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Branson ministry helps employees through slow season

Branson attractions and businesses hire thousands of workers to meet the high demand during peak tourist season. But when things slow down during the off season, one ministry is stepping in to help those who struggle financially.

The nonprofit Christian Action Ministries is having a huge impact in the lives of families employed in the tourism industry.

“We are at about a six-week standstill after the first of the year,” Lynn Berry of the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce says.

The slow season for tourism is the busy season for community service. “Right now is the height of our season at Christian Action Ministries and dealing with food insecurity,” Executive Director Kevin Huddleston said.

The nature of the tourism business is a challenge to any summer destination. “Most tourism jobs are more of an entry-level position, a lot of them are part-time,” Huddleston said. “These jobs really aren’t intended for family breadwinners.”

During the summer, they see around 100 households a day. During this time of the year, that number is about 150 each day with people lining up before the doors open.. The population of Branson is around 12,000 people.

“The Branson area is a place we know and love that’s a wonderful tourist destination, but we have a lot of our neighbors who are struggling,” says Dr. Sue Head, member of the Stone and Taney Counties Poverty Initiative.

The summertime hot-spot is now much quieter. Head says Branson’s slow-season is one reason poverty and homelessness is a problem.

“We are not a year-round economy. We are a hospitality industry,” Head states. “We’ve always had this struggle.”

Between a lot of short-term jobs and not enough housing people can afford, the Poverty Initiative is seeking more long-term solutions for Branson’s poverty problems.

“If it wasn’t for places like this, I’d go hungry most of the time,” a man named Art said.

Art is one of the people who comes to get food, something they can do once a month from this nonprofit. The process starts with some basic questions about your job, household and cooking abilities. Then they are allowed to pick two breads while the volunteers pack a larger bag accordingly.

“First of all, we’ve got to put the fire out. If somebody is hungry or homeless, we’ve got to take care of that issue right then. That’s what our ministries have always been geared to do. What we are trying to do is get ahead of the curve a little bit and avoid some of those problems,” Huddleston said.

This is a situation Branson and other tourism-focused towns face

The nonprofit helps people learn job skills “Low-paying wages, seasonal unemployment, no transportation system and no affordable housing,” said Bryan Stallings, the executive director at Elevate Branson. “It’s kind of created this perfect storm for poverty.”

Branson continues to look for ways to make the town more year-round and keep people working. “It’s going to take all of us working together in our community to solve some of these issues,” Stallings said.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice