Meeting Needs – Staff Efforts Provide Food to 3,900 Neighbors in One Year

On the Westside of Syracuse, where our House of Providence headquarters is located, many people live in poverty. This is a fact that many of our staff are familiar with; a lot of our clients live here. After staff member Taylor Haesaert researched the full breadth of that poverty as part of her Masters in Social Work, she was determined to address it in a practical way.

“I found that 62% of the people in our own neighborhood are single moms with kids who have no means of transportation,” said Taylor. “Imagine trying to grocery shop like that. How could you?”

According to a 2015 study of poverty in the country, 60% to 80% of residents of the Near Westside of Syracuse live below the federal poverty line (Weiner). The area has few grocery stores, and many residents are reliant on SNAP (food stamps) to purchase food. When SNAP starts running low for many families at the end of the month, pantries are often perilously bare.

Taylor led the charge on implementing a fresh food distribution at the House of Providence. Similar programs exist at other sites, but the model hadn’t yet been tried at our headquarters, which isn’t accustomed to large influxes of public visitors. There was a lot to be sorted out, such as who would be responsible for what, and where the food would come from.

Taylor was joined in her efforts by many other staff members, including Shevanie Clark. Shevanie, Housing Coordinator, was one of the first staff volunteers to help figure out the “who” of the fresh food giveaway. Every month since the giveaway began, she has helped coordinate the arrival of the food, which is donated through Foodbank of Central New York. Shevanie helps set up tables and lay out crates of food before assisting clients in picking what they need.  Whatever leftovers remain, she helps deliver to supportive housing clients who aren’t able to come to the House of Providence.

“Giving out food is so simple, but it goes so far to helping so many people,” said Shevanie.

Harley Newell and Marty Mauro, along with other members of our Maintenance Team, have played a vital role in coordinating the food distribution since it began. Harley and Marty organize the crews that clear the parking lot for the arrival of the food truck, set up the tables for the food, orchestrate clean up, and more.

“It’s a great program,” said Harley. “You see this need here, and you’re able to help meet it.”

Jessica Evans, a Parent Aide, started working at Catholic Charities in June and immediately volunteered to help with the Fresh Food Distribution in much the same role as Shevanie. As a newcomer to the organization, she appreciated interacting with both staff and clients through the program.

In addition to offering free fresh food to anyone who is in need, the monthly distribution event is a chance to inform local residents about the agency’s programs. Staff members from different programs are available to talk with people about other support they might need in terms of housing, education, childcare and more, and connect them with the appropriate program.

“You get to know the people who come pretty quick,” said Jessica. “You can make connections that help people see their own value.  They’re so much more than their poverty. There’s a story behind who they are and why they’re here.”

Since the Fresh Food Distribution began in March 2018, it has provided food for over 3,900 people. Over a third of the people who receive food through the distribution are children. We’re proud to be able to serve our clients with this new program, and deeply grateful to Taylor, Shevanie, Harley, Marty, Jessica and all of the staff who continue making the event a success every month.  As an agency we believe that addressing crises like bare cupboards and lack of shelter can help people stabilize their lives and make room for growth. Over time, we can transform lives and build a brighter future for our communities.

Sources: Weiner, Mark. “Syracuse has nation’s highest poverty concentrated among blacks, Hispanics.” 2015.  

Posted by Bridget Dunn, Communications Manager

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