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The Open Door Mission MEETING PEOPLE AT THEIR POINT OF NEED

For more than 25 years, The Open Door Mission has been a safety net to those in need. But providing meals to hungry people is only part of the vital role they play in the Glens Falls region.

"With a quality meal, I get them in the door. Establishing trust is very important. I find that food is the starting point for a conversation." — Open Door Mission chef walter lofton

OPENING EYES & feeding a need

THE OPEN DOOR serves an AVERAGE OF 1,600 MEALS PER MONTH

Enjoying a warm bowl of soup and a sandwich is something most folks don't think much about. But what if that’s all you could think about because that's all you're going to eat today?

That’s the real, everyday struggle some face in our region.

Where do I get my next meal? How do I feed my child? How will I find a place to keep warm when it’s 15 below zero? How do I put my life back together?

Thankfully, there is a safety net here. It’s Open Door Mission, in the east end of Glens Falls — they are in the business of catching people who are at risk of falling through the cracks.

The staff and volunteers at the Open Door Mission don't merely provide meals, they provide friendship, support and a shoulder to cry on, all with a singular focus of lifting people out of poverty and, in many ways, resetting their life.

The wide-ranging services and good the Open Door Mission does every day is often done out of the spotlight. From The School Backpack Program providing school children food to hold them over on weekends when they might otherwise not eat; to the Code Blue Shelter providing comfort and warmth to the hungry, the tired and many times homeless; to the Food Box Program offering food and peace of mind to struggling families; to the Getting Ahead program, that teaches people the skills needed to move beyond poverty.

The Open Door Mission is doing the tough, but necessary (and rewarding) work of changing lives for the better every day.

"People do not realize that on average it takes six years to move from poverty to stability.” said Shelley Smith, Resource Coordinator at Open Door Mission — who holds a degree in life coaching. "We bring hope to people who don't have any."

Following is a look at how the Open Door Mission is weaved into the fabric of life in our region.

the SCHOOL Backpack program carries ON WHERE the SCHOOL CANNOT

"Our partnership with the Open door is wonderful. The School Backpack program has helped many students in our school. This program helps kids at home by providing a snack or meal when it may not otherwise be available. The program is so popular, we actually asked Open Door to increase the number of students helped each week by 13 students, and they jumped right in to help." -- Maggie Kelly, Assistant Principal, Queensbury Elementary School

Each Friday during the school year, the Open Door Mission, working with several Glens Falls region school districts, provides food "backpacks" to elementary school children. The backpacks are taken home on weekends, where a child might not otherwise have a regular meal. Each pack consists of four meals — two lunches and two breakfasts. There are healthy, nutritious snacks, treats and fruit that can be eaten with a meal or saved to keep hunger at bay over longer stretches.

The schools decide which students would benefit from the program. The need is based on whether a child is enrolled in a free or reduced lunch program, or other extenuating circumstances.

In the years since the program started with 75 students in three schools, the program has grown more than four-fold. Today, there are 330 students in the program from 10 schools — and it continues to grow.

The booming demand can occasionally cause shortages. "Thankfully, social media has been a lifesaver," said Kim Cook, President and CEO of the Open Door Mission. "Sometimes within an hour after we post something, we have people showing up to help fill in the gaps, it’s a blessing for us.”

But all of this isn't without costs. Open Door Mission is graciously supported by generous businesses and donors who contribute money, products and volunteers to help. See below to learn how you can help.

Statistically speaking:

  • It costs $500 per week to provide milk for the entire program. Individuals and businesses can go online and "sponsor" milk for the week.
  • It costs approximately $186 a year per student to provide the backpack meals. That’s nearly $60,000 per year to fund the program.
  • Each backpack costs $6.25 and while it's called a backpack, it essentially an individual grocery bag for one child for a weekend.

Finding warmth at CODE BLUE SHELTER

The code blue shelter averages 14 visitors per night when the temperature dips below freezing

On harsh winter nights, when the temperature drops below freezing, the folks at Open Door Mission warm souls at the Code Blue Shelter for those who don’t have a home.

