In eight years overseeing the Independence Hungry and Homeless Coalition, Cindy Friend has helped to build the coalition to about 50 community partners, increasing awareness and ability to aid the city's less fortunate.

Friend is this year's winner of the Susan Paxton Block Distinguished Public Service Award. Lori Grubb, immediate past president of the Junior Service League, presented Friend the award during Monday’s City Council meeting.

Friend had been a longtime employee at the Independence Health Department when she was asked to lead this new initiative in the department, to improve and maintain communication among service providers, civic clubs, churches and individuals who aid the poor, hungry and homeless people in the city. After retiring from the department five years ago, she was hired part-time to continue as chairperson.

“There's so many who want to change their situation, but they don't know how or where they can find work,” Friend said during a reception before the meeting, where she was joined by family ranging from parents to grandchildren and congratulated by many others, including Block's sister Barbara DiBlasi.

Friend said she finds the coalition work to be “very rewarding.”

“We work together very well,” she said of the various agencies. “We're no longer in silos.”

Block represented the 3rd District on the City Council from 1992 until her death due to cancer in November 1996. She also served as president of the Junior Service League. Her father, the late Bill Paxton, established the award to honor her memory and recognize individuals who demonstrate excellence while conducting city business, either as an employee or volunteer.

A selection committee, comprised of local service club presidents, selects the recipient. The award is $1,000 plus a sterling silver medallion and a sterling silver lapel pin. Proceeds come from the memorial fund established by Paxton.

During the meeting Friend, thanked the two people who nominated her – City Council aide Sheila Saxton and former council member Jim Schultz.

“It's such an honor to receive this award and be a part of the legacy she left,” Friend said. “I'm proud to be a voice for those who have lost their way and those who have lost all hope. There's much work to be done.”