Outreach opens in Waverly - Catholic Courier

Outreach opens in Waverly

It didn’t take long for business to heat up after Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga began a food pantry in the village of Waverly March 1.

“Our doors were not even opened. We were not set up until the second week in March, but we had people coming in the first week. We were pulling stuff out of bags and boxes to give to people,” recalled Karen Demetros, who serves as director of the new Tioga Outreach Center.

The busy pace has kept up; Demetros projected in late April that the pantry would serve well over 100 people in that month alone. “And that was before we put any information in the paper. It was just word of mouth,” she remarked.

Tioga Outreach Center is located in the former St. James School, 505 Clark St. Demetros said that Catholic Charities had been prompted to start a food pantry in Waverly after Elijah’s Barrel closed in July 2003, leaving the Valley Food Pantry as the immediate area’s only such facility.

“We’ve been busier than we ever imagined,” remarked George Ferrari, executive director of Tompkins/Tioga Catholic Charities. “I think it’s a pretty good indication of the unserved need.”

To establish the outreach, Catholic Charities vacated the offices that had been in the Washington-Gladden Building in Owego. However, Ferrari described that location as “very much out of sight, out of mind” and felt confident that the needs of that area’s poor could be adequately met by such existing outreaches as Tioga County Rural Ministry, a Sisters of Mercy-operated facility.

Being in downtown Waverly, he said, has allowed for better walk-up access and has also allowed Catholic Charities to expand its services. Tioga Outreach Center also offers clothing; household items; financial assistance; food stamp pre-screening; Wheels for Work, which provides transportation for employment; and a job-search service. These programs are available to all Tioga County residents. Additionally, the food pantry, clothing, household items and food stamp pre-screening can be accessed by Pennsylvania residents; Waverly lies right on the state border.

Tioga Outreach Center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the food pantry is open on those days from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Demetros is joined on the staff by Judy Groves, Wheels for Work coordinator; and Cecilia Montaner-Vargas, who coordinates nutrition outreach and education and is also a food stamp pre-screener.

According to Ferrari, Catholic Charities has arranged a one-year lease with Blessed Trinity Parish, which operates St. James Church and its school building. The outreach center is set up in two former classrooms at the school, which houses other community services and a daily-Mass chapel as well.

Demetros said Catholic Charities values its collaboration with such established organizations as Open Door Mission and Tioga Opportunities. Several such groups were in attendance at an open house that took place at the outreach center April 21. “I think we had about 75 people. It was wonderful,” Demetros said.

The Waverly initiative has benefitted from grants as well as a generous food supply, particularly from Catholic Charities’ Food Bank of the Southern Tier. But needs are ongoing, so Demetros said the center is planning food drives and is also circulating “wish lists,” asking for food, clothing, household items, personal-hygiene items and baby supplies.

Demetros said a large percentage of people served by the outreach are on public assistance and/or are unemployed, with many being single mothers and older women. Demetros said she strives to draw on her previous caseworking experience with Catholic Charities in helping recipients improve their quality of life.

“I try to steer them in a direction, not just give them what they need and send them on their way,” Demetros said. “We develop a relationship with them.”
“The food pantry is a real entry point for many, many people,” Ferrari added. “It’s a way of making that initial contact that’s not threatening.”
Demetros said her heart often goes out to people in extremely difficult circumstances, such as the mother, father and 11-year-old boy who recently appeared at the outreach.

“It was very, very sad to see that the mom and dad were both disabled. So you do what you can; I gave them everything I possibly could and I felt good,” Demetros said. “We see a lot of bad stuff, but a lot of positive comes out of it.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: To volunteer, to make a donation or to find out about Tioga Outreach Center, call 607/565-7580 or toll free at 866/326-1373.


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