Not Turning People Away

A few years ago, my wife and I got in line at The Olive Garden in Altoona. In the crowded waiting room, I heard a fellow quip, “So where’s this big recession?” While there were people losing jobs, cutting back, etc. there were also a lot of people that were hardly affected at all, and could still go out to eat. It is easy to stop seeing people in need, but the Mirror covers some of them, and the dwindling resources that could help them:

… Family Services is turning away more than 500 people a month from the emergency shelter, said development director Cheryl Gonsman.

“Not only is there more homelessness, but we’re being asked to work with more for less,” she said. “We’re helping more people. We’re helping them longer because the other thing that’s happening is that there is a shortage of affordable housing. … That’s something that I’ve seen a huge change in.”

Another change has been the amount of state and federal funding that resources like Family Services are receiving. Gonsman said many of the resources they offer have been dropped or have taken a huge budget cut, including their community outreach program and counseling services.

“All of our programs are in the negative right now, and we’re looking for other ways to supplement that,” she said. “It’s just a huge indicator that, as a nonprofit, you can no longer sustain yourself on the government funding.”

Michelle McGowan received a Wise Woman award from the YWCA in 2007, as have several of my other friends from Altoona Community Theatre, and is quoted on emergency food service:

Michelle McGowan, public relations director for the American Rescue Workers Inc. food bank in Hollidaysburg, which supplies state and federal food service to Hollidaysburg, Duncansville, Martinsburg, Roaring Spring, East Freedom and Newry, said they will assist the Altoona food bank when it’s needed and vice versa. That became necessary at the beginning of the year when the state funding the Hollidaysburg food bank was awarded took so long to go through, they had to pull resources from other areas until the money was received.

“That made it very, very rough,” McGowan said. “Thank God for the churches and the community people.”

Though the shelves at the food pantry are regularly “quite bare,” it’s aid from the community that allows them to assist 10 to 14 families a day, McGowan said. However, there is still a need for more resources in the area, she added.

“The resources aren’t growing in response to the need for them,” McGowan said. “[We’ve gotten] five new families this week. In the beginning of the year, we were lucky if we got one new family. … These are people who have never been in this situation before. They’re coming in, and they’re worried and embarrassed about it.”

Having grown up Catholic, I’m generally critical of religious bureaucracies, but I do recognize that some people are involved with religion for all the right reasons.


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