The good that Poverty Resistance thrift store and food pantry provided to Casper's homeless and semi-homeless community cannot be understated.
Mary Ann Budenske -- almost single-handedly and to the tune of some $14,000 in some of the 27 years she operated it -- provided food, clothing and sometimes shelter to those who needed it.
No questions asked. No paperwork. No strings.
To an unfortunate fault, Poverty Resistance looked away.
The ease with which those who needed help and those who wanted to help could benefit from and use Poverty Resistance was evident in its demise.
It allowed homeless people to sleep there even though the building that housed it wasn't zoned to allow it.
Donations regularly piled through doorways at a pace volunteers couldn't match. Large neighborhood garage sales proved particularly beneficial for donations but hazardous to those strolling the Wolcott sidewalk.
City officials issued Budenske one citation on Feb 11. The ticket -- in what they characterized as a good gesture, officials listed all of the violations together to cap the fine at $750 -- outlined safety concerns at the store/food bank/shelter.
The public needs to understand that, despite its appearance, the building (which isn't owned by Budenske) meets code standards and the city's actions were solely related to the conditions inside Poverty Resistance.
In a familiar tune Casper residents heard in the closing of the KC Apartments and later the House of Hope, inspectors gave Poverty Resistance multiple warnings before issuing the citation.
“At some point, when you write letters and ask for compliance, and you’re doing that over and over and over again on the same issue, then you look at what’s the next step,” said Mark Harshman, Casper Fire-EMS division chief. “And this seemed to be the logical next step.”
In addition to the part-time lodging, officials also cited the facility for blocking exits and electrical panels, improperly maintaining fire extinguishers and other electrical hazards.
We've noted here in the past that good deeds cannot trump public safety.
Those needed services are not a pass to ignore laws. Public safety must be the first priority, particularly in facilities serving our most vulnerable neighbors.
The tragedy of Poverty Resistance's closure is that it shut its doors not because there wasn't a demand for its services. Rather, there was too much of it.
The number of nonprofits serving the Casper area is astounding. The closure is a telling and chilling reminder to the community about the ongoing need for clothes, food and housing. While Casper now has one fewer thrift store/food bank, the demand for that help has not declined.
In January alone, Poverty Resistance distributed almost 45,000 pounds of food. Budenske, an attorney, has been firm that the thrift store will not reopen. If she can find a storage or mobile facility, Budenske has left open the possibility of resuming food bank operations. She'll continue, but reduce, legal services.
The support system for Casper's needy was already strained. The demise of Poverty Resistance -- at no fault of city officials -- brings that to an unfortunate new level.