By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The end of this month will possibly also see the end of the Federation for the Homeless’ soup kitchen.
“Our last meals will be served July 29,” said Steve White, the Federation’s program director, this week.
Shortly thereafter, his job will disappear, too, thanks to the loss of around $120,000 in state funding.
“That was to run the whole program,” he lamented.
Only the Federation’s effort to assist those with HIV/AIDS in paying for housing and utilities will survive, as a separate $87,000 from the state takes care of that program.
White said he was notified by the NYS Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program on June 22 that the Federation’s request for state monies the same kind of request it’s made since its founding in 1988 had been rejected due to stiff competition and budget cuts.
“There’s no question it’s a sign of the times,” White sighed. “And I think they’re going away from soup kitchens and more to food pantries.”
A number of those already exist in Sullivan County, to which White soon expects to direct the near-200 people per day that the Federation’s soup kitchen serves.
The Federation’s board unanimously made the decision to shutter the kitchen and associated operations, rather than try to limp along in a building it leases from Harry Rhulen for a dollar a year but for which it has to pay utilities and staffing costs.
“We didn’t want to go out owing money to people,” White explained, thanking board members Betsy White and Cesar Loarca in particular for their undying support.
Much of the equipment and leftover food will be donated to area pantries and Liberty’s CACHE, said White.
A just-opened and very popular computer lab will disappear, and the Sullivan Renaissance flower and vegetable gardens at the Monticello Street site have an uncertain future, as the Federation will relocate its sole remaining staff member to a yet-to-be-chosen, smaller office.
White expects to be out of a job by August.
“Maybe it’s time for a new adventure in my life,” he remarked optimistically.
But it’s not him he’s worried about it’s the staff and people they serve.
“I hope they don’t go hungry,” he said.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and NYS Senator John Bonacic said they’re doing all they can to keep the Federation’s kitchen in operation.
“Remember: people don’t just eat there,” Gunther related. “Some take leftovers home to feed their children. We’re talking about people really going hungry.”
“We will see what, if anything, can be done,” added Bonacic. “We had helped save them once before, but whether or not that is possible again is not known at this time.
“Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have eliminated ‘member items,’ so that typical route of helping worthy groups is no longer available,” he continued. “We will contact the state agency that is involved here to see what, if anything, can be done.”
NYS Dept. of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said on Wednesday that his agency is investigating alternatives for the Federation.
“The department is looking at other ways to maintain access to services that provide nutritious food to people in need,” he remarked.
“They’re just cutting everywhere,” concluded a saddened White, “so I’m not hopeful.”