Even the soup kitchen is hurting.
Since the end of September, the soup kitchen at the Ashtabula Service Center of the Salvation Army has operated sporadically due to a manpower shortage.
Alice Hardin, service center coordinator, says the days of service are determined one at a time.
“When I come in at 8 o’clock, I decide then if we are going to have enough staff to cook a meal that day,” Hardin says.
There’s really no way for Hardin to notify clients that the kitchen won’t be operating on a given day, aside from hanging a sign on the front door. That usually means a wasted trip for clients for whom transportation is a problem.
She says many of the kitchen’s clients don’t have a telephone, so they can’t call ahead or access a recording. Indeed, Hardin says some of the soup kitchen clients live on the street or in the gulf.
The schedule fell apart this month after Hardin had to take time off for a medical issue. As the only staff member at the service center, Hardin had no choice but to close the kitchen during her absence. That led to rumors that the center had completely closed, which is not true, says the Rev. Michael Legg, who chairs the advisory committee.
“There are no plans to close it,” Legg says. “We actually want to expand services.”
Since Hardin returned to work, the soup kitchen has operated as staffing allowed. Overwhelmed by all the other requests handled by the service center, Hardin has lacked the time and energy to also run the soup kitchen. She says committed, concerned volunteers or a second staff member are needed.
The meals help residents stretch entitlements and low wages. The service center provides meals to walk-ins at the Lake Avenue location and also prepares food for three satellite sites, including Ashtabula Towers.
Bob Welker, who heads up the Ashtabula Towers Tenants Association, says the soup kitchen provides meals for 50 to 60 persons at Ashtabula Towers.
“That put us in a situation of trying to replace those meals (when the kitchen closed),” he says. “It’s very difficult for us because, as a tenants association, we don’t have that kind of money. ... Some of the residents didn’t eat (those days) or had just one meal a day.”
A core group of walk-ins count on the soup kitchen for their hot meal of the day.
“I rely upon it,” says Spencer Wold, 65, of Ashtabula. “It provides me with a meal a day and it helps me with the daily challenge of sustaining my well-being.”
Wold, who became unemployed in 2006 and was unable to find another job, lives on less than $900 a month. He has a car, but it’s unreliable, and there are times he can’t afford the gasoline to run it, so he walks, rides a bicycle or takes a bus to the soup kitchen.
On the days a closed sign greeted Wold at the service center, he made the trip across town to the Dream Center on West 57th Street.
“We had quite a few people come this way (when the Salvation Army soup kitchen was closed),” says Brian Hommes, of the Dream Center. “We all work together to pick up the slack.”
Wold says he also relies upon the Mother of Sorrows soup kitchen, G.O. Ministries and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to provide hot meals.
He’s not alone in his dependency upon these resources.
“I’ve seen an increase in people coming in,” Wold says as he finished a meal of scalloped potatoes. “In prior years, it’s been a lot of the same faces. There is more patronage by people who either have lost their job or are on a fixed income.”
Rising costs, numbers
Wold’s anecdotal observations are backed by statistics Hardin keeps. In September 2007 the kitchen served 2,700 meals. Last month, it was 4,200.
The food pantry gave out the equivalent of 15,000 meals in the fiscal year that just ended.
“Next year we are projecting it at 24,000,” Hardin says. “That’s quite an increase.”
Requests for emergency assistance with utilities and prescriptions are likewise rising.
“We see more seniors and families than we’ve seen before,” Hardin says.
What’s going on? In a word, Hardin says it’s the “economy.” Ashtabula County’s unemployment rate is rising along with that of the nation and state; in September the county’s rate rose to 8.1 percent.
Legg says the service center is caught between declining revenues and increasing need.
“There are so many ways the Salvation Army has been impacted by this economic struggle we are in, and the service center in Ashtabula is no exception,” he says.
As any consumer knows, food prices have gone up, a fact even soup kitchens must face.
“Food costs are really just way up,” Legg says. “That’s a major issue we are wrestling with.”
Hardin says even the United States Department of Agriculture food that pantries and soup kitchens purchase has increased in price. Concurrently, the selection has decreased, forcing pantries and soup kitchens to purchase supplies from more expensive sources.
