WARSAW – Sara McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey is all about inclusivity.
That sense of inclusion begins with her name as she prefers to include her maiden name and two names through marriage. And it extends to her political outlook as well.
“My campaign is all about a sense of togetherness and inclusiveness,” she said during a recent talk in a downtown coffee shop.
She is running for the District 1 seat that is currently held by Republican Jeff Grose, who is seeking re-election.
One idea she thinks could benefit city residents is the establishment of a community garden on city property, preferably in a park. While community gardens have popped up in many towns in recent years, Warsaw does not have one.
She envisions a plan that uses park property in which garden participants would pay a nominal fee to the city for the opportunity to grow food in a segmented part of the overall garden. The food would then be sold at a farmer’s market –— either part of the existing farmer’s market — or a new one.
Such a program would provide the city with some additional fees and provide residents with another source of locally grown fresh food, she said.
Off-hand, she said she thought Kelly Park on the city’s south side might be a good location for a community garden. Somewhere near the Pete Thorn center could also work well since it could conveniently involve folks from the senior center, but she said she was unsure if there was an area with a large amount of sufficient sunlight, given all the trees.
In addition to farmer’s markets, she also said she thinks the food could be used to benefit area food banks and local agencies that help with low-income families.
“In my community, we’re dependent on one industry, but if we’re going to choose to be a progressive thinking people, we need to depend on many,” she said.
With the closing of Owen’s westside store last week, McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey said she thinks there could be enough demand — at least on the west side of Warsaw — to consider seeing the farmer’s market expand to two days a week.
She said she’s also motivated to work with others who think the old Owen’s store could be converted into a co-op food source. Such operations serve as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet a common desire to provide food. Typically, profits are reinvested into the operation.
Regionally, co-ops can be found in Goshen, South Bend and Fort Wayne.
While many customers were disappointed with the closing of the store, the city is currently trying to determine if Krogers, which owns the shuttered business, would be willing to sell it to a competitor.
McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey grew up in Warsaw and graduated from Warsaw Community High School in 1991. She has a degree in business management from International Business College in Fort Wayne and works as a mental health technician at a group home with Kendallville-based Northeastern Center.
She remembers the era back in the 1980s when city council included three Democratic representatives, including the late Bob Richmond, who was African American.
She remembers meeting Richmond when she was still in high school and recalls thinking that it was nice to have an African American role model. “He was an amazing man and he was progressively thinking,” she said.
For at least two decades — probably much longer — city council’s make-up has been entirely Republican and Caucasian. Unlike past election cycles in Warsaw, though, Democrats will have three city council candidates. In addition to McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey, other Democrats on the ballot include Roxanne Coffelt and Jack Brunetto.
Asked if she is bothered by lack of diversity on the city council, she responded, “All voices in our community need to be heard. All citizens in this community matter because without them, we don’t have our community.”
She said she’s excited about the growth in the community, but adds “We could a little bit better on being a little more welcoming,” and notes that she finds it offensive that a sign can be seen in the window at Republican headquarters in Warsaw that reads “Finish the wall,” a goal espoused by President Donald Trump.
She said that while the party certainly has a right to strong opinions, she said the leaders could “be a little more sensitive and gentle” in their approach.
On another issue, McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey also expressed concern with traffic in parts of the city, including US 30.
She also has voiced concern about city council agendas and the need to provide more of a summary for pending resolutions and ordinances that are being considered by city council.