The newcomers at Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler aren’t always unfamiliar faces to Bridget Steed. Several are former volunteers who are now surfacing for a different reason: having felt the full force of the economic recession, they’re new to seeking Catholic Charities’ support.
"A common thread is that people thought they’d never be in a position to need these services," said Steed, who serves as the Elmira agency’s executive director. For example, in June 2009 Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler saw a 54-percent increase over the previous year for unduplicated households accessing its Samaritan Center food pantry. Many recipients were seeking emergency food assistance for the first time.
To better keep pace with the public’s growing needs, Catholic Charities has combined the offices of two key divisions. The newly named Emergency Service Center, 380 S. Main St., was created in March 2009 when the Samaritan Center on that site also became the office for Second Place East Homeless Services.
Second Place East seeks to prevent homelessness by providing financial assistance with rent and utilities and offering an array of advocacy and supportive services. The ministry also offers access to emergency housing; its shelter is located on College Avenue in Elmira.
Meanwhile, the Samaritan Center — which receives funds from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal — provides emergency food, clothing, and prescription-drug assistance to those in need. In addition, the ministry offers facilitated enrollment for affordable health insurance and referrals for other resources and support services.
Second Place East had most recently operated out of Catholic Charities’ main offices at 215 E. Church St. Steed said that collocating the facility with the Samaritan Center helps both entities cut down on duplication of services, as well as expand their offerings and control fixed costs.
"It makes sense to consolidate a menu of services. We are able to provide multiple services," Steed said, noting, for example, that somebody visiting the Samaritan Center food pantry also may have issues with a utility payment, and can address that problem with Second Place East on the same trip.
Second Place East and the Samaritan Center each has a vital local presence. Second Place East is the only homeless service in all of Chemung County and has been under the operation of Catholic Charities since 2003. The Samaritan Center, which Catholic Charities has overseen since 1980, was the first Catholic Charities emergency-services operation of its kind in the Southern Tier. Since then, Catholic Charities has expanded its presence across the Tier to include the Tompkins County Samaritan Center in Ithaca; Schuyler Outreach in Watkins Glen; Turning Point in Bath; and Tioga Outreach Center in Waverly.
With the public’s need so sharply on the rise, Steed said that donations are greatly needed and appreciated. She also expressed thanks for what she termed a "unique" level of community support for Second Place East, Samaritan Center and other Catholic Charities entities. Donations of money, food, supplies, and clothing — along with a wealth of volunteer time — have helped offset the challenge of working with tight budgets and small staffs.
"These are services we can only provide through the great work of volunteers," Steed remarked.