Local non-profits cope with COVID-19 impact

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Milly’s Pantry Weekend Back Pack Program Coordinator Cheryl Davis packs items to be delivered to area children.

What do non-profit organizations do during a pandemic?

They organize programs to feed others. They maintain open spaces for the public to enjoy. They make adjustments to raise funds toward more organizational goals. They rise to the challenges that come with the pandemic.

Milly’s Pantry is one of the local entities that is working out new ways to meet community needs. 

“We fight harder for the people who need it the most!” says Denise Shay, executive director of Milly’s Pantry, where volunteers continue to provide food to children in the area.

Milly’s Pantry serves supplemental weekend food and school supplies to children in Yates County, and continues to offer this essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, as set out in the pantry’s mission. 

“We are actively collaborating with Dundee, Penn Yan and Head Start Schools to provide supplemental emergency food to children for the weekends.” says Shay.

Weekend Back Pack Program Coordinator Cheryl Davis coordinates with just a handful of brave volunteers to ensure children are still being fed. What used to be a huge group of hands to help pack for hundreds of kids now has been reduced to just Cheryl and a very small group, says Shay.

Food is packed for Penn Yan, Keuka Head Start, and Rainbow Junction schools. Dana Burton, the Penn Yan Central School District Food Service Director, receives the packs and, with more volunteers, delivers them to families.

Other volunteers saw the need in Dundee, and volunteered to meet at the Himrod Fire Department to pack for children and deliver the food to their homes.

‘Some children come out of the door cheering when the bus pulls up,” says Davis.

Rainbow Junction and Keuka Head Start staff have seen first-hand the increase in families’ need for food. They pick up packs to deliver to children’s homes.

“We cannot express our gratitude for the individuals who are putting themselves out there, overcoming unforeseen obstacles and taking extra steps to be safe, just to see the smiles of the children and families we strive to serve. It is so important that they see that people still care and that they are not alone in this struggle. We see them, and whatever it takes, we will keep moving forward and helping provide food,” says Shay.

“Many families and businesses are feeling the effects of our new circumstances, Milly’s included, but we are not quitting. Milly wouldn’t have, and we won’t either. Rest assured that we have smiles under our masks and gloves on our caring hands. It is imperative to know that local non-profits continue to give, and in order to do so, we still need support from our community...

“Our hearts and love go out to our community members, the children and their families, and to those brave individuals that continue to shine and give to those in need!”

To support the program, visit millyspantry.org, or mail your check to P.O. Box 734, Penn Yan, NY 14527. For more information on Milly’s Pantry services or more ways to help, feel free to e-mail millyspantry@millyspantry.org

Yates County History Center

How has the New York Pause affected the Yates County History Center? In a word — engagement! The center’s mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret the history of Yates County. Donations of artifacts have halted and the staff truly misses sharing the treasures in the museums with visitors, says Administrative Assistant Lisa Harper, adding, “They also miss the large group of volunteers who assist in so many ways. Spring events will be rescheduled as soon as they get the go ahead.”

The History Center shares a weekly e-newsletter to stay in touch with members, featuring cemetery stories, recipes, historic art work, and peeks at upcoming exhibits. They are presenting a Museum Alphabet on Facebook and Instagram, featuring artifacts in the collection. Director Tricia Noel and her children produce Historic Baking and Cooking sessions on Facebook. Look for a “What The Heck Is That?” artifact identification game coming soon to Facebook and The Chronicle-Express.

The History Center is soliciting residents for images of their lives during the pandemic for future reference. Pictures of homeschooling, crafting, snuggling, working at home, or volunteering are welcome. First responders’ images are always welcome. Send images of life in lock down to ycghs@yatespast.org. (Please label the image with names and general location.) They encourage folks to keep a journal of these extraordinary times to be kept in the History Center archives.

The Board of Trustees has become accustomed to video conferencing and will continue to govern this way as long as necessary. They urge anyone who appreciates the History Center’s work to please become a member. Call 315-536-7318 to obtain a membership form or visit www.yatespast.org.

The prospects for a successful chicken barbecue May 23 and a potential yard sale this summer are up in the air, but the Yates County History Center will be ready to go when the all clear is called.

Habitat for Humanity

Yates County Habitat for Humanity’s work on its 18th house at 129 Lincoln Ave. in Penn Yan was suspended at the beginning of March with house nearly complete.

President Fred Geyer says, “Since we are an all-volunteer organization and most of our volunteers are in the ‘at high risk’ group, we will likely, and advisedly, remain at home for some time to come. Our commitment to providing decent, affordable housing to families in need is unwavering. We will return to executing on that mission when it is safe to do so.”

