News of higher heating costs has many people searching for ways to cut expenses this winter, but for some, this means that basic living needs such as food, clothing and heating won’t be met.
Last year, the Samaritan Center in Elmira served more than 40,000 clients with basic necessities and prescription assistance. This year, the center expects this figure to increase dramatically.
“Sadly, our impression is that those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder are struggling and very desperate to a point where basic needs cannot be met with their level of income or other social services available,” said Stephen M. Hughes, director of development for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler. “To those in our community our center is critical.”
The Samaritan Center, which is open 20 hours per week, provides emergency services such as food, clothing and prescription assistance and also distributes household items. It has one full-time and two part-time employees as well as the support of 75 volunteers.
“Our forecast is grim,” Hughes said. “I think the numbers of people coming to us for basic needs will be exponential. We will definitely surpass our level of service from 2004. And it’s amazing considering the number of hours we’re open.”
Founded in 1980, the Samaritan Center recently expanded its structure to meet the growing needs in the community. The project, which included renovating the food pantry to more than double its space and adding a new 736-square-foot kitchen, was completed in August. The cost totaled $5,700 and was offset by in-kind donations and community volunteer efforts such as the United Way Day of Caring. Hughes added that the $5,700 figure would have normally been in the $18,000 to $20,000 range had it not been for significant donations of labor and materials.
According to Elizabeth Axelrod, coordinator of the Samaritan Center, the expansion could not have come too soon.
“I think it’s a sign of our financial times,” she said. “Our need is growing. We have people lining up out our doorway every day. We need to be able to provide the services in a dignified way.”
The upgraded food pantry, which increased from 152 square feet to more than 400 square feet, is now configured like a grocery store. The new kitchen allows the Samaritan Center to expand its programming. One such program includes demonstrations by educators from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chemung County, in which clients who receive food learn how to prepare healthy meals for their families.
Axelrod said she is excited about this new program.
“Previously, people would come in and be handed a bag of groceries,” she said. “With the new kitchen, they can come in and develop new skills on how to put together healthy meals and use it in their everyday lives. Hopefully this will give them a new confidence in learning.”
“Thank God that there are organizations such as ours to fulfill these needs and gives people life skills as well. Otherwise, I think we’d see a real epidemic of hunger that may lead to other chronic problems such as crime, student performance and so on. We’ve got to keep trying to lend a helping hand, especially in these difficult times.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations of cash and nonperishable items are always needed at the Samaritan Center. For more information, call 607/734-4898.