East Rochester center catches those who fall through cracks - Catholic Courier

East Rochester center catches those who fall through cracks

Teresa Willette, a member of St. Jerome Parish in East Rochester, has had a fever for decades.

Almost 60 years ago, when she got married, she started volunteering for the church’s human-development committee, and working in Catholic social outreach led her to her current position as director of the East Rochester Community Resource Center.

“I got bitten by the bug,” she said. “The fact that you’re able to help other people that need, that really need it, it just gets in your blood.”

As director of East Rochester Community Resource Center, Willette oversees a program that provides food to struggling individuals and families, as well as clothing and other services, including helping families obtain used furniture and other household items and getting one-time financial grants.

“There are a lot of different circumstances that put people in the conditions they’re in, and we take that all in account,” she said, noting first-time clients of the center can get a week’s worth of food for themselves and/or their families with no questions asked.

Repeat clients are interviewed so the center can assess their particular challenges and tailor its assistance accordingly. Sometimes a client is a veteran trying to readjust to civilian life. Other times it can be a family with a member whose illnesses have put them in medical debt. Everything from a fire damaging a house to an increase in rent and gas prices can compel people to seek food and clothing assistance, Willette said.

She added that a lot of people in need don’t qualify for public assistance but also don’t make enough money to cover certain bills.

“They might not be able to get food stamps, for example, so they fall through the cracks,” she said.

Like other social-outreach workers around the country, Willette said the biggest financial issue for many people in 2022 was inflation.

“We’re finding a lot more individuals who are needing help and people with families too,” she said. “Sometimes the cost of gas to get back and forth to work can take up half of their income practically now.”

East Rochester Community Resource Center offers a hand up

Willette’s coworker, Albert Buckner, serves as East Rochester Community Resource Center’s associate director and also is the financial secretary for St. Jerome’s Knights of Columbus St. John Fisher No. 3676 Council. Buckner said the center exists to give a hand up, not a handout, to people.

“We’re not here to subsidize a person’s way of life,” he said. “We’re here to help them out of a situation and then grow.”

St. Jerome’s parishioners form a vital part of the center’s volunteer base, Willette said, noting that at least six parishioners regularly help her out.

“I could call up over there and at any one time there is always someone over there who can come over and help,” she said.

Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal helps the center

The annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal helped fund a $1,000 grant that the East Rochester Community Resource Center recently received. Willette said the money was used to help fund the center’s annual Christmas basket program.

The center puts together such treats as hams or turkeys for families, includes gift cards for food (so those will dietary allergies can enjoy a meal), and with the assistance of the East Rochester Fire Department provides toys for children 13 and under. Families unable to sign up prior to Christmas for any reason can still come in after the holiday to receive various items, Willette said.

“This way all families who have applied, early or late, still get the food basket with enough food for their holiday dinner, and for the week that the children are home from school,” she said, adding that the center appreciates the help it receives from the Christmas Appeal.

“We are truly grateful for the grants we’ve received, which have helped us a great deal,” Willette said.

Dawn Brien runs the center’s clothing project and shares the passion Willette and Buckner expressed for helping those in need.

“It just makes you feel really good when you can find something, some clothing that people can use,” she said. “It just kind of feeds your soul to make people feel good.”

Tags: Catholic Charities, Faith in Action, Monroe County East
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