CANANDAIGUA — More than 70 people gathered on the sunlit lawn outside 120 N. Main St. June 5 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the opening of the new Canandaigua Churches In Action facility.
“I do many ribbon cuttings, but I’ve never, ever been at a ribbon cutting that had so many people,” Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni noted before snipping the ribbon with her golden scissors. “I think it speaks to the purpose of being here. To me, it says that Canandaigua is a special place, a special spot. It’s a place where people come together and work together.”
Canandaigua Churches In Action is all about people and churches working together, Deacon Claude Lester later said in an interview with the Catholic Courier. Deacon Lester is CCIA’s interim team leader and also is faith-formation director at St. Mary Parish.
The new CCIA initiative has brought St. Mary together with several other local congregations that have decided to combine some of their social-ministry and outreach services to efficiently serve more people, Deacon Lester said.
As part of this collaboration, the individual congregations’ food pantries will soon be merged into one and will be headquartered in Thompson Cooperative, which is located in the basement level of the former F.F. Thompson Hospital building. Rural Opportunities Inc., which owns the building, leases the basement level to nonprofit organizations, and the rest of the building is used for senior housing, said Sue Kruspe, property manager for Rural Opportunities.
Thompson Cooperative was a desirable location for the new CCIA offices and food pantry because it is handicapped-accessible and conveniently located on Main Street and a bus line, she added.
St. Mary’s Food Cupboard — now known as the CCIA food pantry — moved into its new space in the cooperative several weeks ago and soon will be joined by volunteers and resources from the other church-run food cupboards, said Fay Connelly, a coordinator of St. Mary’s Food Cupboard.
In 2005, the food cupboard and its 19 volunteers provided food for 1,420 households, including 1,207 children and 227 senior citizens, Connelly said. Volunteers usually distribute at least 120 bags of food each month, which is a drastic increase from the six bags of food distributed each month when the cupboard opened in 1998, she noted.
The CCIA food pantry is currently open Saturdays from 10 a.m. until noon. With the addition of more volunteers and resources in the next few weeks, Connelly expects the pantry will be open two days a week by early July.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society, which had been housed at St. Mary Parish for decades, moved into the cooperative in March, added Glenna Renaud, a volunteer with the society. The society, which was founded in 1913, provides food vouchers and clothing for those in need.
Crosswinds Downtown — an outreach effort of Canandaigua’s Crosswinds Wesleyan Church — and a small, satellite office of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes also recently moved into Thompson Cooperative, Deacon Lester said.
The idea for CCIA was born in March 2005, when Deacon Lester and social-ministry volunteers from St. Mary decided to survey parishioners to learn what they thought were the community’s most critical needs.
“As staff liaison to social ministry and its standing committees I had asked that we spend some time to not only examine the effectiveness of all the many aspects the group was already involved in, but also to consider if there might be other areas of need unaddressed at present,” Deacon Lester said.
Deacon Lester was so excited about the survey that he talked about it during one of his monthly meetings with representatives from other community outreach organizations.
“I shared it only because of my personal enthusiasm. What happened, though, was a common enthusiasm among us in the idea of receiving input from an even larger base than St. Mary’s folks,” he said.
Encouraged by his colleagues’ support, Deacon Lester said he took the proposed survey to the Canandaigua Clergy Association, whose members also liked the idea. In May 2005, nine Canandaigua churches distributed the survey to their members, and eventually 1,200 completed surveys were returned to Deacon Lester, who had agreed to compile the results in a database.
When the surveys began to come in, Deacon Lester at first put results from each church into a separate database with the intention of later merging them into one. He had expected each faith community to have at least slightly differing views about which of the community’s needs were most important.
“The goosebump-raising experience began when I realized that these two first church communities (to return the surveys) had exactly the same profile, from top to eighth priority,” Deacon Lester recalled. ‘Spine-tingling goosebumps emerged when the third, fourth (and up) to the last parish had identical profiles. God was powerfully at work in the Canandaigua community.”
Each faith community ranked the community’s health and medical needs as the top priority, with feeding the hungry and providing support for parents and families ranking second and third, respectively. In June 2005 representatives from the churches gathered, reviewed the survey results and formed work teams for the top three priorities.
The new CCIA office and food pantry are some of the first physical signs of this collaboration. Deacon Lester said he and his fellow CCIA members hope to spend the next year exploring other ways of working together.
“Part of the dynamic of this one-year working model is to be open to what presents itself,” he said. “This is very much a common spiritual journey we are all on. God had provided only green lights during this last year. We will continue to read the signposts presented to us.”