Hope Walk

The Hope Walk of Yates County has canceled all public events until further notice, says spokesperson Marty Shipman. Hair care, personal training, gym membership, and support groups have also been canceled until further notice.

However, the following services are still being offered:

Assistance is available for any resident living in Yates County currently receiving treatments for cancer who needs personal or financial assistance.

• Grant (up to $500)

• Head covering service

• Gas assistance

• Cancer screening

• Assistance to find healthcare

Anyone in need of assistance should download the Grant Form from the website, HopeWalkofYatesCounty.org. Fill out and return the form. The organization currently offers grants  of up to $500.

For more information, please contact Hope Walk at hopewalkofyatescounty@gmail.com or  607-283 - HOPE (4673)

Friends of the Outlet

Early spring is always a busy time on the Keuka Outlet Trail for volunteers who have been planning projects for the coming season. But the late winter and early spring of 2020 has brought a whole new “busy-ness” to the trail. With other recreational organizations closed during the state of emergency, the trail has become a favorite destination for thousands of people who are discovering the value of what many consider a hidden gem of the Finger Lakes. 

Most of the seven-mile trail, which offers plenty of open space to enjoy a quiet walk, brisk bicycle ride, or fishing in the Keuka Outlet, among other things, is owned by an all volunteer non-profit organization, The Friends of the Outlet. The portion of the trail from the Elm Street recreational park to Fox Mills is owned and maintained by the village of Penn Yan. 

In a typical year, the Friends organize special trail events for bird watchers, history and geology buffs, and people interested in forests and flora. For now, plans for events in 2020 have been put on hold, but plans for improvements are moving forward.

Trail visitors may have already noticed the expanded parking area at the intersection of Ridge Road and Outlet Road, which was accomplished with support from J.J. Covell and the Town of Milo. Those improvements will continue with the addition of flowers, more picnic tables, and an interpretive sign.

Trail maintenance volunteers have also been busy removing rubbish from nearby property, grooming the trail, and creating side trails for access to new locations, including a hike up Sugarloaf. Later this spring construction on a pavilion will begin near the Cascade Falls area downstream from the new parking area at Ridge Road. 

Visitors may have noticed fencing around the old JT Baker Chemical buildings at Cascade falls. Demolition of those buildings is planned for later this year. 

“We’re excited about all the projects for 2020,” says Vice President Phil Rahr, who is also working with a Syracuse area race organizer to plan a September 10K race on the trail. 

None of these projects would be possible without the financial support of  trail users and members of the Friends of the Outlet, says Rahr, who also says the increased number of visitors to the trail has added to the organization’s expenses for the year. 

“One of our major annual expenses is maintaining the six portable outhouses located along the trail for our visitor’s comfort. Because the trail has been so heavily used, we have needed additional service to those resources,” says Rahr. 

The organization’s annual membership drive is still underway and the annual meeting, previously scheduled for late April, will be held in May at a time and location to be announced. New directors and officers will be elected. 

Donations to support continued improvements to the Keuka Outlet Trail are welcome. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 65, Dresden, N.Y. 14441, or online at www.KeukaOutletTrail.org.

The Living Well 

At The Living Well, Sandi Perl says, “As always our community has been magnificent in supporting The Living Well Mission during this time. We have had to cancel two fundraising events. Only time will tell if our biggest fundraiser, scheduled for mid-August, will be held.”

But, she adds, the good news is volunteers are committed to delivering food to those who can not go to the store. 

Perl says volunteers serve families who have kids home who cannot go to the store with parents, and single people who have physical conditions that would put them at risk in public spaces.

As of April 15, The Living Well was serving between 60-70 Grab ‘N Go free lunches each Wednesday and Friday, an increase from about 20 lunches per day when the service began four weeks ago. 

“I used to stand in the front window at The Well and observe folks getting lunch. Finally, I had to stop. On the one hand, I was so relieved to be part of a mission that feeds hungry people, and on the other hand my heart was breaking that there were so many hungry people. Now I just say ‘Take more…we will make more.’” says Perl.

 With money donated for kids by the Penn Yan Elks Club, The Living Well was able to replenish home school supplies like glue sticks, colored pencils, crayons, calculators, construction paper, and more. 

 The Living Well’s Food Pantry, the Non-Perishable Pantry, and the Needs ’ N Things Pantry with personal care products are all open at 121 E. Elm St., Penn Yan. For details, visit www.thelivingwellmission.org or call 315-536-0838.

