EDITOR’S NOTE: The following series of articles illustrate how Catholic Charities agencies throughout the 12-county Diocese of Rochester respond to the call to carry out the corporal works of mercy, especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. The corporal works of mercy are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead.
Imagine having to skip the school prom because you couldn’t afford the finery.
Or making a poor impression at a job interview because you didn’t have appropriate attire.
Or having your dignity shaken because you lacked fresh socks or underwear for school.
For many impoverished Southern Tier residents, these are realities rather than hypothetical situations. Fortunately, the Catholic Charities agencies in their regions — along with many generous community donors — see to it that these folks can be outfitted with adequate clothing.
Catholic Charities of Steuben has four facilities in all to meet this need. Lynda Lowin, director of the agency’s Turning Point Services, noted that Steuben County Rural Ministry in Canisteo offers an abundance of clothing on-site from which recipients can choose. Meanwhile, Turning Point outlets in Corning, Bath and Hornell strive to match clients with clothing based on their requests.
"People in the Canisteo Valley are extremely generous to us. They bring us very lovely clothing," Sister Susan Cain, RSM, longtime director of Steuben County Rural Ministry, said of the donors in her area.
Another component of Steuben Catholic Charities’ clothing ministry is its annual winter coat drive. According to Lowin, a total of 200 coats were donated this past November and December.
"Coats come to us from the community — schools, churches, individuals, organizations," Lowin said. She noted that one person who operates a housecleaning business asks her clients if they have any potential donations, and a dry cleaner gets donated coats cleaned at no cost.
In addition, at the start of each school year, local communities in Steuben pitch in to provide new socks and underwear as well as school supplies for students in need.
"Back-to-school supplies and clothing really represent a fresh start for students. Our students have a confident outlook," Lowin said.
Confidence and dignity also are enhanced for the folks served by Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga. According to Renee Spear, executive director, her staff frequently fills such specific requests as prom dresses and attire for job interviews.
The agency also features clothing and linens closets at its Samaritan Center in Ithaca and clothing at the Tioga Outreach Center in Nichols. Recipients at both locations are permitted to choose several articles of clothing per person per month. Spear said the need is great but so is the level of donations, with up to 6,000 pieces of gently used clothing given away monthly at the Ithaca location.
"We get bags and bags of clothes," Spear said. Along with donors, the clothing ministry is buoyed by several volunteers who staff the Samaritan Center by folding and sorting clothes and greeting clients, she said. Community organizations help out as well; for instance, Catholic Charities partners with the Rotary for the annual Share the Warmth Campaign through which bins are placed all over Tompkins County to collect donated coats, boots and other winter attire.
Spear observed that poverty is plentiful in the city of Ithaca as well as many rural areas of Tompkins and Tioga counties, so she’d like to see even more people step forward for assistance.
"It’s not easy. You get a lot of individuals with pride; sometimes they’re embarrassed to come," she said. "The staff works well with them — they don’t want them to feel bad."
On the other hand, Spear said that many area residents are frequent visitors to the Catholic Charities clothing facilities and that their lives are enhanced as a result. Sister Cain likewise said she observes positive effects among the people she serves.
"They are very grateful," said Sister Cain, whose rural ministry is located in the former St. Joachim Church in Canisteo. "Many of them are on food stamps, below the poverty level. They say they didn’t know what they were going to do."