tables.

“If we didn't have churches, we wouldn't get through the year,” she said. “Maybe it's not a lot some months, but some months they bring in a bunch. It helps fill our shelves and helps serve the needy people.”

After the raffle, Essam was calling winners to know when and where they could pick up their prizes. 

Getting off the phone with Maschmeier, Essam said they wouldn’t have to go far to redeem his Walmart gift card.

"He said, 'Take that card and give it back to Karen and have her spend that on services," Essam told Mains.

"Bless his heart," she said. "I'll hug him next time I see him."

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Exmark receives manufacturing award

A Beatrice manufacturer was one of two companies recognized at the state level by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Exmark was named the Large Manufacturer of the Year, an award presented earlier this month.

“It is obviously a big honor to be selected by the state chamber for this award,” said Exmark general manager Judy Altmaier. “It was unexpected. This was not something you fill out an application for and self promote. It was particularly nice to be honored this month, with October being manufacturing month, officially declared by Gov. Ricketts.”

The award was presented during the annual Manufacturing and Distribution Executive Summit held at CenturyLink Center Omaha on Oct. 12.

Garner Industries of Lincoln was also recognized as the mid-size manufacturer of the year.

Exmark,which makes commercial lawn mowers and other turf care equipment, has more than 500 employees at its manufacturing facility in Beatrice.

Altmaier said the company’s commitment to quality, and also the community were characteristics that help the company stand out at the state level.

“We really are very proud of our products and the people that are involved in the manufacture, and also the design, marketing, selling and all the aspects that go into creating and presenting a product to the end user,” she said. “It really is all about the people, ingenuity and the passion about a product.

“Another thing that stands out is our dedication to the communities that we live and work in. we’re very strong volunteers…I think our name very well known for things we do, not just by employment but by the community service we provide.”

The state chamber has presented the awards annually since 2008 to Nebraska manufacturers that successfully implement innovative ways of conducting business through the use of new products, processes, technologies and strategies.

“We take great pride in honoring Exmark Manufacturing and Garner Industries with this award,” Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska Chamber, said in a news release. “Manufacturing is our state’s second-largest industry and a key to Nebraska’s economic growth. Both of these companies are innovation leaders in Nebraska’s manufacturing sector.”

City approves funds for indoor batting facility

The Beatrice City Council met Monday night and approved Beatrice Plus funding to give $6,000 a year for the next five years (a total of $30,000) for construction of a new indoor batting facility to be built in Hannibal Park.

The facility, which is planned to be built west of the parking lot, is estimated to cost around $250,000 to build. The Beatrice Bullets baseball team as well as the Girls Softball Association are working on private fundraising to help build the facility.

There are several grant applications being processed, said Mark Pethoud, Beatrice's director of public properties, including a $35,000 grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund and the Girls Softball Association has pledged $5,000 a year for the next 10 years. Whether those grants come through will be a big factor on when the facility is built, he said.

“We can't break ground until we actually know about the grants,” he said. “So as of right now, they probably won't know until the middle of January, so we're kind of waiting on that.”

The 50 by 100 foot facility will have drop down nets to allow for batting practice at any time of year and could be set up in a way that could house three batting cages or two batting runs and possibly an area for practicing bunting or other softball drills, Pethoud said.

When the facility is built, city administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said the building will be locked and access will be controlled by the city of Beatrice. The city would likely utilize a key fob system that can be used on certain days for different groups to practice.

Council member Dwight Parde asked if a person who wasn’t a member of a baseball or softball team would have access to the facility.

In the beginning stages, Tempelmeyer said, probably not.

“We want to make sure we have enough time for those teams that put in some money for the program,” he said. “If we can work through that and then we have time still left over, we've talked about selling some membership, giving some opportunity for members of the public to come in and use the facility.”

Baseball and softball have become a year-round sport, Pethoud said. After the Husa batting facility closed, he said kids who have tournaments that stretch into mid-November and practices starting in March don’t really have an all-weather place to practice in the off season.

“There's no place for the youth to go,” he said. “So, that's kind of how it started. It's always been in the back of the head, maybe we should have one.”

Council member Phil Cook praised the plan, saying it’s a good program for the city to get involved with.

“There's hundreds of kids that will be using this,” Cook said. “Something that will keep them occupied in the winter.”

The council approved the Beatrice Plus funding 5-2 with council members Rich Kerr and Dwight Parde voting against.

Council approves rezoning for BSDC, SCC

The Beatrice City Council voted to rezone three areas in town on Monday based on recommendations from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The council unanimously adopted ordinances to change the designations of the Beatrice State Developmental Center and Southeast Community College from their current agricultural zoning to office zoning, and the area north of town that contains the Diamond T Truck Stop and Gage County Equipment from agricultural to general commercial.

The changes stem from a phone call a few weeks ago from BSDC to the city, where it was realized the facility wasn’t rezoned after the city annexed the area. It had never been rezoned from its original “AG” designation, despite being used in an office capacity for years.

“It will not change anything in the services they provide out there today or any of the care that they do,” said city administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer. “It won't make any impact there.”

After noticing that BSDC’s designation had never been changed, Tempelmeyer said, the city started looking at maps to see if there were other places in town with the same issue and found that SCC was also designated as AG.

The office zoning designation is more appropriate for the services provided by SCC, Tempelmeyer said, and, like BSDC, the rezoning won’t change any of the services provided by the college.

“It's just probably what they should have been zoned a number of years ago,” he said. “So we're simply cleaning up the zoning ordinance that we have out there.”

When the city annexed the northern stretch of town out to Hickory Road about seven or eight years ago, Tempelmeyer said, it should have rezoned the area where several businesses sit from agricultural to general commercial. The truck stop and Gage County Equipment on the east side of Highway 77 are both commercial endeavors, he said, so their zoning should be changed.

The billboard on the west side of the highway is also zoned as agricultural, but should have been zoned commercial as it’s being used to rent billboard space, he said, but the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended leaving that space zoned as agricultural.

The billboard, owned by USA Outdoor, was destroyed by wind during the June 16 storm that hit Beatrice. The sign, said Emily Haxby, who spoke on behalf of her aunt and uncle Robert and Nancy Rohe, is a non-conforming sign and was illegally rebuilt after the storm.

“We received a letter from the state saying that the company would have to remove the sign because they were in non-compliance,” Haxby said. “Rezoning our farm to general commercial will not allow the sign to remain there.”

The state of Nebraska is currently working with lawyers to eventually bring down the sign, she said.

Jean Todd, highway beautification supervisor with the Nebraska Department of Transportation, told the council that her department regulates outdoor signs. When the billboard was constructed, it was legally placed, she said, but doesn’t currently meet regulations.

“There are requirements for non-conforming signs,” Todd said. “One of those being if they're wind-damaged, then they need an appraisal and cannot be rebuilt without a new application.”

In order to be rebuilt legally, the sign would also need to be on land that’s zoned as commercial or industrial, not its current designation as agricultural, she said. If the council changed the zoning of the land, it still wouldn’t make it legal, she said.

“This rezoning would be what we consider spot zoning,” she said. “And we will not recognize spot zoning simply to accommodate a billboard.”

The council agreed with the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation to rezone the truck stop and Gage County Equipment to general commercial, but left the 150 foot by 125 foot area where the sign is located as agricultural.