Deb Best hands out to-go meals at the door of Elmira Community Kitchen. Deb Best hands out to-go meals at the door of Elmira Community Kitchen. Deb Best hands out to-go meals at the door of Elmira Community Kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Elmira Community Kitchen)

Rochester Diocese agencies, ministries lend aid despite restrictions

Patty Lorenzen noticed a 10 percent increase in the number of individuals and families turning to St. Peter’s Kitchen for food in the first few weeks after the New York State on PAUSE executive order temporarily shuttered schools and many businesses throughout the state. At the same time, the soup kitchen has had to ask nearly all of its volunteers to stay home, so it’s relying on a skeleton crew to meet this increased demand for services, she said.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has triggered changes in nearly every aspect of life in the region, and agencies and ministries that provide social services to local residents are no exception. Local and state regulations intended to stem the virus’ spread have forced several ministries to temporarily shut their doors and caused others to change the way they provide services.

Under normal circumstances, volunteers at St. Peter’s Kitchen serve hot, nutritious meals inside St. Peter’s Kitchen each weekday. Now, the kitchen still provides meals each weekday, but those meals are boxed ahead of time and distributed outdoors, Lorenzen said.

“No one is allowed into our facility in order to try to maintain control of our food environment. We have asked all of our volunteers to stay home, as most of them are seniors,” she said. “In total, we are running our programs with about eight people at any given time.”

In addition to the boxed lunches, St. Peter’s Kitchen’s food pantry also provides prepackaged boxes of food to those in need three days a week at the door.

“So far, we have done quite well for the restraints we are under,” Lorenzen said, noting that St. Peter’s has received assistance from United Way, Holiday Outreach, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s.

Although volunteers are not accepted at this time, donations are always welcome and have helped St. Peter’s to get the sanitizing products and masks it needs to keep the staff and community safe, and to purchase the materials necessary to transition from sit-down to take-out meals, Lorenzen said.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced several other agencies and ministries to close their doors entirely for the time being. One of these, Bethany House, has temporarily closed both its shelter and its food pantry because of struggles to adequately staff them during this “unprecedented time worldwide,” according to a message posted on the ministry’s website. This outreach historically has provided shelter, food, feminine hygiene products and baby items for women facing homelessness, domestic violence, incarceration, addiction, and mental and physical illness.

The outreach’s staff and volunteers ask for prayers for “the many guests who have crossed the threshold of Bethany House” as well as continued donations and hope to reopen as soon as possible once the worst of the crisis has passed, according to the website.

Saint’s Place also has temporarily closed due to the global pandemic, according to its website. This outreach, which serves refugee families who have recently relocated to the Rochester area, operates the largest clothing closet in Rochester and provides the families it serves with clothing as well as furniture, beds, mattresses and household goods. Through a message posted on its website, Saint’s Place has asked people not to drop off donated items until further notice.

Other agencies and ministries that have been affected by the coronavirus or related restrictions include the following:

Catholic Charities Community Services has been able to continue communicating with many clients via telehealth, according to Tracy Kroft, director of advancement. Staff members have shopped for food, medicine and supplies and dropped the needed items off at clients’ homes while observing social distancing. Staff and residents of the agency’s residential facilities are observing all state and local recommendations and working creatively to keep residents engaged. The agency has been overwhelmed with support, encouragement and donations, yet still would gratefully accept donations of facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning products, Kroft said.

“We also are seeing an emerging need to add minutes to our clients’ cell phones, so that they can remain in contact with their care coordinators. Any help with that would be most appreciated. Letters from community members who just want to send a kind word would be most welcome, too,” Kroft said.

Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler has shifted to phone-based services, and case managers have made hundreds of check-in phone calls, but food is still being distributed at the Samaritan Center in Elmira and Schuyler Outreach Food Pantry in Watkins Glen. Those seeking food do not need to call ahead, as the agency’s staff has prepacked boxes of food based on family size, said Katie Rhodes, the agency’s coordinator of development and marketing. The Elmira Community Kitchen has switched to take-out lunches rather than sit-down meals. These bagged lunches are served each weekday from 11:30 am. to 12:30 p.m. Second Place East Homeless Shelter remains open and has been providing shelter for approximately 55 adults and children each night, she said. The agency is accepting monetary donations as well as food and cleaning supplies, although arrangements to drop off donated items must be made ahead of time.

Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga is still open, although the clothing closets at its offices in Ithaca and Nichols are closed and not accepting donations at this time, according to Laurie Konwinski, deputy director. The agency’s employees are assisting people as much as possible online or via telephone, and asking those who must come to the office to call ahead instead of walking in. The agency’s food pantry in Nichols remains open four days a week and is one of the few pantries still open in Tioga County, Konwinski said. A Place to Stay, the agency’s transitional housing program for single homeless women, also remains open. The agency had to cancel a pasta dinner fundraiser, but is hoping to either reschedule or plan a virtual event instead.

