FULTON, NY – Hunger. It’s one of Oswego County’s most pressing issues, yet the vast majority of community members are not aware of how serious the issue is.
When there is food on your table and your cupboards are filled it is hard to imagine what it must be like to not know where your next meal is coming from.
For Oswego County Opportunities, hunger in Oswego County is something the agency is well aware of and takes very seriously.
Every program in the agency’s Crisis and Development Services and Nutrition Services, in some way, addresses the issue of hunger and does its best to provide emergency food for families and individuals that are desperately in need.
Crisis and Development Services includes a variety of prevention, intervention and care management services including: Street Outreach, which operates drop-in centers and helps connect youth to other resources and services; PATH, a transitional living program for homeless youth 21 and under offers tips for eating nutritionally, food budgeting, and preparing meals; Homeless Services that provides supportive services to stabilize households and facilitate the transition from homelessness to permanent housing; and Services to Aid Families that provides residential and non-residential services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, elder abuse and stalking.
“Hunger has been and always will be one of OCO’s priorities,” said Eric Bresee, director of OCO Crisis and Development Services. “Whether it’s emergency assistance from our food pantry or helping individuals and families access other food pantries and resources such as WIC, or SNAP benefits, OCO is a leader in the fight against hunger in Oswego County.”
According to Bresee, OCO Crisis and Development Services provided more than 1,456 emergency meals and 9,759 ongoing meals to its consumers last year.
More than 3,400 of those meals were for youth 16 and under.
Additionally, OCO partners with drop-in centers at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fulton and Our Lady of the Rosary in Hannibal to provide them with support for their food pantry and providing their visitors with assistance in connecting to other resources.
“The number of people that we are providing food for increased dramatically in 2010. While that number has leveled off, it has unfortunately not gone down,” added Bresee.
Brian Coleman, coordinator of OCO Homeless Services and Cristy King, coordinator of OCO Intervention Services, which includes, the Crisis Hot Line, SAF and Homeless Services, echoed those thoughts.
“All of the services I oversee have maintained a high level of need. Fortunately we have been able to find a way to meet the hunger issues that our consumers need, but it remains a challenge,” said King.
King added that both the number of individuals accessing services and the average length of stay in the SAF program is significantly greater that it was just few years ago.
“We are seeing an average of 15 to 20 SAF house residents a month. The average length of stay, which use to be 15 days, has risen to 45 to 50 days and continues to remain there,” said King.
Each of these residents receive breakfast, lunch and dinner during the length of their stay and while much of that is paid for through the state, OCO does provide additional emergency food for SAF residents from its modest food pantry.
“Our food pantry is strictly for emergency food supplies. We are not a full-service food pantry like others in the county,” added Coleman. “Our Homeless Services program provides emergency food to homeless families and homeless youth under 21 that are not enrolled in school. Our food pantry generally provides enough food to hold a family over until they can make arrangements to access one of the larger food pantries that exist in the county. We provide them with the resources and assistance to be able to do that,” said Coleman.
In addition to providing emergency food and resources to families and individuals accessing its services, OCO ensure that those in desperate do receive the help they need.
It is not unusual for OCO to deliver emergency food.
Bresee shared one such story.
“A couple with two small children contacted us. They had no vehicle, no food and were almost out of formula. The food pantry in their area was closed and mobility was a barrier. Multiple OCO programs including Homeless Services, SAF and WIC, worked together to find formula and a few grocery bags of food. We delivered the supplies to the family and a plan was made so they could get to DSS for continued assistance,” said Bresee.
In regards to newborns and small children, the WIC program, which is facilitated through OCO, ensures that expectant mothers and new mothers that meet WIC income guidelines receive the proper nutrition that they and their children need.
A supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, WIC provides healthy food such as milk, formula, whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables; nutrition counseling; and referrals to health care for women who are pregnant, post-partum up to 6 months, breast feeding up to one year, and infants and children up to the age of 5.
According to program coordinator, Cindy Palamar, WIC is a valuable service for those that need it the most.
“WIC offers much more than just nutritious supplemental food. It is a patient-centered program that focuses on healthy lifestyles. WIC’s educational aspect includes facilitated discussions where participants can share their concerns and experiences as well as one-on-one nutritional counseling services. Our staff includes several nutritionists that help participants plan healthy meals for their family, give advice on infant feeding, children’s dietary needs, and the dietary needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women,” said Palamar.
“What happens today affects what happens in the future. Healthy lifestyles lead to healthy outcomes. Participation in WIC improves nutrtion and leads to overall healthier pregnancies, healthier birth outcomes, and better growth and development of young children. WIC also improves access to healthy food the community,” added Palamar.
From infants to seniors, OCO’s programs and services provide emergency food subsidy to hungry families and individuals throughout Oswego County.
To ensure that OCO will be able to continue to do so in the future the agency has dedicated its fundraising efforts to eliminating hunger in the county.
On April 5, OCO will host its “Retro Bowl” fundraiser at Lakeview Lanes in Fulton.
Proceeds from the event will be used to assist the food subsidy efforts of each of OCO’s programs and services and help build a reserve for the future.
“Hunger is a pervasive issue in our county. As an anti-poverty agency combating hunger and improving nutrition are keystones of our mission. Our Retro Bowl fundraiser is an opportunity for community members to come together for an afternoon of fun, that in the long run, will help fight against hunger and put food in the bowls of those that hunger right here in Oswego County,” said OCO Executive Director, Diane Cooper-Currier.
OCO’s Retro Bowl fundraiser will be held from noon to 6 p.m. at Lakeview Lanes.
Registration is now open for five-person teams, with choice of flights: noon – 2:30 p.m. or 3 – 5:30 p.m. (first come, first served).
The 2014 OCO Retro Bowl is sponsored by “Making a Difference” Sponsor G&C Foods, and “Building Dreams” Sponsors NRG Oswego Harbor Power, LLC; Oswego County Federal Credit Union; POMCO; and the Walmart Foundation.
For registration or sponsor information, or to donate a door prize, contact OCO at 598-4717 or visit the agency’s website at www.oco.org