Even with increased costs, soup kitchen meals are models for frugal eating. Hardin says one analysis they performed showed a per meal cost of 39 cents for just the food; 54 cents including paper products.
“I think we are stretching every penny we get here,” she says.
Unfortunately, the service center has fewer pennies to work with in the new fiscal year. Hardin says the soup kitchen budget, which is set by the Cleveland office, has been reduced by $5,000 for the new fiscal year – $12,000 compared to $17,000 last year.
One of the reasons for the reduction is that income from last year’s Kettle Drive fell to $21,719. Hardin is already putting together this year’s drive with the hope donations will rise to meet the need (see below).
Legg says having a qualified staff member to oversee the soup kitchen would allow the center to provide the service consistently and efficiently. The cost would be $1,000 a month for the 25-hour-a-week position. Legg says the board has a commitment for $500 a month from a businessman; now they’re looking for a match.
“We’d love to have the community pick up that challenge and fund the additional $500 (per month),” Legg says.
Persons interested in contributing to that fund should make their checks payable to the Salvation Army but designate them for the cook’s position at Ashtabula. The mailing address is P.O. Box 672, Ashtabula OH 44005.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army has received an increase from its other funding source, United Way of Ashtabula County, which will help it meet the challenges ahead.
Hardin says she can’t make a commitment to have the soup kitchen open every day until reliable staffing, volunteer or paid, is in place. The kitchen operates from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the last three weeks of the month. Persons interested in volunteering should call for more information about specific needs and duties.
One date Hardin won’t have to worry about staffing the kitchen on is Nov. 27. Hardin says there won’t be a community Thanksgiving Day at the soup kitchen this year because of the tight funding. St. Peter’s usually does a meal, and the resources saved by not duplicating services will allow the soup kitchen to operate a few more days during the rest of the month.
“It’s one of the ways we can cut our budget,” she says.
Contact the center at 992-0276.
Manpower shortages, rising food costs challenge Salvation Army soup kitchen’s operation
Even the soup kitchen is hurting.
Nativity exhibit to open in Kirtland
Volunteers are still busy putting up more than 600 Nativity scenes for the nationally acclaimed exhibit at Historic Kirtland in preparation for the formal opening on Friday. A lighting celebration and musical program will begin 6 p.m. Friday. Nativity sets representing countries and cultures from around the world will fill the Visitors Center and the one-room schoolhouse located next to the center. The theme of the 11th annual exhibit is “Unto Us A Son Is Given.” Admission is free and open to the public. Historic Kirtland is located at 7800 Kirtland-Chardon Road, just off Route 306 south of I-90.
Odd Tales of Ashtabula County
Twins were pretty rare in Williamsfield Township, so when Correne Cutlip delivered twin girls on April 22, 1939, her husband, Bob, started calling neighbors and relatives with the good news and a plea for help: they would need twice as much of everything.
Guilty of treason!
She was a lonely child, precocious, some said; others said she was simply aloof. Two things for certain, she was beautiful — neighbors often remarked on her black curls — and odd, especially by the standards that existed in Conneaut in 1916.
Those 10 Calaway girls
In an era when many couples are happy to dote on just one offspring and most U.S. McMansions have at least 2.5 bathrooms, the story of the Calaway sisters is amazing.
The music got him 'All stirred up inside
Floyd Hewitt loved to listen to the radio, especially that cool jazzy music that got him “all stirred up inside.”
The romantic bachelor
The brass plate is partially obscured by the July grass that grows about the stone substrate.
Second of a two-part series on the Big Blow of November 1913
Launching an industry
Shortly after midnight on Sept. 26, 1941, German U- boat No. 203 fired four torpedoes into convoy HG-73 north of the Azores.
Ransom for an attorney’s little boy
Tony Muscarelli, 13, and Willie Madden, 12, were walking down Depot Street, Ashtabula, on the evening of March 20, 1909, when a 30-year-old man accosted them from across the street.
Kelsey’s Run rambles through the flatlands of Conneaut Township Park, carving graceful curves in the grassy area just north of Lake Road and slipping quietly under the two stone bridges in its final stretch toward Lake Erie.
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