Our Town Rocks

Our Town Rocks is based on the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). 

Director Caryl Sutterby says, “Our purpose is to assist, poke, prod, and celebrate our assets, our local residents, toward creating ‘community.’”

Like many organizations, OTR has rescheduled or cancelled programs altogether, but is still serving residents of Dundee, Barrington, and Starkey, although in a much reduced manner. 

Social media platforms help share needed information and celebrate the community through pictures and videos. The office at 12 Main St., Dundee, remains open to offer computer/wifi service for those who need electronic communications and have no internet service or home computer.

“We have free farm eggs from Lane Farms as the supply lasts. We offered vegetable and flower seed packs compliments of Yates County Master Gardeners, and a donation of juice oranges has been popular,” says Sutterby.

A gift from the Dundee Baptist Church has made free bus passes for Yates County Transit available.

On sunny days ,the Bright Red Book Shelf is rolled outside for free reading materials. All materials have been sanitized. April 22, in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension, OTR will be offering opportunities to recognize “Earth Day.”  

After learning May 15 is the new “Pause” date in New York, Sutterby says, “How our residents continue to react to this unprecedented event will be a true test of ‘community.’”

Arts Center of Yates County

Kris Pearson, director of the Arts Center of Yates County observes, “I guess my first observation is that in a small community like ours, any sort of crisis is going to impact all businesses and organizations, either directly or indirectly.  In some ways, this is similar to the 2014 flooding in Penn Yan and Branchport.  Though not everyone was affected equally, it really did hit the community hard as a whole, and that had an impact on every business and organization. So, the trick with this kind of thing is to figure out what your organization’s role can be in mitigating or solving the problem.”

The Arts Center is not in a position to develop protocols, disseminate information, or dispense food and necessities.  The gallery is closed, workshops have been postponed, and fundraising events have been cancelled.  

“Behind the scenes, we’re continuing to apply for grants, organize events, and recruit instructors for workshops, so as restrictions are lifted, we’ll be ready to provide Yates County residents with fun and creative outlets in as safe an environment as possible,” says Pearson.

Pearson says decades of studies document the relationship between art and improved mental and physical health.  “Art may not provide a cure for the Coronavirus, but it can help cure cabin fever,” she says. The Arts Center has increased its outreach through online and social media outlets, encouraging community members to turn to art for constructive activities.  Look for art challenges on Facebook such as what can you create with empty toilet paper rolls? Or, write an acrostic poem based on the word “Coronavirus.”

“We have ideas for projects on our “Try It Tuesday” and “Try It Thursday” series – finding or composing new 20 second tunes to wash hands to, simple ways to start a painting, seeing the world around you differently by looking at it through the lens of a camera. We’re passing on information to and from members who have yet to return to the area, linking to more resources and generally encouraging members of our community to find creative outlets to combat the stress of isolation and social distancing,” adds Pearson.   

Local art legend Char DiGennaro is known for saying, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing  art right.”  In these challenging times, the Arts Center is working hard to bring some light and some joy to our community members.

Penn Yan Public Library

Angela Gonzalez, director of Penn Yan Public Library, says the library will remain closed until Penn Yan Central School District reopens. In the meantime, the library is providing virtual services.

Other library news during the pandemic:

• All checked out materials in the Southern Tier Library System are not due back until June 1 and overdue fines have been suspended.

• Community members have been using the WIFI in the library parking lot daily.  It is free and open 24 hours.  No password is necessary. 

• Southern Tier Library System and its libraries have redirected more than $16,000 in purchasing funds toward buying more e-books, downloadable audiobooks and streaming videos. Patrons can visit https://stls.overdrive.com/ to take advantage of this free service. Patrons with expired or blocked library cards can also checkout these materials.

• Children’s and Adult programming continues virtually.  Visit the library’s Facebook page to learn about scheduled and recorded programs. 

• Library related questions can be sent to info@pypl.org.  Staff can assist community members with getting a library card, reference questions, and questions about our virtual services.

The library’s budget vote, originally planned for May 5, is postponed until further notice. Gonzales says the board of trustees will discuss the next steps at a meeting this week. 

“The PYPL staff, Board of Trustees, and the Southern Tier Library System are working on a re-opening plan that is safe for everyone.  We are excited for when we will be able to implement it because we miss seeing our patrons and friends,” she says. 

For more information about Penn Yan Public Library, visit http://www.pypl.org/

Share news about adjustments your non-profit organization has made by sending information to GwenChamberlain@Chronicle-Express.com.