Niagara Gazette — Normally charity organizations notice both an increase in need and an increase in offered help once Thanksgiving comes around.
But following the Christmas holiday, the two separate quicker than many inside these charities care to acknowledge. And it’s usually the help that dries up first.
The need, though, stays fairly level throughout the winter months, especially in the more hands-on places like the Community Missions of Niagara Frontier Inc.
“You can look at the direct increase within our emergency housing shelter with the temperature and weather outside,” said Christian Hoffman, communications and development manager at Community Missions. “Throughout all of the winter months, we need that help. Whether it be volunteer hours or through donations. But anybody who does come in give to our food pantry or serve in our soup kitchen can see the need up front and that doesn’t go down when the holidays end.”
Still, Hoffman said the organization doesn’t want to discount the help that did arrive these past few months. Though it’s too early to tell for this year, there was a dramatic rise in help coming through the doors of the emergency shelter. It only helped match the rise in requests for assistance, but it was beneficial nonetheless, he said.
For example, he said, through Dec. 1 there was about a 20 percent increase in the number of requests made to the shelter portion of the mission’s 18 different services. Its Adopt-a-Family program, though, which provides both Christmas presents and meals for those in need, saw a bountiful increase in the number of people helped, which Hoffman credits to more people stepping up this year.
He said the service provided 162 families in the area with a Christmas season, up from 140 last year.
“We want to thank the community,” he said. “The holiday season was a fantastic one. It’s been wonderful. But we’re hoping we can see this time and time again. There’s still time this year to help, too. Now is as good a time as any for anyone looking to give as there are still a couple days left to get your tax deductible donations in, which is what we typically see.”
Need doesn’t exist solely in the homeless community of Niagara County, though. Overall, it’s been a rather typical year throughout many of the region’s charitable organizations, from small operations like the Davis family’s The Lord’s Day Dinner, to the large ones like the Food Bank of Western New York.
The Ashland Avenue-based The Lord’s Day Dinner saw some average numbers walk through the doors of the Seneca Avenue Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 917 for free meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas days, when hundreds are fed by the crews working for Yvonne and Matthew Davis.
What is an average year for the program?
“We had about 350-plus people for Thanksgiving and 450-plus people for Christmas,” Matthew Davis estimated. “That’s a pretty average year for both. But some of that has to do with the weather, too.”
The Lord’s Day Dinner isn’t an every day or every week occurrence. It’s only during special holidays, meaning it’s less reliant on long-term help. Still, Davis said, there is some need. It became especially important after a July rainstorm flooded their basement, effectively destroying much of their supplies just months before their two big meals.
They said the community stepped up in a big way, aiding them in all sorts of ways. Product and monetary donations streamed in while volunteers giving their time these past two holidays made it possible to feed the many less fortunate who stepped foot inside the post looking for some hope.
“Everyone’s been quite helpful,” Davis said. “With the recent flood, the volunteer and community support was tremendous. We’ve had more than enough volunteers who helped out, but all who contributed in some sort of way were kept busy. They all had something to do. Quite frankly, without the support from the community, it would’ve been quite difficult for us, especially this year.”
Of course, when it comes to helping feed the less fortunate, few organizations do more than the Food Bank of Western New York. Located south of William Street in Buffalo, the organizations services much of the region, including Niagara County, through supporting its member organizations. Those places, mainly food pantries and soup kitchens similar to what the Community Missions offers, distribute the food they receive to their clients.
One method the food bank oversees to stock pantry shelves with food is the numerous local food drives, many of which provide some valuable necessities like baby food to areas servicing young families who can’t afford these items regularly.
Food Bank Public and Community Relations Director Mike Billoni said November and December brought a lot of food in through these drives as the holiday season brought increased charity. But like with Community Missions, the help usually decreases as the calendar begins its transition through the first few months of the new calendar.
“Customarily, it gets slower for food drives for donations in January and February,” Billoni said. “But we’re always open for people to make donations. People can do that through our website, www.foodbankwny.org, or by calling our general phone number, 852-1305.”Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.