Rural Ministry holds annual meeting

The Chautauqua County Rural Ministry (CCRM) recently held its 45th annual meeting at Fredonia Beaver Club with approximately 70 people in attendance. Serving the community since the mid-1950s when migrant workers came to Western New York to harvest crops; CCRM has grown significantly since its inception.

Board President Margaret Tiffany called the meeting to order and welcomed those present; Vice President Donald Howard Jr. gave the invocation. The purpose of the annual meeting is to elect and install officers and directors, as well as introduce new board members. Donald Howard Jr. announced the slate of officers for 2013: Tiffany, president; Howard, vice president; Jason DeChard, treasurer; and June Walldorff, secretary. Howard installed new board members Donald Michalak, Gina Echevarria and Carol Somers; each bringing in new energy and ideas during their terms. Fredonia’s Mayor Stephen Keefe and Executive Director of UWNCC Deborah Tederous were introduced as special guests.

Rural Ministry Executive Director Kathleen G. Peterson introduced staff: Renae Bellando, FK/FP coordinator; Sarah Sorci, Gleaning Project coordinator; James Meyers, building maintenance; Winifred Jones, housing coordinator and weekend meal supervisor; Michelle Pryll, evening meal supervisor; Laurie Williams, thrift store manager; Shannon Moore, bookkeeper; and Robert E. Dorman, warehouse technician. She also highlighted the events over the past year as well as accomplishments.

One of the areas of need that increased significantly is the emergency food pantry, which opened in 1979. In 2011, the emergency food pantry distributed 130,215 meals and in 2012 saw an increase to 172,746 meals distributed; this is an increase of nearly 43,000 meals. The increase is attributed to families struggling to make ends meet each month. Families utilize their funds to pay their rent and utilities but cut back on food needs. Majority of the clients having at least one but often times two sources of income and still having a difficult time.

It’s a blessing that CCRM is here to help meet the unmet needs of the community. The emergency food pantry is one of 12 programs that CCRM currently operates. Other statistics include: Friendly Kitchen 31,122 meals served including breakfast, noontime and dinner; gleaned/recovered 92,896 pounds of food, 253 advocacy cases, 224 households receiving non-food services, including bus tickets, prescription assistance, diapers/formula and emergency vouchers. In 2013, CCRM received funding from the Empty Bowls Project, which is the sole support of the newly created “Shop Thru” program that provides perishable and non-perishable product to 32 emergency food relief organizations, including pantries and soup kitchens.

The annual meeting also serves as an opportunity for Rural Ministry to present community service awards and the annual Thomas L. Barresi award. Beginning in 1997, while celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Rural Ministry presented community service awards to special groups or individuals which have had an impact on Rural Ministry programs and community involvement. Community award recipients for 2012 include: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Copy Boy, Fredonia Baptist Christian School and P & G Foods.

The highlight of the evening is the unique award presented to a person who exhibits prophet-like courage in the pursuit of justice for all disadvantaged people. The Prophet’s Hoe is an annual social justice award for “faithful and devoted serve to the Rural Ministry and to the community.” In 2009, the award was renamed to The Thomas L. Barresi Award, dedicated to longtime friend and board member Thomas Barresi, Rural Ministry’s longtime friend and volunteer. The philosophy of the award remains the same.

The first recipient of the Thomas L. Barresi Award was John P Gullo II. Gullo was unanimously chosen to receive this award due to his dedication and commitment of service to others. This year’s recipient was Sorci. She served as Gleaning Project coordinator and two years ago accepted the position as Gleaning Project coordinator. She is a perfect model for the value and belief of the award. Sorci will be leaving the agency in March to pursue an internship in Asheville, N.C..

Board President Tiffany acknowledged everyone (local churches, individuals, funders, volunteers, placements and staff) who supported Rural Ministry over the past year with their time, talent or treasures. The Rural Ministry has more 200 volunteers contributing 34,000-plus volunteer hours to provide the work of the agency. Not only does the work of the volunteers and community partnerships strengthen and improve the community, but each person takes their personal experience back into their daily lives to become advocates for human services. Rural Ministry takes great pride in being the best stewards of funding received, having a very low 3 percent fundraising and administrative cost.

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the agency or have a tour of the facilities can call 366-1787. CCRM is a community partner with Northern Chautauqua United Way and a New York State Department of Health grant recipient.