Q&A with Mary-Margaret Pekow

High number of homeless cases in Oswego County putting pressure on services provided by Catholic Charities of Oswego County, says executive director

By Mary Beth Roach

Q: Your agency offers a wide range of programming and assistance. Can you give our readers an overview of the services you provide, especially those through your Community and Family Resource Center?

A: The Community and Family Resource center encompasses our community services, which involves case management and a bilingual case manager, our food pantry and our youth drop-in program for kids in the summertime and afterschool. That program is open to families on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We call it Family Fun Nights. We also run parenting classes using the Circle the Security curriculum. It’s helping a parent see their own self, their own trauma, how they were raised and how that impacts their children.

We have care management for adults that have a mental health diagnosis, care management for children that have like a mental health or severe health diagnosis; our parent education program for parents that are maybe at risk of losing custody and need some help and education. We have a program for parents and for families where either an adult or the child has some kind of mental health diagnosis, and we work with the family unit — how to keep them all together and work on their family bonding. And we have transportation programs as well.

Q: What is your agency’s budget?

A:  $5,541,924.

Q: How many employees does your agency have?

A: Currently 59, but we have some vacancies.

Q: How many people do you serve?

A: According to our report to Catholic Charities USA for 2022 we served approximately 982 people. We believe these are unduplicated. We have not done 2023 yet.

Q: What is the age range for the youth drop-in program?

A: Second grade through 12th grade.

Q: Are there fees associated with these programs?

A: None of those programs have any kind of fees or any kind of requirements except for that they are an Oswego County resident.

Q: Do you partner with other agencies to provide these services?

A: We do a lot of collaborations. A specific program — we have Family Time, a visitation program for parents who do not have custody of their children so that they have a safe place to come and visit their children and work on their own parenting skills. That program is a collaboration between us, Farnham Family Services and Huntington Family Services.

Q: Can people seek you out directly or do they have to be referred?

A: The programs are all really different. Our suggestion always is to just call us and we’ll guide you.

Q: Are you seeing an increase in the need for your services and if so, what do you think might be prompting that?

A: We are seeing a huge increase because we have a huge homeless population in the county. That’s increasing our pantry and the need for assistance. There are wait lists for a lot of our programs right now. Some of it has to do with staffing, and then on top of it, the cost of living.

Q: You’re based in Fulton, but Oswego County is such a large geographical area with a very diverse population. Do you have satellite offices in other parts of the county?

A: We do not. The staff travels. Through our food pantry, we provide homeless food bags. If someone’s homeless, they’re put up at a hotel temporarily. We pack the food bags particularly around what they may have access to. We also have food bags that are meant for people that are unfortunately living in tents or on the street somewhere.

Q: What is the best way for people to access your services?

A: Calling is the easiest and then we can help direct you in the right direction.

Catholic Charities of Oswego County is at 808 Broadway, Fulton. The phone number is (315) 598-3980. The website is ccoswego.com. The food pantry is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.