Tioga County Rural Ministry’s Food Pantry remains open during its normal hours, which are Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Food is being packaged ahead of time, and those seeking food are asked to ring the doorbell and then stand behind a green line on the sidewalk. Their food will be brought outside. The ministry has brought in more volunteer drivers, who deliver food to those who are sick, quarantined or normally would walk to the pantry, according to Alycia Anthony, human services aide with the ministry. Interviews with those seeking financial assistance are being conducted over the phone.

Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes is reducing in-person interactions, utilizing electronic means of communication and initiating new online systems, according to its website. The Geneva Community Lunch Program, which the agency offers in partnership with the Geneva Area Interfaith Council, continues to offer nutritious meals Monday through Friday between 11:45 am. and 12:15 p.m. at the Geneva Methodist Church, but those meals now are bagged.

Catholic Charities of Wayne County also is seeking creative new ways of carrying out its work, including by minimizing physical interactions and utilizing more electronic communications and online systems, according to its website.

Turning Point, a ministry of Catholic Charities of Steuben, now delivers food to those who need it. The ministry typically provides food, financial assistance, financial counseling, and referrals to other resources and services, but services at its Hornell and Bath sites have been suspended. Those who need food are asked to contact the ministry to arrange for a non-contact food delivery. Much of the food being distributed was provided through a food drive organized by the Hornell Area Family YMCA.

House of Mercy in Rochester is only operating as a homeless shelter and meal program for those that live in the shelter, said Stephanie Buchbinder, director of development and communications. Since House of Mercy recently transferred 36 individuals into a Hotel Radisson, Monroe County’s designated placement for homeless people, the agency also is accepting new individuals who need a place to stay, added Buchbinder. Staff members have been coordinating from home and the office to be in constant communication via the agency’s social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). The agency also recently partnered with Foodlink to create a hot lunch delivery program open to everyone in the community. For those interested in the program, email homwfood@gmail.com. Buchbinder added that those who would like to volunteer should email, stepahnie@houseofmercyrochester.org.

St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center remains open but is not accepting any new patients, said Sister Christine Wagner, executive director. The agency is currently working hard to provide a variety of health services to 900 enrolled patients who are either uninsured or underinsured, Sister Wagner said. To make sure those individuals continue to receive services, the agency made a list and reached out to all patients seen in the last six months to check in about their needs, she noted. While the agency’s doors are closed to street traffic and new patients, the staff is pursuing other safe alternatives, such as telehealth services, that would allow more patients.

Cameron Community Ministries, an urban outreach community center in Rochester, announced on its website temporary hours and closings in response to COVID-19. To-go Lunch will continue to be served Monday through Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m. The after-school program, teen center, Sunday celebration dinner and emergency food pantry have been closed until further notice. While the pantry is closed, a Foodlink mobile pantry will be available every third Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m. The agency’s clothing house also is closed; however, emergency hygiene kits and diapers are being provided Monday through Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Blessed Sacrament Church in Rochester continues to operate its supper program, providing take-out meals Monday through Friday, said MaryJo Lightholder, director. The soup kitchen is operating with a small number of volunteers to maintain safety practices, she added. During the first week that take-out meals were offered, individuals expressed that they missed having prayer before dinner. To respond to the need, volunteers are now placing words of encouragement and inspiration inside each take-out meal, Lightholder said.

The Charles Settlement House in Rochester continues to operate, providing food to individuals and families Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 5 p.m., said Scott Benjamin, chief executive officer. The agency also can assist with some other emergency needs; however, Benjamin emphasized that the current focus is on food. All other programs are closed to on-site work to maintain social distancing, but staff are working from home to maintain communication, he said.

Catholic Family Center in Rochester remains open; however, updated means of providing services while ensuring safe social distancing have been implemented, said Marcus Ebenhoe, CFC’s director of advocacy and parish social ministry. According to the agency’s website, the emergency shelters remain open with all clients screened and temperatures taken during intake at 691 St. Paul St. Also, all patient programs are open for walk-in hours. The mental-health clinic is open on Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. Although open, the CFC is experiencing a critical shortage of masks needed for employees to safely support clients (see story on page 5). Ebenhoe said it would make a difference to staff and clients if individuals were willing to sew one to four masks to donate. To organize pickup or delivery of the masks, contact Ebenhoe at mebenhoe@cfcrochester.org. Additionally, the CFC location on 539 Joseph Ave. is operating remotely and taking new cases for crisis management and financial assistance by phone. To schedule an appointment, call 585-546-7220, ext. 6800.

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