The Cold Blue Shelter offers more than just respite from the cold. It’s also equipped with facilities where people can wash their clothes, take a hot shower, store their belongings and enjoy conversation. On average, 14 people come out of the cold and spend the night in a warm bed, and have a hot meal, when the shelter is open — 60 individuals each year.

Good-quality, donated clothing and boots are also available to participants if they need them when they go back out onto the streets. The Open Door Mission's dedicated staff literally wear their hearts on their sleeves when helping the homeless prepare for the rough, cold days of North Country winters.

James, who has been experiencing homelessness for many years, was packing his sleeping bag and tent on the second-to-last day the shelter would be open for the 2017 season. With a good deal of accumulating snow headed into the region the next day, he shared his frustrations at the shelter’s closing for the season and his hope for a brighter future at a more permanent shelter at the new The Open Door Mission on Warren Street in Glens Falls.

"I’m getting too old for this crap, sleeping out next to the Hudson in my tent, it’s still cold and I have health problems. It really sucks to have do this all again and try to survive and be positive. I really hope I can make it until the new shelter is open in the fall, but I just don’t know."

In late fall of 2017, the Code Blue Shelter plans to move to its permanent home at the Open Door Mission’s new building on Warren Street in Glens Falls. The building will also provide additional services to help folks like James and others who are experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.

UPDATE ON JAMES FROM THE CODE BLUE SHELTER: Shortly after this story was written, James was able to find a steady job, rent a two bedroom apartment and most importantly, get off the streets. We congratulate James and look forward to hearing of his continued successes.

food for families

the food box program serves more than 75 families per month

Many families each week (sometimes twice a week) are able to eat because of the Food Box Program provided by the Open Door Mission. On Mondays and Thursdays, they offer the boxes to families in need.

Typically the boxes contain breakfast, lunch and dinner foods as well snacks and some canned and baked goods, helping sustain a family for several days.

The Open Door Mission relies on food donations from individuals and groups to replenish the food pantry where the food boxes are prepared. They don’t purchase items for this program, it’s all provided by local businesses and private donations.

As more families hear about the program, the demand continues to grow. So it’s vital to keep the donations flowing for a fully-stocked food pantry.

VOLUNTEER Spirit soars

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” -- Muhammad Ali

Volunteers, the backbone of the Open Door, do it all, from helping in the kitchen or office, to manning the Code Blue Shelter, to stocking food pantry shelves, to gathering food items to bring to the Mission.

In 2016, a staggering number of hours were logged — nearly 13,000! Yet, The Open Door Mission can never have enough volunteers, as the demand for services continues to grow.

George, pictured above, was recently stocking the food pantry in the basement of the Mission. He has been volunteering at the shelter since last winter. He said he is amazed at the level of compassion and hope that volunteers and staff show to people in need everyday. He shared some thoughts about what he has observed.

"I grew up on a farm, and every night our family ate dinner together and carried on conversations, it’s just what you did. Today, I see younger kids coming into the shelter that are spiraling downward and are in need of the help the Mission provides. The volunteers and employees help them boost their self-esteem to prepare them for life’s bumpy road. Whether fighting an addiction, or escaping a bad family situation — sometimes you just need someone in your corner." Further, George has observed that common sense has fallen by the wayside. "Simple, basic things like understanding that you have to dress appropriately and be confident at a job interview, aren’t necessarily taught or understood by today’s youth." George says.

Kim Cook agrees. “If you have a person who grew up with drug-addicted or abusive parents at home, what did they do to get by? They stayed out of the way and kept to themselves to avoid conflicts. They certainly didn't learn the tools needed to successfully navigate life. So fast forward when they are 30 years old, what makes anyone believe that they would be prepared for life? They never received the benefit of parents who taught them right from wrong or how to do basic things. It’s a real and growing problem.”

The COMPASSIONATE STAFF

None of this would be possible without dedicated staff. The Open Door's six full-time employees and army of volunteers ensure that hungry people are fed and get the attention they deserve. When Code Blue is active on those cold winter nights, eight temporary part-time supervisors are employed.

