Connecting to Help Neighbors in Need

People who live near the poverty line face a special challenge in rural regions, where large human services agencies rarely keep office hours. Luckily, good neighbors stand ready to assist.

In 2014, the Community Foundation made grants to four organizations that help rural residents in need. Although each serves in a different way, these groups have one key thing in common: they all rely on collaboration. In some cases, volunteers from several churches join forces to offer a service. In others, several not-for-profit organizations pool resources.

For example, the Tioga Outreach Center, part of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga Counties, cooperates with Tioga County Rural Ministries, the Open Door Mission, the Salvation Army and other partners to help with winter heating emergencies. “We can’t afford to fill a fuel tank ourselves,” says Laurie Ellis, the Center’s community services director. So the groups band together. “We even share the paperwork, so people don’t have to go to three different agencies to get everyone to pitch in.”

The Center operates many other programs, including a food pantry and a service that distributes free clothing and housewares. In 2014, the Community Foundation’s Women’s Fund gave the Center $3,000 to buy personal care items for female heads of households, and for girls at Newark Valley High School enrolled in a program for at-risk teens.

“It’s a matter of basic human dignity to be able to stay clean,” says Ellis. By giving women and girls one less thing to worry about, the gifts of hygiene supplies let them focus on getting ahead in life.

On Common Ground
The Church Commons in Owego unites volunteers from half a dozen or more local churches. The group recently transformed the former Reformed Presbyterian Church on Main Street into the Common Ground Christian Community Center. Opened in 2014, the Center now provides a distribution site for the Owego-Apalachin School District’s free summer breakfast and lunch program.

On Thanksgiving 2014, the Community Center served dinner to local residents with no other place to go for the holiday. Just 20 minutes before volunteers dished out the first slices of turkey, contractors finished hooking up a new furnace for the building, courtesy of an $8,890 grant from the Community Foundation.

With a working furnace, Common Ground can offer programs throughout the year, says Robert Henrich, president of The Church Commons and pastoral coordinator for Common Ground. The group will focus especially on youth, with life skills classes, academic tutoring and presentations by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Tioga County Council of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.

Kitchen Kindness
In Mount Upton, a food pantry at the United Methodist Church expanded its services last year, thanks to a grant of $11,850 from the Community Foundation. The church used the money to install a new kitchen, replacing an old one in its basement that had seen one too many floods.

The food pantry is a joint project of the Methodist church and the First Baptist Church of Mount Upton. “They also do a community dinner once a month that is free to anybody,” says Jackie Foster, the Methodist Church member who wrote the grant proposal. For Thanksgiving 2014, volunteers distributed food baskets, including turkeys, to people in need. The Methodist women also prepare food for funerals held in all of Mount Upton’s churches, she says.

The new kitchen makes a big difference for all those activities. “Before it was installed, volunteers cooked in crock pots at home and brought the food into the church,” Foster says. The new kitchen also lets the church offer classes in healthy cooking to kids in its after school program and to people who use the food pantry. “And for the first time, they had a community chicken barbecue this summer,” she says.

A Hammer and a Plan
The Impact Project, a nonprofit organization based in Greene, has enlisted about 1,900 volunteers to do home repairs and renovations for nearly 70 households in need over ten years. While not affiliated with a church, the group is a faith-based organization. It lists about 20 churches as sponsors, plus a similar number of businesses and several media outlets.

There are few home improvement challenges the Impact Project hasn’t tackled, says James Willard, the organization’s director. “We’ve done plumbing, electricity, additions. We’ve done weatherization, roofs, handicap ramps and decks, furnaces, bathrooms.” The group volunteers mainly in Chenango and Broome Counties, although it expects soon to expand into Otsego County.

Throughout its history, the Impact Project has scrambled to support its work, first choosing a project and then raising funds to pay for materials. A $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation has reversed that process, allowing the organization to plan for the future. With the money squared away in the fall of 2014, the Impact Project could start picking projects for the spring.

“You have no idea how awesome that is,” says Willard. “We’ve never been able to do that.”


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