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Open Door officials confident in local aid mission

5/24/2016
Open Door officials confident in local aid mission

Volunteers, from left, Jessica Ejiofor, Susan Fiore, James Tupper and Rick Tabor serve lunch at the Open Door Mission in Glens Falls recently. Open Door officials are planning for a larger center that would include more room to serve meals, a bigger food pantry, a homeless shelter and space for workshops and counseling.

Plans call for consolidation of services in one Glens Falls location

GLENS FALLS — Kim Cook doesn’t need to resort to spreadsheets or reports to know how many people Open Door Mission feeds in an average month.

“I don’t need to look. It’s between 1,600 and 1,800 and has been for several years. We have no room to grow. There isn’t any way we can feed more people here,” Cook said of the mission’s facility at Lawrence and Walnut streets. “I know we have more people who would come if we had more space.”

Cook and the Open Door board of directors always want to expand and add more services, and she said Monday there is a plan in place for a new site in downtown Glens Falls the group is focusing on.

“It’s still too early to say where it is, but there are a lot more things we want to be able to do,” said Cook, who declined to identify the specific site. “We are in the planning, preparation and permitting stage. We plan to come to the public next year to ask their help in raising the necessary funds. “

Cook said the group hopes to be able to open the larger facility sometime next year.

Open Door plans to move forward with the project as a religious organization, and Cook has a counter for those who say a non-sectarian approach might be more effective.

“The important thing is, we serve everyone,” Cook said. “We consider we are a private-sector solution to a public-sector problem. We work with community and government agencies. We are just another way of doing it.

“It’s not either/or,” she said. “The need is big enough.”

Moving in the direction of offering more opportunities, the Open Door has been growing in other ways, expanding its food pantry and school backpack programs and working more closely with clients on their issues.

“We have been building our foundation,” Cook said.

Open Door is also sponsoring a series of “Bridges Out of Poverty” trainings to help professionals and others in the community who work with the poor to be better able to respond to their needs.

“Bridges is an all-around program that addresses the basic issues of poverty and can help with other issues like homelessness and hunger,” Cook said.

More space is the main goal of establishing a new site, which would have a place for a permanent homeless shelter, eliminating the need to find a site for the Code Blue shelter that Open Door has run for the past three years.

The plan for a larger center would include more room to serve meals, a bigger food pantry, a homeless shelter and space for workshops and counseling.

“There are things we can do because we are not government-funded,” Cook said. “We can serve people we might not be able to serve if we were a government organization.”

Pluses, minuses

Michael Fonocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, a non-sectarian organization, said religious organizations like Cook’s realize they are putting themselves out of the running for some funding.

“The biggest disadvantage is that sometimes you are eliminated from certain grants and certain funding,” he said. “I think it kind of stinks, but that’s what it is. One of the questions you always see on the applications is asking what kind of organization you are — a school, a church — and sometimes you are excluded from the funds.”

Finocchi said he is impressed with what Cook and the Open Door have been able to accomplish.

“She’s trying to make a difference up there,” he said. “I think she’s doing really good work.”

Duane Vaughn, executive director at Wait House, a Glens Falls shelter for homeless youths, notes he does not have a choice to be allied with a religious organization, because his group deals with minors.

“In New York, we do not have a choice, because any time you are dealing with people under 18, the state is involved,” he said. “We have to have the supervision of public agencies because they make sure there is a safe environment for our residents.”

But, he said, there is definitely a place for organizations like Open Door.

“The need has to be met,” Vaughn said. “If there are people who are in need, you have to help them.”

‘Starts in the chapel’

Like Open Door, the Salvation Army approaches helping others with religion at its base.

“For us, it all starts in the chapel. That’s how I have gotten to be doing this for so long,” said Major David Dean, pastor at the Salvation Army of Glens Falls. “That’s how the Salvation Army has been around for 140 years.

“We do serve people well, and we do serve anyone regardless of religious affiliation, race or anything else,” he added. “When people come to us for help, we do not hit them over the head with the Bible. But usually there are deeper issues than you can get to in a 30-minute interview.”

The focus does come with an issue.

“I think that, obviously, the one major disadvantage is knowing whether or not the government authority, whether it is federal state or local, is going to allow us to work with people who are in need,” he said.

Always need help

Cook said people can feel free to donate at any time.

“As our programs have increased, so has our budget,” she said. “Anyone wanting to help can donate to our operational budget and can know that, as always, it will be used to meet people at their point of need.”

Cook said it is too early to comment on whether Open Door will be able to open a Code Blue shelter for cold nights before the end of the year.

“We know we would like to, but it’s really too early to say,” she said.

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