Every staff member I spoke with said they love helping others and giving people hope. That's what brought these folks from all walks of life to work at the Open Door.

Jamie — a recovering addict and program director for the Open Door Mission, recently certified as a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) — said there’s a stigma attached to being homeless and living in abject poverty. “It’s the underneath that people don’t see, people on the outside assume things, such as the extent of someone’s troubles.” He goes on to say “Depression is so prevalent amongst the homeless and impoverished, and it’s hard to climb out of that hole." Jamie would know, he has struggled with opiate addiction.

Building Bridges out of Poverty

Bridges Out of Poverty at Open Door Mission provides the community with the tools necessary to work more effectively alleviating poverty and overcoming societal hurdles. The Mission’s goal is helping people move beyond poverty to create a sustainable community.

The concept is that people in poverty are problem solvers, and that people in all economic classes should have a voice and a seat at the decision-making table.

"Bridges" workshops include building mental models of poverty, middle class and wealth. Defining the causes of poverty, and to what extent an individual, institution or community does without resources.

Research on the causes of poverty usually falls into four categories: behaviors of the individual, community conditions, exploitation and political/economic policy.

The Open Door Mission offers a variety of workshops with the intent of working to “bridge” the gaps and moving people out of poverty.

They offer intensive training for those working directly with individuals in poverty, overview workshops for CEOs and leaders of community agencies, general workshops for community members and even personal overviews by appointment.

The Open Door Mission also offers Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’-By World, a small group-style workshop in which people in transition or experiencing poverty use the tools from Bridges to investigate their own experiences and work to create a future story for themselves.

"Skittles"

“This place has helped me more than people can possibly know. I’ve been coming here every single day for four years. I tell people just get here, they will help you find a way to live.” — SAMANTHA

Samantha "Skittles" as she is affectionately called at the Open Door Mission, has been through a lot in her young life.

By age 22 she had been married, divorced and had a daughter that she gave up for adoption. She now has another child, Joey, who she adores.

Samantha, freely admits that she grapples with mental health issues every day.

Mental health plays a large role in poverty and homelessness. Many of the folks interviewed have struggled with addiction, depression and anxiety. And many more are fighting to move on, but it isn’t just a Band-Aid kind of health care issue. It takes time to get better and it sometimes isn’t just one issue. Sometimes it’s multiple mental health issues that the staff at the Open Door Mission take on in service to those in need.

Samantha comes to the Open Door Mission almost daily to have a hot meal.

But she admits it is sometimes difficult walking to The Open Door Mission on extremely cold days with her son. On those days, Samantha sometimes goes without. “There are days when I go hungry so my child can eat if we can’t make it down to the soup kitchen because of the bitter cold,” Samantha explains.

She also is able to take food from the pantry to help her get by when she’s at home.

"My advice," Samantha says, "Get here, they will help you find a way to live!"

battlefield of a different kind

Sgt. Russ was in the Army National Guard and was called up to serve his country in Iraq, which he proudly did. Russ saw and did a lot there, but when he got home, things were different.

Russ had fallen on hard times in California, went through several divorces and decided he needed a change of scene and moved back to his roots in the Glens Falls region.

Russ had a dream of opening up a sandwich shop locally.

Russ thought he had his finances in order.

Russ thought wrong.

His funding fell through and that's when things came unglued.

He had no money and while his girlfriend lived locally, her landlord wouldn’t allow him to stay there. The realization sunk in. Russ was homeless.

Shortly thereafter, his girlfriend was kicked out of her apartment and so, both were homeless and living out of a car, with what little they had. They spent hours watching the traffic in and out of the Code Blue Shelter on Warren Street in Glens Falls.

"I just wanted to see what it was about, I really hate the cold, but was afraid to go in," Russ said.

When it became unbearable, Russ and his girlfriend finally sought refuge. This started a six-week odyssey. It was a hard pill for him to swallow, being a prideful man who worked hard his whole life.

But he kept his focus and soon landed a job with the help of a Code Blue volunteer and a year later, was purchasing his own home. "I can’t say enough about Open Door Mission and the help I received. If I needed food they were there, they even found someone who helped pay my phone bill, so I could keep looking for work and answer inquiries.”

