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.
That’s why Saturday’s Retro Bowl put on by Oswego County Opportunities is so important.
“Hunger is a pervasive issue in our county. As an anti-poverty agency combating hunger and improving nutrition are keystones of our mission,” said OCO Executive Director Diane Cooper-Currier.
“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.”
Proceeds from the Retro Bowl 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.
For OCO, 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.
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
- Services to Aid Families (SAF) 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.”
Bresee said 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.
Also, 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 provide their visitors with assistance in connecting to other resources.
“The number of people we are providing food for increased dramatically in 2010. While that number has leveled off, it has unfortunately not gone down,” Bresee said.
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 said 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. 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,” Coleman said.
“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,” Coleman said. “We provide them with the resources and assistance to be able to do that.”
In regards to newborns and small children, the WIC program ensures that expectant mothers and new mothers that meet WIC income guidelines receive the proper nutrition 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.
Program Coordinator Cindy Palamar said WIC is a valuable service.
“WIC offers much more than just nutritious supplemental food. It is a patient-centered program that focuses on healthy lifestyles,” she said.
“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 who 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,” she said.
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.
OCO’s Retro Bowl fundraiser will be noon to 6 p.m. April 5 at Lakeview Lanes in Fulton. Registration is open for five-person teams, with choice of flights: noon to 2:30 p.m. and 3 to 5:30 p.m.
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.