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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Austin HornbostelChip Sanders, one of the founders of The Well Rural Resource in Iberia, spoke to attendees at an information night about New Beginnings Church’s planned offshoot, The Well Calimo, last week.

The Well Calimo is set to begin operation in California through New Beginnings Church Pastor Thomas Medlin and his wife, Heather, with the aim of helping to alleviate some of the challenges community members face.

The effort will be an offshoot of another rural development group in mid-Missouri — The Well Rural Resource, a non-religious nonprofit based in Iberia that performs community development work. Founder Chip Sanders, at an informational meeting about California's branch last week, said part of the group's vision for the nonprofit is to help other rural communities to do the work that will help most with the unique problems their community members face.

"Part of our vision has always been to empower other rural communities, like California, to do similar work but not the same work, because your community is different," Sanders said last week. "Every community is differentWe serve as a model, an umbrella, in order to empower churches in their own communities."

The Well Rural Resource began operating in Iberia five years ago, Sanders said. In that five years, the nonprofit has operated a food pantry, diaper bank and affordable thrift store, allowing it to establish an asset base including both existing and future building spaces. Its status as a non-religious 501(c)3 allows for the nonprofit to apply for and receive grants without restrictions, which it uses to help solve the problems identified in its community.

Sanders said both the nonprofit's volunteer base and its patrons aren't just exclusively church-goers — it's a community-wide effort, recognizing that there are a lot of different problems from one community to another, but they're all most easily solved by everyone coming together.

"We are called The Well because a well is a resource from ancient times that allowed a community to be formed," Sanders said. "The well became a place for them to have an identity, a sense of community, and a sense of togetherness. We felt God called us to become well-diggers and dig a well in Iberia. A well is that resource that allows a community to form and to flourish."

It doesn't happen overnight, Sanders said last week, but he said he hopes to be able to be a resource as The Well Calimo establishes itself.

"Hopefully we've learned some things that we can teach you about how to dig a well here, and how not to," Sanders said. "We can bring some of that knowledge, and we can bring some of the equipment and the structure that help, and you bring the sweat equity and the work. And it does require work — there's a lot of work that goes into it."

The work for The Well Calimo will start with some of the same things taking place in Iberia. New Beginnings has already been operating its own drive-thru diaper bank and meal program since around a year and a half ago — around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — in partnership with The Well in Iberia, Thomas Medlin said.

That outreach started out small but quickly grew as New Beginnings established community partnerships, Heather Medlin said earlier this week. The roughly 40 children served in the program's first summer in operation is a group that has since expanded, as the number of patrons who take advantage of the service sometimes reaches 80 per month.

"It's been awesome to have the community involvement in that, but the need is getting greater," Heather Medlin said. "The prices of diapers is going up. In Moniteau County, we have families that are bigger families; they have more than one kid in diapers, so that's a huge expense for parents. There's WIC, there's food stamps, but you can't use (any of those federal programs) to purchase diapers."

Both the diaper bank and meal program are set to continue, but the latter will also emulate some of the structure of Iberia's meal program. The goal, Heather Medlin said, won't be to duplicate anything but rather to take ideas and apply them in the best way possible to serve California.

Last week's informational meeting also served as a brainstorming session for future ideas for outreach. The ideas floated included further resources for families, outreach to seniors with fixed incomes or those in nursing homes, and even a community youth center, all along the lines of needs those in attendance saw as ones that weren't being met. The goal would be to "find the cracks that are not filled," Heather Medlin said last week.

Those conversations had continued to develop in the days following that meeting, Heather Medlin said, and it seems the momentum is building. In the short-term, the group will meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9 at New Beginnings to keep brainstorming ideas, and its next diaper bank operation day will take place Saturday, Sept. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Thomas Medlin said the group senses there will be a real need this fall, with the pandemic continuing, for meal assistance, so the group is also applying for a Meals for Kids program to supplement the work it's currently doing.

The pair's daughter, Bethany, a junior at California High School, will even get in on the action. The plan is for her to serve as an assistant coordinator for The Well Calimo, making it a true family effort.

"I'm really excited about it," Bethany Medlin said. "I think it'll be really great for the community."

All in all, the group said it was excited to narrow its scope further and fold more types of outreach into the work it's already doing.

"We are learning," Thomas Medlin said. "This is a new process. We're excited, but we're learning. That's why we're opening it up to the community. That's what we have found, that if we open it up there's more resources, more ideas, more help. That's kind of the heart of this — expanding. There's a great need in the community, and it takes everybody to meet needs."

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