HAMLIN – To understand Life Solutions of Hamlin’s space crunch, one must witness its annual Christmas distribution of food baskets, toys, clothes and Christmas trees.
All the hundreds of donated items, which had been packed floor to ceiling in a small storage room, had to be moved to the Hamlin Exempts several days before distribution, so that they could be sorted, wrapped and packaged for delivery to the 145 families helped by the organization.
“We don’t turn anybody away,” said Debbie Morehouse, president of Life Solutions.
In one room of the Exempts, cardboard boxes of nonperishable food covered every available surface and the floor. Recipients of the Christmas baskets also received scalloped potatoes, vegetables and desserts, and hams that Tops Market stored for the organization. In another room, tables were covered with toys so that families can pick out Christmas presents.
“We make sure every child has mittens or gloves, too,” Morehouse said.
In the Exempts kitchen, a handful of people rapidly wrapped gifts donated through angel tree programs.
“This is the biggest thing we do, all year long,” said Karen Docteur, vice president of Life Solutions and a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner. “We provide food, and we also provide Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter baskets.”
Volunteers say their use of the Exempts is just one of many examples of why Life Solutions needs a new home, so that it can continue meeting the growing needs of people in Hamlin and Clarkson in western Monroe County. Life Solutions gave out food, counseling and other services to 292 families in 2006 and 363 in 2007, including 714 children and 680 adults. Life Solutions serves the 8,500 people within the boundaries of Lake Ontario to the north, Ridge Road to the south, Redman Road to the west and Sweden Walker-Walker Lake Ontario Road.
It began in 1982 as the Hamlin Bread and Thread, a social ministry of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. It has grown into an ecumenical effort that involves churches throughout Hamlin and Clarkson. It is headquartered in a former parsonage on Route 19 next to the Hamlin United Methodist Church. The headquarters includes a 448-square-foot food pantry and three other rooms, including one for storage and two small ones for an office, meetings and counseling.
The lack of storage space has also prevented the pantry from being able to stock up on supplies from FoodLink, a food distribution agency, or to accept large donations of perishable foods.
In addition to lacking storage space, Life Solutions volunteers point out that treacherous stairs hinder access to the food pantry, bathroom and upstairs storage room. Judy Hayes, a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner and a seven-year-volunteer with Life Solutions, said the five steep steps leading up to the Life Solutions food pantry can be difficult to navigate when carrying heavy boxes of food.
Volunteers also note that the space lacks privacy for those who need counseling on budgets and tips on how to get out of financial problems. Docteur said the ideal space would be a single-story building with plenty of shelving, room for refrigerators and freezers, waiting areas, meeting and counseling rooms, a large open area for the holiday distributions and would offer discretion for people in need.
“We want it to be ours,” Docteur said. “Because of the nature of what we do, we want to be the only ones who have a key to the place, and have it be just for our situation.”
It already has land for a new headquarters; St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hamlin has leased the ministry land so that Life Solutions could build there. However, the group is attempting to raise funds needed to design and build its new home. Several fundraisers are planned, and the group is also looking at ways to get matching funding.
Upcoming fundraisers include a pancake dinner from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at St. John Lutheran Church, 1107 Lake Road West Fork, Hamlin. At the event, a freewill offering will go to Life Solutions. Volunteers are also planning a stewardship campaign to generate pledges to help with construction costs.
Volunteers are a key piece of what keeps the organization running and growing, Docteur said.
“Some of our biggest volunteers and helpers are people who were helped themselves,” Docteur said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Life Solutions can be contacted at 585-964-7420. Donations may be made to Life Solutions, P.O. Box 160, Hamlin, NY 14464.
This story was updated March 5, 2008.