Community Action Outreach Centers seeks to enhance services under new director

Highland Community Action directorJoyce Wagner. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Highland Community Action directorJoyce Wagner. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Ulster County Community Action Outreach Center in downtown Lloyd is one of the best-kept social service secrets in southern Ulster. Located directly across from Town Hall, the office is now under the new direction of Joyce Wagner, who took the post in October of 2012. For years she had worked at the Kingston Outreach office, but answered the call when the Highland director post became available.

“I worked in Kingston for years, and loved my job there,” said Wagner. “When the funding ran out for my position, I stayed on as a volunteer because I loved the people, the mission, the supervisor. And then this position opened up, and I’m so happy and grateful to be here working alongside such amazing volunteers and community organizations.”

The Lloyd Outreach Center has been around for more than two decades, but is now in the process of getting a facelift, moving forward under new direction and trying to make its presence and services known more within the community that it serves. Like all social services, funding streams are drying up, and it takes greater effort, private and corporate donations to ensure that its critical programs for those in need continue.

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One of its programs that has always been popular and critical to children who are underprivileged is the Backpack Program. This entails compiling a list of children in need, often noted when a parent comes in to utilize the food-pantry service, or through the schools or church groups. When the list is compiled, the Highland Outreach Center provides a backpack with all of the necessary school supplies for the beginning of the school year. “After that, we ensure that those children, when it’s a weekend or an extended break from school, have a backpack full of healthy snacks and juices, so that we know they have food to eat.”

The program used to provide 90 backpacks to Lloyd children, but is now down to about a dozen due to lack of funding. Anyone who would like to contribute to this program can simply donate a check earmarked “Backpack Program,” and Wagner said that it would go directly to that cause. “We typically fund that program through private contributions, fundraisers that we host, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult — which is heartbreaking, because we do have kids that go hungry.”

Another big program that the Highland Outreach Center provides is a food pantry, with great help from the local Hannaford Supermarket. “What they’ve done is to actually make boxes for us that are well-balanced and make various meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Gail Erdie, a member of the Community Action Advisory Board as well as a pastor at the Lloyd United Methodist Church. Hannaford customers can contribute by buying a $10 food box that will go directly to the Lloyd pantry. “We also make a trip to Hannaford’s several times a week to pick up pastries, breads, produce that they no longer need,” said Wagner.

The two women mentioned how supportive the local farms have been as well towards food-pantry donations. “I’ve had a farmer just pull up and say, ‘Could you use this?’” said Wagner. “It was a truckload of fresh apples, cider, produce…unbelievable, and he wouldn’t even give me his name, so I could write him a thank-you note.”

Adding to that generosity over the holidays was an anonymous tree farm donor who provided the Lloyd Outreach Center with approximately 20 “beautiful, healthy Christmas trees that we could provide to our clients for free. Our lawn looked like a tree farm!” said Erdie.

According to Wagner, approximately 25 households utilize the center’s food pantry services, which are open on Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. and again from 1 to 3 p.m. It also has a clothes closet that’s free to the public, and Wagner praised the Highland Rotary Club for providing new winter jackets every year to those in need, adults and children. “Thank God for the Highland Rotary!” said both Wagner and Erdie. The Rotary helps to provide and deliver Thanksgiving dinners to all those families in need, as well as to help to organize an adopt-a-family-for-Christmas program, whereby children are provided with toys and clothing and gifts that they would otherwise not receive.

Another important service the Ulster County Community Action Outreach Center in Lloyd provides is assistance with those applying for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). “My first day on the job was the day that HEAP applications opened!” said Wagner, who is authorized to approve the HEAP applications if the person qualifies and then send them off to the county. “I’ve done at least 80, and now the Emergency HEAP, has opened so we’re getting busy with that again.” HEAP helps to provide Ulster County residents in need with essential fuel during the winter months.

Now Wagner’s focus is to bring together the various resources that exist so that the Outreach Center can be a one-stop shop for those who require services. “Right now we don’t offer any type of counseling or addiction services, but we have a volunteer who is working on creating a list of those types of resources and a bulletin board so that people can come in and get the phone number and information they need to take the next step towards helping themselves with whatever issue it is that they’re grappling with.”

The staff members have also revamped the office, are working on making it cozy and inviting and could use any volunteer help that people could offer. “We have wonderful volunteers, and I try to match their expertise or passion with the task at hand. Some are great at stocking the food pantry shelves, but want no part of the phone!” Wagner said with a laugh. “Others are great at greeting people, making them comfortable and finding out exactly what it is they need and how we can assist them.” There is also a computer and printer in the office that were donated for those who might want to do a job search, print out résumés, et cetera.

“We’re excited about our new director and the change of direction,” said Erdie. “We want our presence known in the community, and we want to pool all of our resources so that we can best serve our residents. As we all know, times are tough and getting tougher, and it does take a village.”

To learn more about donating, volunteering or utilizing the Outreach Center’s services, call 255-8058.

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