Tioga Outreach Center strives to meet growing need for food - Catholic Courier
A man pushes a grocery cart. Michael Cornelius, an Owego resident, selects groceries during a May 5 visit to the Tioga Outreach food pantry in Nichols. (Courier photo by Mike Latona)

Tioga Outreach Center strives to meet growing need for food

NICHOLS — Add up the challenges facing Michael Cornelius, and it’s not hard to see why he depends on Tioga Outreach Center.

The Owego resident, who lives on a modest fixed income, has seen his budget crippled by rising grocery prices due to inflation.

“Like everyone else, I’m having a hard time. And it’s only getting worse,” he said May 5 while filling a shopping cart with groceries from the outreach center’s pantry.

Cornelius, who nearly died from COVID-19 this past winter and is still recovering, added that he often finds himself having to choose between buying groceries and needed medication. Thus, the assistance he receives from Tioga Outreach Center — where he’s been coming for about a year — is more vital than ever.

Stories such as Cornelius’ are becoming all too common, said Renee Spear, executive director of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, which operates Tioga Outreach Center. She noted that the effects of inflation — along with food-stamp benefit cuts and high gasoline costs — make it “extremely difficult” for people who already were barely getting by.

Clients to Tioga County facility come ‘from far and wide’

The outreach center is located in a former school building at 139 Roki Blvd. in this southern Tioga County village. It’s open every Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m., offering a free clothing closet, personal-hygiene products and emergency financial assistance as well as the food pantry. In addition, takeout meals are provided Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

No appointment is necessary for clothing or food, although clients needing specific help are encouraged to call ahead. The outreach center also provides flyers with information regarding mobile-food distributions and other pantries in the region.

“People come to us from far and wide. We reach people from every part of the county,” said Patrick Aquilio, Tioga Outreach Center coordinator, adding that clients also come from neighboring counties, including northern Pennsylvania.

Spear noted that Tioga Outreach Center receives approximately 1,000 visits per month — a rate that has nearly doubled in recent years. Aquilio added that the number of new families accessing the center has risen by 50 percent in the past year.

However, the outreach center is struggling to keep up with this growing need. Spear acknowledged that its pantry stock is chronically low due to cuts from some main suppliers and the agency’s decreased purchasing power because of inflation. She added that Tioga Outreach Center is funded largely through grants, but those monies do not cover all its expenses. In order to provide adequate levels of food for its clients, she said, “We have to get more creative.”

Tioga Outreach uses several approaches to meet growing need

One approach, Spear said, is to expand its collaborative efforts with similar agencies in and near Tioga County. She also is looking to expand the outreach center’s “food rescue” effort, by which it acquires leftover food from an area restaurant. Spear said she hopes to line up additional businesses and farms to donate unused food, as well as volunteers to pick it up.

Also in the area of community support, Catholic Charities is currently conducting a “Soap for Hope” drive for hygiene products in Tioga and Tompkins counties. Spear also encourages parish-based initiatives, such as a food drive conducted March 25-26 at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes. According to Aquilio, that effort netted 800 pounds of food for Tioga Outreach Center.

Spear and Aquilio also said that individual donations of cash and food are always welcomed; food can be dropped off at Tioga Outreach Center anytime during business hours.

All these efforts help to ease the burdens of people like Cornelius, who said he’s greatly appreciative of the food he receives from Tioga Outreach Center and the people who assist him there.

“It’s like a second family, if you will,” he remarked.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To contact Tioga Outreach Center, call 607-414-1023 or visit https://www.catholiccharitiestt.org/programs/tioga-outreach-services/.

Tags: Catholic Charities, Tioga County News
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