As a volunteer for Life Solutions of Hamlin, Linda Ballerstein said she had no idea of the extent of poverty in Hamlin until she saw it firsthand.
“Two years ago I did deliveries to families’ homes,” she said. “What an eye-opener that was. I haven’t seen a bed yet. It’s mostly mattresses on the floor. You open the refrigerator and it’s empty. They aren’t kidding when they say they are in need.”
Life Solutions, which began in 1982 as Hamlin Bread and Thread, a social ministry of Hamlin’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, aims to address the poverty that Ballerstein has witnessed. In October, for instance, the ecumenical organization provided 48 households with emergency food, including 57 children, 104 adults and seven seniors.
In 2008 the organization received a $510 Hunger Relief grant funded in part by the Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal. The organization used the money to help pay for some of its purchases of perishable foods for its annual Thanksgiving distribution.
In addition to the Thanksgiving distribution, volunteers also distribute baskets at Christmas and Easter. The 2009 Christmas distribution took place Dec. 11 and 12, following several frantic days of organizing at temporary quarters at the Hamlin Exempts.
Volunteers put together stationery gifts and postage stamps for 16 senior citizens, food baskets for 140 families and about 200 gifts for children. They also provided hats, scarves, mittens, books, coloring books and crayons, candy, a stuffed animal and a family game for children. Local firefighters and Santa delivered all the gifts to families via fire trucks.
Nine children who won a bike raffle at Thanksgiving were provided with a refurbished bike and a new helmet from R Community Bikes, a Rochester-based bike ministry that also is a recipient of Christmas Appeal funds.
Some families also received donated artificial Christmas trees and other festive decorations. Ballerstein noted that the idea to give away Christmas d√©cor came from a father with two young children who said it would make his kids’ Christmas to have a Christmas tree. The decorations have been met with gratitude, she said.
“I can’t tell you how many (clients) have said they have never had a Christmas tree,” said Ballerstein, a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner.
Yet these donation programs are limited by the small amount of space Life Solutions has available to collect and store donated items, Ballerstein said. Life Solutions volunteers said that in the future they hope to be able to move the ministry into a larger headquarters.
The organization is currently located in an approximately 500-square-foot home in a former parsonage next to Hamlin United Methodist Church. In addition to being cramped, its current home has stairs that are difficult to navigate, Ballerstein said. Although the organization has had several promising leads on larger locations, the deals have fallen through, she noted.
“We would work with anything we could get,” Ballerstein remarked.
Ballerstein said Life Solutions needs cash donations, volunteers, in-kind services and donated items that could be used, given to other families or resold to raise money for the organization.
“Right now because we are so limited in space, we mostly do food,” Ballerstein said.
Deacon Ray Datz, executive director of Life Solutions and a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner, said the organization also offers people referrals and some budgeting advice and other counseling services. The ministry also helps some clients with resume writing and other skills.
The charity’s efforts are supported by Hamlin-area churches, the Salvation Army, Foodlink and other organizations. However, to expand the organization into other avenues of assistance, additional financial contributions or grants are needed, he said.
“We have so many more people now needing help, especially with food, that food is our primary and first priority,” he said.