Just as Russ was getting his life on track, tragedy struck his family last summer in California. His 22-year-old daughter was allegedly murdered by her stepbrother. So Russ has put his home up for sale and is looking to move back to California to support his other grown children and try to bring each other comfort in the dark days ahead.

making lives whole again

Kim Cook is a ball of energy and listening to her talk about the big plans for the new Open Door building, you can’t help but be excited for everyone involved. The Open Door has purchased the former Warren Furniture building at the corner of Warren and Platt streets in Glens Falls to provide expanded services.

The plans for the building are creative, ambitious, innovative and thought-provoking. It’s a new and revolutionary way of helping those in need. You can still get a hot meal, or a food box, but the ceiling is literally as high as a person wants to make it.

The expanded offerings will include:

  • Larger Dining Room that will seat 100, with meals offered three times a day, seven days a week.
  • Teaching Kitchen to hold cooking classes and provide new job skills to individuals.
  • Drop-In Center to offer a place to stay during the day — with showers, laundry facilities and an enclosed outdoor courtyard. Staff will be present to help guests with a variety of needs.
  • Resource Center, with a classroom, chapel/multi-purpose room and computer room for Open Door Mission staff to provide services, as well as other community organizations seeking space to provide classes to those in need.
  • Resource Navigator program to help individuals identify and access resources offered throughout the community.
  • Getting Ahead classes for individuals struggling in poverty, to help them understand and use the resources available to them.
  • Bridges Out of Poverty program for organizations and individuals who work with those in poverty, to provide training in how to offer more effective assistance to those in need.
  • Computer Room staffed by volunteers, to assist guests with computer-related needs, including online job applications, resume classes and general computer classes.
  • Chapel, available for worship services, Bible study, meetings, and other needs.
  • Medical clinic to provide basic medical and dental services to those in need, as well as health education and screening programs.
  • Food Pantry, to provide nutritious food to families in need, with expanded hours.
  • Year-Round Emergency Shelter that will offer as many as 58 individuals a temporary place to stay for up to 30 days when they find themselves out on the street.
  • Code Blue Shelter providing protection on winter nights when there is extreme cold to those who do not have a warm place to sleep. A separate area in the Resource Center will be available for women during Code Blue nights.
  • Men’s Program to help those who are ready to learn the skills needed to become successful, self-sustaining members of society. The program will include recovery groups, relationship coaching, life skills, job skills and discipleship and will help program participants find employment.

When the STRUGGLE hits a little too close to home

Don’t think you’d know anyone who uses the services offered through the Open Door Mission? That's what I thought — and then I saw my childhood friend Greg (as we will call him for this story) having a meal at the Open Door Mission.

Greg grew up just around the corner and I would describe him as one of the gentlest, most reserved souls I have ever met. Back then, it was clear that home wasn't a place of love and caring for Greg as it was for me. But since then, I've come to realize his dark sense of humor helped cloak the pain he was going through.

After graduating from high school 30 years ago, we grew apart. I hadn't seen Greg in all those years, and to see him recently was difficult. He clearly has lived a hard life and I so wanted to reminisce about the good old days. I took some comfort in knowing the good folks at the Open Door Mission are looking out for him.

Folks who work at the mission were not as stunned as I was. "I have regularly fed the captain of my high school football team and his son. People fall on hard times and we are there to help,” a staff member said.

How we can help

The Open Door is doing wonderful things, but they can’t do it alone. They need our help to continue all of the services they provide for our community. Most of the money raised comes from generous donations from businesses and the public. They get some small grants, but they are not funded by New York State.

The Open Door has started a fund-raising campaign entitled "Pathway Home," to help pay for the new building. Please give generously.

TO DONATE:

TO VOLUNTEER:

EMAIL: Janie or CALL: 518-792-5900

PHOTO CREDITS: Richard Cavagnolo via the Open Door Mission, Anna Burns and Troy Burns

Credits:

Richard Cavagnolo, Anna Burns and Troy Burns

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