Four years ago, Chautauqua County Rural Ministry in Dunkirk decided to make a major transition. It relocated from its setting in the Coburn Block at West Second Street and Central Avenue to its current home at 319 W. Third St.
Kathy Peterson, executive director, has seen plenty of ups and downs during her career that spans three decades with the agency. One of those events was the collapse of the north section of the Coburn Block that impacted the agency as well as 40 tenants in the building in 2015. Another — right before the holidays in 2011 — involved a major pipe leak that caused damage to the offices and cost more than $15,000 to fix.
Peterson saw the agency through those ordeals before making the move. There was nothing easy about it.
“It was the scariest thing I ever did in my whole career here,” she said. “It was such a huge, huge step for me.”
That work has paid off. After moving to the former Symphony Living and St. Vincent’s Home location, Chautauqua County Rural Ministry continued its Garment Gallery and soup kitchen.
It also began a book shop and opened Muriel’s Closet, which sells an interesting variety of higher quality donated goods such as clothing, jewelry, vintage items and interesting one of a kind items.
With Christmas nearly a fortnight away, the human service agency’s assistance for those less fortunate is well underway. Nearly 60 families and 120 children will be receiving gifts and food that are made possible through community donations. In addition, the soup kitchen will be open come that holy day.
Peterson also will be working with some dedicated individuals who will be volunteering their time to be certain that no one goes without a hot meal. “I think that those who give that day when they could be with their families … is a huge, remarkable thing,” she said.
Poverty, unfortunately, is all around Chautauqua County. U.S. Census figures show the rate to be about 16%, but it is higher in the cities. In Jamestown, the number is about 30% while Dunkirk is 25%. What may be most disconcerting is the high number living in poverty in the upscale village of Fredonia. There, poverty is at an almost unthinkable 24%.
It is tough to decipher just how much COVID-19 has impacted these indicators. We do know, however, that the rate in our county of 127,000 residents is higher than the national average.
Recently released Census findings revealed overall:
¯ The official national poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, up from 10.5% in 2019.
¯ Between 2019 and 2020, the rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics. Among non-Hispanic Whites, 8.2% were in poverty in 2020, while Hispanics had a poverty rate of 17%. Among the major racial groups examined in this report, African Americans had the highest poverty rate – 19.5%, but did not experience a significant change from 2019.
¯ Poverty rates for people under the age of 18 increased from 14.4% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2020.
All these statistics are alarming, but Peterson said when compared to Christmas two years ago, Rural Ministry is helping fewer families this holiday season. Some of that decrease, she notes, is from increased aid in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Peterson is confident the agency she oversees is ready to serve those needy families for Christmas with some minor exceptions. “There are some items we’re still looking for, mostly teenage gifts,” she said, noting a lack of sporting goods and bath products.
Those in the community who would like to help can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 716-366-1787. In recent days, the Lake Shore Street Rod Association made a contribution while others were expected from St. Anthony’s Church as well as an anonymous donor who will be bringing another 100 wrapped gifts.
“Philanthropy is well in northern Chautauqua County,” she said. “If we need something and the community knows about it, they respond.”
John D’Agostino is editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to email@example.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.
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