The Chemung County Samaritan Center in Elmira, founded more than 25 years ago, was the first Catholic Charities emergency-services operation of its kind in the Southern Tier. Since then, affiliated outreaches have spread across the Tier to include Tompkins County Samaritan Center in Ithaca; Schuyler Outreach in Watkins Glen; Turning Point in Bath; and Tioga Outreach Center in Waverly.
Yet along with expansion comes the challenge of maintaining the ministries. Cindy Smith, director of Chemung County Samaritan Center, said the outreaches could not exist without assistance from the community at large — especially in this day and age.
“Most of us are starving for operational support — for cash donations so we can even keep open,” Smith said.
Fueling this need is a tough economy that has caused traffic to accelerate at the outreaches. “Since 2000 we have seen approximately a 17-percent growth in people who come through the Samaritan Center,” Smith said. She added that out of the 41,633 requests for services in 2003, slightly more than half were for food. “And it’s on the rise. I think we’re going to be a shade higher this year,” Smith said. She added that her agency is faced with a dilemma of “more people and less money,” and voiced concern about how well it can conduct its annual Thanksgiving-basket program in a few months.
A similar demand exists at Ithaca’s Samaritan Center. According to Theresa Olaf-Bennett, director, a recent Tuesday saw 48 people come through her office, many of them needing emergency cash for such expenses as utilities and car repairs.
“We’re such a rural area; we’re pretty spread out and our public transportation isn’t what it needs to be. People are stuck with old cars that need repairs and they’re trying to get to their minimum-wage job,” Olaf-Bennett said. She added that while the cost of living continues to rise, “salaries aren’t going up.”
The Elmira, Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Bath and Waverly outreaches serve families and individuals in immediate crisis. Goods and services vary from agency to agency; for instance, Olaf-Bennett said Ithaca’s Samaritan Center distributes clothes and personal-needs items but not food because there are other food pantries in the area. Along with emergency services, the centers offer such programs as advocacy for health insurance, screening for food stamps and job searches.
Public support for the centers is sought in a variety of ways. For instance, Elmira’s Samaritan Center often runs requests in parish bulletins when in need of certain products. Smith said that paper goods, macaroni and cheese, and tuna fish are among the items welcomed at any time, and that “produce is always very appreciated at this time of year.”
Olaf-Bennett said products such as toilet paper, razors and laundry detergent are welcomed at Ithaca’s Samaritan Center. However, she and Smith said cash donations are the most useful kind of all, because money can be channeled toward the greatest need at a given moment.
Donation of time is also crucial; all the outreaches depend heavily on volunteers. In fact, Smith said Elmira’s Samaritan Center is bolstered by approximately 125 volunteers who work in conjunction with a mere 1 1/2 paid employees.
Olaf-Bennett said she readily accepts volunteers as well, in part because Ithaca’s Samaritan Center also has four satellite locations — in Danby, Caroline, Enfield and Dryden — and items stored at the center need to be transported to these spots.
“I have some fabulous people right now, but we don’t have enough,” Olaf-Bennett remarked.
To donate, volunteer, get assistance or obtain other information regarding Catholic Charities emergency-service facilities, contact the following:
* Chemung County: Samaritan Center, 380 S. Main St., Elmira, NY, 14904; 607/734-4898
* Tompkins County: Samaritan Center, 324 W. Buffalo St., Ithaca, NY, 14850; 607/272-5062, ext. 15
* Tioga County: Tioga Outreach Center, 505 Clark St., Waverly, NY, 14892; 607/565-7580
* Schuyler County: Schuyler Outreach, 112 Tenth St., Watkins Glen, NY, 14891; 607/535-2815
* Steuben County: Turning Point Community Solution Center, 23 Liberty St., Bath, NY, 14810; 607/776-8085