By Mary Beth Roach
Rescue Mission helps the hungry, homeless. CEO says more people in CNY are depending on its services, he identifies the need for low-income, quality affordable housing as main challenge for the community
Q: Can you explain the work of the Rescue Mission, including some of its programs and initiatives?
A: We are a 135-year-old local community-based nonprofit organization, based in Syracuse, with some programming in Binghamton and Auburn, as well. Our focus is on helping hungry, housing-unstable individuals, people living on the streets, as well as homeless families, women, children and single men.
Q: How many people do you estimate that you serve in a year?
A: In a year, we serve between 9,000 and 10,000 people.
Q: What is your definition of serve — is it meals? Is it shelters?
A: It could be meals, shelter, housing units that we own and operate, employment services, clothing, coats, shoes, socks — whatever somebody might be in need of.
Q: Over the past year, has this number been on the increase, and if so, why do you think that is?
A: I think the numbers have been on the increase for sure in the last year. The additional supports and resources throughout the pandemic that give people maybe more sustainability — those dollars and checks have gone away. I think people are struggling to make ends meet and then the rising prices of housing in Upstate and Central New York — it all creates a difficult pattern and position for a lot of people that are already living on the margins of society. Luckily, we’ve been able to continue to meet the needs as it grows.
Q: What are your needs for volunteers over the holidays?
A: Our biggest one-day or two-day undertakings are on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. We serve more than 2,000 meals throughout the community. There’s about 300 to 400 more that get served on our campus, but there’s a lot of homebound individuals or elderly. Meals on Wheels isn’t operating on those two holidays. So, we recruit hundreds of volunteers to come to the mission and we give them an assignment with packaged meals ready to go. Then people go all over Onondaga County, dropping off meals before they sit down for their Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. We still need volunteers to help deliver meals. But then also, as we get through the holidays, it would be great to have volunteers show up in January and February. We always need help preparing meals at our food service center, as well as volunteering in different ways, whether it’s in our clothing outreach program downtown.
Q: What is the best way for interested people to volunteer?
A: The best way is to go to rescuemissionalliance.org and click the volunteer button. Then there’s a prompt where you have to fill out your information. Once you get in our system, we can get you scheduled. There’s a way where you can click on what days and times work best for you.
Q: What do you see as the major challenges that the Rescue Mission faces?
A: I think the biggest challenge that we see you right now, and it’s, I think, only going to grow, is the need for truly low-income, quality affordable housing. Exciting things are happening in Syracuse, Onondaga County and it sounds like new jobs are being created. The housing that’s going to be created for those new jobs is going to be single-family homes or higher-end homes. I think the need for the right kind of housing for our clients that we serve is not being developed currently and there’s no real incentive to develop that kind of housing.
Q: What do you consider some of the strides that the Rescue Mission has made in the last year?
A: I think we have refocused our organization to truly become a housing developer over the next few years. As we look at the climate for the housing need and what our clients need for sustainability and to really achieve their higher level of independence, we need to be the ones to start to create that kind of housing. We’ve started to lay plans and work out a strategy where over the next 15 years, our goal is to develop 150 units of housing that we create, we maintain, we fully staff and our clients can have a safe space that’s quality, that’s dignified. We also know that some clients are little rougher on facilities and they might not fit into your typical apartment complex. We are going to work to create those kinds of spaces, to make people feel like they’ve got a home and it feels like a safe place for them to get back on track.
Q: As we prepare for 2023, what would you like to accomplish this coming year?
A: This coming year we have started the process to put together layers of funding to start to create some of this housing and start to create the building facilities. It’s going to be a multi-year, multi-funding approach. There’s no quick way to create this housing, especially with everybody else trying to build housing for different uses in our community. We’ve got the vision for what’s needed. Now, we’re going to develop and really home in on our strategy, as well as start to put together some of the funding to make it a reality.